Alaska Federation of Natives announces President’s Awards Honorees


Anchorage, Alaska (KINY) – Every year, the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) honors those who have made outstanding contributions to their families and the Native community.

Nita Yuurliq Rearden
Culture Bearer

Rearden brings her cultural knowledge with her in every activity she does in her everyday life.

Whether it is cooking traditional subsistence foods or sewing, she uses the knowledge passed down to her by her grandparents and parents.

She remembers the stories they told her, like the time she was learning to sew with her grandmother. She was so excited to start sewing that she didn’t pay attention to her stitches.

When she showed her grandmother, she didn’t critique her work, but instead told her a story about the rabbit and mouse.

Her grandmother asked Yurrliq, when you go out and look at the rabbit’s tracks, what do they look like?

She replied that they are long and the rabbit can hop far.

Her grandmother then asked, what about when you look at a mouse’s tracks?

She replied that they are small and close together.

Then she asked whose tracks do her stitches look like?

Yurrliq knew from then on, that in order to create durable products, she needed to have the right stitches in her sewing.

She still uses this story to teach her grandkids, students, and even teachers when she’s teaching cultural activities.

Rearden is known to not only create traditional cultural pieces such as qaspeq, malaggai, aliitmatek, qamguuk/piluuguk, nasqerrun, and tegumiak, but to also teach others how to create them.

She shares stories of when she would help her mother and grandmother sew for her younger siblings.

Etta Tall
Della Keats “Healing Hands”

Tall has served Alaska in a medical role since she graduated high school in 1988 and was trained as a combat medic in the Army National Guard.

She has worked as a traveling health aid, Certified Nursing Assistant, phlebotomist, and Family Health Navigator, and now is a tribal healer for the Norton Sound Health Corporation.

Dr. Edna Paniataq Ahgeak MacLean
Elder of the Year

Dr. MacLean has spearheaded the movement to help the next generation establish Iñupiaq literacy.

Raised bilingual, MacLean grew up at a time when children were punished for speaking their Native languages in school.

Her career comprises her work as a well-established teacher, scholar, and linguist, and her work in education and documentation of her Iñupiaq language connects Alaska’s Iñupiaq people to their culture.

In 1976, with a bachelor’s degree and teaching credential, MacLean developed a B.A. program in Iñupiaq at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) and taught the corresponding language courses.

While at UAF, she discovered a passion for her work as she began documenting the Iñupiaq language and how best to teach it.

In 1987, MacLean became the state’s Special Assistant for Rural Education.

Seeing the effect of Alaska’s education practices on the success of Native students and wanting a deeper understanding of her work, she returned to school to study the impact of the student-teacher relationship.

Eventually, she earned an M.A. from the University of Washington and a Ph.D. from Stanford University.

In 1995, MacLean became the first president of Ilisaġvik College, Alaska’s only accredited tribal college.

In 2014, Dr. MacLean published an Iñupiaq language dictionary, the culmination of many years of work throughout her career. The dictionary is one element in her efforts to ensure that the language continues to be spoken and serves as “a source of strength” to her people.

Kaitlyn Angayaq Hanson
Lu Young Youth Leadership

Hanson is Yup’ik from Alakanuk.

She is currently studying Biology at the University of Alaska.

She works as a Lead Youth Peer Mentor for the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program (ANSEP), mentoring middle school students from around the state.

Angayaq embodies the values of her Yup’ik culture.

When Angayaq was seven years old, she yuran’raq, or first-danced, with the Alarnaq Traditional Drummers and Dancers dancing the same song her dad did when he yuran’raq.

She has continued to be involved with Yup’ik drumming and dancing, learning, and teaching as many songs as possible.

Ms. Hanson is a founding member of the Ciuliamta Traditional Drummers and Dancers in Anchorage, which has allowed her to perform across the state, share her culture with others, and help keep the tradition of song and dance alive. Besides dancing, she enjoys reading, the outdoors, walking her dog, and beading.

Jerica & Qaiyaan Leavitt
Parents of the Year

Jerica “Niayuq” and Wilbur “Qaiyaan” Leavitt are Iñupiaq and were both raised in Utqiaġvik, where they still reside.

The married couple share two daughters, whom they eagerly immerse in their Alaska Native culture.

The family enjoys camping and being on the land, whether that is exploring the tundra or walking the beach.

Jerica enjoys picking edible and medicinal tundra plants, hand and machine sewing traditional clothing, and Arctic photography.

Jerica holds a master’s degree in Rural Development and bachelor’s degree in Alaska Native Studies with an emphasis in Alaska Native Languages from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Jerica works as the Assistant Professor of Iñupiaq Studies at Ilisaġvik College.

Evident through her work and personal life, Jerica’s passion is to teach, learn, and share the Iñupiaq language, culture, and traditions with her children and everyone around her.

Qaiyaan is a seasoned hunter and whaler who values providing his family with traditional foods.

Wanting his children to be familiar with subsistence gathering, Qaiyaan’s parenting style honors his grandparents who encouraged and taught him to hunt and go whaling since he was 4 or 5 years old.

Since becoming parents, Jerica & Qaiyaan understand it is now their responsibility to pass on their cultural knowledge and to encourage their daughters to explore their lands and learn more from the Elders in the community.

Carol Gore
Public Service

Gore is a proud Alaskan of Aleut descent.

Her life and work are shaped by the rich heritage of her people, their lives, and their stories.

23 years ago, Carol was “loaned” on an interim basis from Cook Inlet Region Inc. to Cook Inlet Housing Authority as they searched for a new Executive Director.

It was at CIHA that Carol found her calling, a place where her skills, goals, mission, and passion aligned. For 23 years, Gore has led the charge for responsible affordable housing and community development through innovation and collaboration.

In June 2023, Gore stepped aside to allow the next generation of CIHA leaders to take the helm.

Oliver and Wilson Hoogendorn
Walter Soboleff “Warriors of Light”

Oliver and Wilson Hoogendorn are Iñupiaq brothers from Nome, Alaska.

They recently competed and won the survival competition reality series Race to Survive: Alaska.

In 2019, they were the first Alaska Native team to summit Denali and ski down in a day.

They both graduated from Nome-Beltz High School.

Oliver graduated in 2015 and Wilson graduated in 2017.

Oliver is a commercial fisherman and Wilson is a gold diver.

They enjoy hunting and fishing and value the land that sustains them.