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Rural Alaska

John Active dies; he was a Yup’ik storyteller and ‘the voice of the Y-K Delta’

John Active, June 16, 1998.(Erik Hill / Anchorage Daily News)

Alaska Native journalist and broadcaster John Active, known as the "voice of the Yukon-Kuskowkim Delta" for his tales of life in Southwest Alaska, died at the Bethel hospital Monday. He was 69.

Active shared stories that aired on radios across the country, teaching the wider world about the unique Yup'ik culture in Southwest Alaska, said Rhonda McBride, host of KTVA's Frontiers program.

"He told me his mission was to Yup'ify the world, and he wanted to do it in a joyful way," said McBride, who worked with Active when she was news director at KYUK radio station in Bethel in the 1990s.

"He was an amazing traditional storyteller, bridged the gap into the modern world, and mastered the art of broadcasting," she said.

Active worked at the station until recently, since its launch in 1971, McBride said. He read the local news in Yup'ik and shared traditional stories in English that reached a broad audience through National Public Radio, McBride said.

When his stories aired in the Lower 48, Active was overwhelmed by the response, she said. Listeners mailed gifts and fan letters. One person sent him a $1,000 check because they like his stories so much.

Active's grandmother, Maggie Lind, had raised him to be a traditional story teller like herself, relying on an artform that existed before books, radio and TV came to the region, McBride said.

"He tapped into that time when stories painted pictures, and his voice was just magic," McBride said.

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