The Ilisagvik College Board of Trustees honored the life and educational legacy of Fannie Kuutuuq Akpik-Piquk at their summer Board of Trustees meeting on June 29.
Akpik-Piquk was a beloved educator and cherished member of the North Slope community who died from cancer on May 14, 2021.
Over the years, she taught at Meade River School, Ipalook Elementary School, Barrow High School, and was an Associate Professor of Inupiaq Studies at Ilisagvik College for 20 years.
The event included the unveiling of a portrait of Akpik-Piquk painted by Alaska artist Austin Parkhill, and remembrances by family members, colleagues and students.
Ilisagvik College board member Roxanne Brower presented a plaque to the attending family members honoring Akpik-Piquk’s 40-plus years of educational service. Then college president, Justina Avu Wilhelm, and Dean of Administration, Nicole Manuluuraq Evans, unveiled the painted portrait to audible gasps.
In the remembrances that followed, Etta Pakak Fournier recalled enlisting Akpik-Piquk to help start the Inupiaq Word of The Day program on KBRW Radio. Granddaughter Robyn Niayuq Burke recalled that she dedicated her whole life to education and the Inupiaq language and culture. Burke, who is the Executive Director of Human Resources at Ilisagvik, said, “When I came back to work at Ilisagvikit was like coming home because we grew up in these halls.”
Jana Pausauraq Harcharek, a long-time colleague, described working with Akpik-Piquk to get two Inupiaq Studies classes, “North Slope History, Language, and Culture,” and Inupiat Land Use, Values, and Resources,” accepted by the State of Alaska as part of the teacher certification program. “It improved the quality of education in all the schools across the North Slope,” said Harcharek.
Jerica Niayuq Leavitt (Aamodt), a former student and current Ilisagvik College Assistant Professor of Inupiaq Studies, remembered Akpik-Pikuq’s kindness, even when correcting students, and her ability to see her students’ innate gifts, such as when she told one student, “You have the hands of a seamstress.”
Kimberlee Brent, another Ilisagvik College professor who took classes with Akpik-Piquk remembered her as, “The most enthusiastic [person], always open with a hug and a smile. Even when she was tired, she had more energy than anyone I ever knew.”
Chief School Administrator for the North Slope Borough School District, David Vadivaloo, summed up Akpik-Piquk’s approach, saying, “She was not teaching or transmitting Inupiat Culture, she radiated it. She embodied it.”
The portrait painted by Parkhill will hang in the Ilisagvik College lobby with a commemorative plaque. The lobby is open to visitors Monday-Friday 8:30-5.