Rural Alaska

AFN award winners include woman trying to fight drugs in villages with sniffer dogs

Award recipients at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention on Thursday ranged from a woman raising money to buy drug-sniffing dogs to the former head of a large Native corporation.

Gov. Bill Walker on Thursday presented three Shirley Demientieff awards, given to honor advocacy efforts for Alaska Native women and children.

Kelly Fields of Fort Yukon, with the Interior Villages Against Meth initiative, received the award for trying to stamp out illegal drug use in the region.

She challenged tribal governments to donate money to buy drug-sniffing canines, and raised $30,000. The Tanana Chiefs Conference, a regional nonprofit organization, added another $189,000.

So far, the money has purchased a Belgian Malinois named Naja, used by Alaska State Troopers.

"We're in the process of getting more dogs," that can travel to villages, she told a reporter after winning the award.

Also winning the award was Cynthia Erickson of Tanana. She's created the My Grandma's House nonprofit, raising funds to bring resources to the fight against high rates of sex abuse and suicides in rural Alaska.


"We do what we do because we are standing up fighting for our villages, especially for our children," Erickson told the convention.

A Shirley Demientieff award also went to Anna Bill, a Mountain Village police officer who has responded to more than 60 attempted suicide calls in less than a year.

"Being the only female police officer in Mountain Village has challenges," she said.

She said she's been attacked multiple times while making arrests. But she puts a smile on her face, and lets people know she loves and cares for them.

"That has not deteriorated my dedication to my people," she said.

Carl Marrs, the former chief executive of CIRI, won the 2018 Citizen of the Year Award.

Marrs' long career in the Native corporate world include the distribution of two record dividends to CIRI's shareholders in 2000 and 2001, totaling $65,000 after the regional Native corporation sold valuable investments in a telecom company.

More currently, as chief executive of Old Harbor Native Corp., he fought to change federal tax law so Native corporations can move money into settlement trusts that benefit communities through dividends and money for educational programs and other services.

Recent changes in the law allow those transfers to benefit from tax deductions, Marrs told the convention.

"Our hope is tax benefits equate to increased future returns," he said.

Marrs always focused "on supporting and fostering top-notch leadership in non-profit organizations that provide education, social programs, housing and health programs," AFN said in a statement.

In an award recognizing non-Natives, Jim Lynn Dillard won the 2018 Denali Award.

Jim Dillard, in his career as a teacher, helped keep alive the Alutiiq culture in Port Lions and Kodiak.

Starting in Port Lions in 1984, Dillard facilitated "the learning of traditional Alutiiq dance and wood carving. Through his encouragement and support, (Dillard) inspired his students to reacquaint themselves with their history and culture in ways that had fallen dormant," AFN said.

Later, at Kodiak High School, Dillard "continued to practice and teach woodcarving across Kodiak Island" and worked with elders and others to keep the Alutiiq culture alive, AFN said.

The AFN President's Awards, covering Health and service in other areas, will be presented on Saturday.

Alex DeMarban

Alex DeMarban is a longtime Alaska journalist who covers business, the oil and gas industries and general assignments. Reach him at 907-257-4317 or