St. Anthony's Catholic Church was filled on Tuesday afternoon by Alaskans who had come to say goodbye to Paul John. The Alaska Native leader from Toksook Bay was recalled as "the dean of Yup'ik elders," "a university professor of Yup'ik knowledge," and instructor who "taught across borders," equally comfortable when addressing school children or members of Congress, and "a man who inspired action."
John, who died in Anchorage on March 6 at the age of 85, was among the last of the generation of Yup'ik men who grew up in the communal qasgiq "men's house" where he absorbed traditional ways. As a young man he worked in canneries and went on to become a successful commercial fisherman.
In his later years he served on the boards of the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation and the Association of Village Council Presidents. He was a member of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and held an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Alaska. He was the Traditional Chief of the Nunakauyarmiut Tribe.
John taught workshops in language, craft and dance to young students. He was sought out by scholars of art and anthropology. He authored and co-wrote several important texts relating to Yup'ik history and folkways. He was the composer of Yup'ik songs and dances that continue to be performed.