Corrected: Jenna Kunze
The Arctic Sounder
In the evening of Sept. 24, Utqiaġvik residents lost Jacob "Jake" Anaġi Adams Sr., Inuupiaq, 73, a key player in the formation of the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, the North Slope Borough and the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission.
Adams passed in his home of end-stage Parkinson's, his sister said. He is remembered as a thoughtful leader, activist and a "visionary for his people," Arctic Slope corporation Chair Crawford Patkotak said in a documentary produced last year on Adams' legacy by Alaska Humanities Forum, in partnership with Rasmuson Foundation.
"When he speaks, we listen," Patkotak said. This sentiment was chorused by Adams' younger sister, Marie Carroll, and even U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan.
"Our family looked up to him," Carroll said on Friday. "He was a very thoughtful brother, and became active in the community at a young age."
She remembers the advice her brother gave her in 1965 when she was in seventh grade. A group of students, including Carroll, protested the city's 9:30 p.m. curfew to be extended to midnight on weekends for teenagers. Adams, six years Carroll's senior, was paying attention to national civil rights movements — including the anti-Vietnam War, racial inequality, and the women's movement — and he noticed a trend of protesters carrying picket signs. Under her brother's guidance, Carroll and her classmates made and carried picket signs to their protest before Barrow's City Council, which ended in their victory.
"He taught us about being active," Carroll said.
Sullivan honored Adams in a speech he gave to the U.S. Senate in June 2019 as part of his "Alaskan of the Week" series. Sullivan described Adams as a "giant of an individual who has spent his whole life in public service for his culture, for his community, for his state and for his country."
Born in 1946, Adams was raised in a subsistence family in Utqiaġvik during the boarding-school era, before the city had its own high schools, roads, water and sewer — or local power to make its own governing decisions, an important role that Adams would play later in his life.
For high school, he attended boarding school in Wrangell and later at Mount Edgecumbe in Sitka, and afterward enrolled at the University of Alaska Fairbanks to study electrical engineering. When he returned home to Utqiaġvik, Adams quickly became involved in local politics.
At 21, Adams was elected to Barrow City Council. His late mother called him "a school freak," he remembered in his Oct. 2019 interview. He read a lot, and was curious to learn how everything worked, including land rights for indigenous people.
In 1971, the Arctic Slope Native Association was looking into the creation of the North Slope Borough. Creating an area-wide government would allow for city planning and zoning, taxation, and home-rule education rights. Adams saw the long-term benefit to his people, especially in preserving their cultural and ancestral rights, and worked alongside lifelong friend and cousin, Oliver Leavitt, to promote the formation of the North Slope Borough.
Arctic Slope Regional Corporation Vice President of External Affairs Richard Glenn noted Adams' ability to walk between two worlds, and to out-perform professionals in a certain fields by giving something good thought. Not only was Adams a successful whaling captain of Anaġi Crew, he also was elected city mayor at 24 years old, serving from 1971 to 1977.
"I've seen Jake be a better geologist than geologists, I've seen him be a better lawyer than lawyers," Glenn said in the 2019 documentary.
Two years ago, Adams was presented with an honorary doctor of laws degree from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, according to an ASRC press release."
Jacob has demonstrated it's not just walking in two worlds, it's being the best in both worlds," Glenn said.
While pushing toward a better quality of life for his community, Adams also fought to preserve Iñupiaq culture and subsistence rights for his people.
In the late '70's, the federal government put a moratorium on whaling in the Arctic, citing a diminishing population of bowheads. Adams and Leavitt, then in their early 30s, spent the money they raised hosting local bingo nights to pay for trips to the nation's capital, about 3,500 miles east. Eventually, the men were able to convince the government that Iñupiaq whaling was not destroying the bowhead population by commissioning a local census count, which proved the bowheads were being significantly undercounted when they swam underneath the ice.
As a result, the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission was formed with Adams as its original chairman. The commission is tasked with managing the bowhead population for subsistence hunting and ensuring annual quotas of allowable hunts with the federal government.
Jacob "Junior" Adams remembers his father as an awesome man of faith who believed in equality and served his people with purpose.
"It's like God sent an angel to live with the community of Utqiaġvik," Junior Adams wrote to The Sounder. "He went through countless hours serving his community all his life and teaching younger generations as a leader. He was a generous man."
Adams led the Arctic regional corporation for more than 40 years, beginning in 1983 when he was elected CEO. He was also a longtime member of the Barrow Volunteer Search and Rescue, and helped to create the Alaska Native Blue Ribbon Commission, advocating for Native sobriety, in the late 1980s.
Mayor Harry Brower Jr. wrote the The Sounder that Adams' impact on his community is felt by all.
"His leadership through the years across our region stretched from home to our nation's capital," he wrote. "He was a whaling captain, corporate CEO, mayor, assembly member, father, husband, mentor, and a dear friend to me and many others.
"For more than 10 years, the Arctic Educational Foundation has awarded an annual scholarship of $24,000 to a local student to pursue college or training in Adams' Iñupiaq name. This year, Utqiaġvik's Kelsey Haake received the Anaġi Leadership Award to attend law school at the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School.
Haake said it was an honor to have received the Anaġi Leadership Award while Adams was alive.
"I will forever remember his hard work and sacrifice he made on behalf of our people and will represent him to the fullest in my educational and professional endeavors," she said.
Adams leaves behind his wife, Lucille Adams, and their six children, 22 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. A memorial for Adams is being arranged in Utqiaġvik.
Corrected the spelling of the author's name: Jenna Kunze.
Like this story? Support our work with a $5 or $10 contribution today. Contribute to the nonprofit Indian Country Today.