Alaska News

AFN awards go to elder, artist, top parent, young leader and more

The oldest elder living on the North Slope, a highly recognized artist, and a health care leader who started out cleaning hospital floors were among those honored Friday at the Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention.

The AFN president awards were announced at the Dena'ina Civic and Convention Center in Anchorage. Any AFN member organization or delegate can nominate people for these awards. The AFN convention committee makes the picks.

Here are this year's winners:

Elder of the Year

This recognition for a longtime leader, educator and preserver of Native culture went to Isaac Kupaaq Tulugak Akootchook, 95, who is Inupiaq and is the oldest living person on the North Slope. He has seven children, 17 grandchildren, 47 great-grandchildren and eight great-great-grandchildren. He served on the Kaktovik City Council, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service advisory committee and the Alaska Polar Bear Commission. He retired as a Presbyterian Church pastor in 2006.

Culture Bearer

The award for strong involvement in the arts went to Gertrude Svarny, who was born in Unalaska and at age 51 decided to devote her life to Unangan art, referring to the indigenous people of the Aleutian Islands. She is a respected weaver, ivory and soapstone carver and bentwood artist. Earlier this year she received the Rasmuson Foundation "Distinguished Artist" award. She wants to help other Unangan people find their creative center.

Della Keats Healing Hands

This recognition to a health care provider or tribal healer went to Ethel Lund, whose Tlingit name is Aanwoogeex'. She was one of the founders of the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, was the first board chair then the first hired president, among many other Native leadership positions. She told the AFN crowd that she had a hospital custodial job at age 16 and took in everything happening there.

"I was so caught up in what I saw that I decided that's where I wanted to spend my life," Lund said. "And it has been many years now."


Lu Young Youth Leadership

Named after the late wife of U.S. Rep. Don Young, this award goes to a young woman who challenges herself to be a future leader. This year it went to Macy Kenworthy, who is Inupiaq, a Mt. Edgecumbe High School graduate now studying at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. She has served as U.S. Arctic youth ambassador and is this year's Miss Teen Arctic Circle.

"Don't sell yourself short like I used to do," she urged young people at the convention.

Parent of the Year

This honor for a parent who exhibits values important to the physical, social and cultural survival of Alaska Native people went to Franklin "Buddy" Okleasik Jr., who is Inupiaq and lives in Nome. He has six children with his late wife, Denise, and now is raising their four daughters alone.

"He is always there, cheering his girls on, in their many different extracurricular activities," AFN said.

Public Service

Kelly Shewfelt Turner, who was born in Fairbanks, received recognition for 20 years of service in the Alaska Air National Guard. She recruits Alaska Native people from around the state into the military, volunteers at her daughters' schools and has been awarded military medals for her dedication.

Dr. Walter Soboleff ‘Warrior of Light’

This award, for someone who uplifts and unifies Native people, went to Roy Huhndorf. He is of Yup'ik descent and was born in the village of Nulato, growing up with subsistence ways. He is chairman emeritus for Cook Inlet Region Inc. board and a former AFN co-chairman.

Lisa Demer

Lisa Demer was a longtime reporter for the Anchorage Daily News and Alaska Dispatch News. Among her many assignments, she spent three years based in Bethel as the newspaper's western Alaska correspondent. She left the ADN in 2018.