Each year, the Alaska Federation of Natives honors standouts in a variety of fields, including, education, health and public safety. Here are this year’s awards, with summaries of each winner based on information from AFN.
The Health award goes to Elizabeth Aarons, a registered nurse at the Alaska Native Medical Center in the Critical Care unit, COVID-19 Testing and Results, and the Oncology and Infusion Center. She is Iñupiaq from Unalakleet, and credits her interest in medicine to a long line of Indigenous healers in her family.
Hannah Paul Solomon “Woman of Courage” award
June (Simeonoff) Pardue receives the Woman of Courage award. Pardue is an Alutiiq and Iñupiaq artist, educator and culture bearer who teaches at universities in Alaska. She is an accomplished grass weaver, fish skin tanner, fish leather and sea mammal skin sewer, jeweler and beader, and her work can be found in museums across the United States.
Katie John Hunter-Fisher
Roy Ashenfelter of White Mountain receives the Katie John Hunter-Fisher award. Ashenfelter is Iñupiaq and grew up subsistence hunting and fishing. He currently works for Kawerak Inc., traveling within the region and assisting people with issues involving Native allotments.
Roger Lang Youth Leadership
The Roger Lang Youth Leadership award goes to Yup’ik artist Golga Oscar. Born and raised in Kasigluk, Oscar has successfully produced and led many projects with various mediums — including skin sewing, basket weaving, quillwork, beadwork, walrus ivory carving and exploring Yup’ik Native jewelry. As a fluent Yup’ik speaker, Oscar is dedicated to keeping his culture and traditions alive by teaching the next generations about their language and art.
This award goes to Michael Fredericks, a small business owner of SALT, an Alaska Native women-owned interior design and strategic engagement firm in Anchorage. Born and raised in Anchorage, Fredericks is of Yup’ik descent. Fredericks’ facilitation services have evolved to include business planning, community engagement, project planning and other areas.
Gin’tith (Richard Frank) Military Service
Haida and Tlingit veteran Nathaniel (Saaduuts) Mitchell receives this award for his 24 years of service in the Navy. Mitchell is Yahkw ‘Láanaas (Raven/Shark) Clan and joined the Navy in 1997, and serving on SEAL Team 3. After two deployments with them, Nathaniel volunteered again.
Glenn Godfrey Law Enforcement
State trooper Lt. Brian Wassman receives the Glenn Godfrey Law Enforcement award after retiring from a 29-year career in which he was passionate about breaking the cycle of domestic violence. He is Iñupiaq with family roots in Nome and the Bering Straits region, and became a state trooper after graduating from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. In 2022, Wassman finished his career as deputy commander of the Alaska Bureau of Investigation in Anchorage.
Eileen Panigeo MacLean Education
This award goes to Mike Webber, an Alutiiq and Tlingit/Eyak Northwest Coast master carver from Cordova. A fisherman since he was 6, Webber suffered a life-changing accident on his family-run seine boat that led him to discover carving. He’s now a master carver whose work can be found in museums from Alaska to Washington, D.C., and as far south as the Grand Cayman Islands.
2022 CITIZENS OF THE YEAR
• John F.C. Johnson is a Sugpiag Native and vice president of Cultural Resources for Chugach Alaska Corp. He has more than 40 years of experience helping Chugach reclaim historical sites and artifacts and serves as a global ambassador for the Chugach people. Over the last 25 years, he helped establish the Nuuciq Spirit Camp on Hinchinbrook Island in Prince William Sound and is an original founder of the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage, among other important roles.
• Dr. Gordon L. Pullar Sr. worked as a machine operator at the Georgia-Pacific paper mill before embarking on a life-changing journey to connect with his Sugpiaq Alaska Native identity. He served six years as president and chief executive of the Kodiak Area Native Association and served on the Tangirnaq Native Village Tribal Council and the Alutiiq Museum board. He is credited with helping bring home more than 1,000 Alutiiq remains that had been taken from Larsen Bay in the 1930s and were being stored at the Smithsonian Institute, essentially leading to the enactment of the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
2022 DENALI AWARD WINNERS
• Roberta “Robbie” Townsend-Vennel has been supporting economic development in rural Alaska for over 30 years. She joined the Afognak Native Corp. as its finance director in 1989 and was with the corporation for 15 years as it grew from a small regional company to a highly successful, nationally recognized Alaska Native corporation. She worked to establish the Native Village of Afognak, a federally recognized tribe. Since leaving the corporation in 2004, Townsend-Vennel has focused on supporting the long-term sustainability of Alaska’s rural communities.
• U.S. Rep. Don Young was the longest-serving Republican in congressional history, having served as Alaska’s sole representative to the U.S. House of Representatives consecutively for 49 years (1973-2022). After serving in the U.S. Army in the 1950s, Young settled in Alaska, where he became a tugboat captain and taught fifth grade. He was elected mayor of Fort Yukon, Alaska in 1964, and rose from that position to the state House of Representatives and then to the state Senate, before later serving in Congress.
Shirley Demientieff award
• Stebbins city administrator Daisy Lockwood received this award presented by Gov. Mike Dunleavy and First Lady Rose Dunleavy. Thanks to Lockwood’s leadership, her village was the first community to provide a detailed damage assessment following the storm caused by the remnants of Typhoon Merbok, and she encouraged the National Guard to visit other villages first because she was confident in Stebbins’ resiliency, a statement from the governor’s office said. Lockwood has been a health aid, teacher, basketball coach, and tribal employee in her village, and has served on the State Education Board, among other duties.
This article has been updated to include the winner of the Shirley Demientieff award.