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History and Culture

Home  >  History and Culture  >  Ancsa at 30  >  Lecture Series
Lecture Series, Number One
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Moderator: Tom Richards

Panelists: Nels Anderson, Jr., Senator Mike Gravel, Joe Upicksoun, C. Robert Zelnick

Tom Richards: I'd like to begin by thanking the university and the Native Studies Department, Dr. Eder, and the folks at Koniag Incorporated who are sponsors for our first seminar on revisiting the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. I didn't know until a few days ago that Koniag was going to be your sponsor for this first seminar, so all those months of research and writing those Aleutiiq jokes went down the tubes.

Tom Richards
Koniag has been very supportive of me and the Tundra Times. They provided representation on our board over the years and have been gracious hosts during my many trips to Kodiak, and they've also been staunch supporters of higher education opportunities, not only for the Native students of Kodiak Island, but for all the students here at the university, so I really appreciate their support.

I'd like to begin by talking a little bit about Howard Rock. We're dedicating this first seminar to Howard. Howard was an Inupiaq Eskimo from the village of Point Hope on the northwest coast of Alaska. He was born in Point Hope on August 10, 1911. It seems like I've known Howard all my life, and it seems like he's still here.

I believe that my family knew him before I did. Back in the '20s and '30s, people traveled by boat in the summer and by dog sled in the winter. We didn't have fast air transportation like we do now, so Howard often stayed with my Aanaga and my Taataruaba, my mother's parents, in the village of Kotzebue, while he was waiting for a boat to either go to work or go to school. My mother knew him first, in the late '20s, early '30s.

He became friends with my father about 65 years ago. My father had to take a boat, first to Eklutna, and then southeastern Alaska to go to school, and that was the only way people could travel. Howard was a crewman aboard the Revenue Cutter Bear. That was about 65 years ago, and it was my father's first trip to go to school. He was a very lonesome young Eskimo, a little bit apprehensive about traveling for hundreds of miles to be able to go to school.

Howard befriended him, and that was a friendship that lasted half a century. My dad couldn't understand how this fellow who was a crewman about the Revenue Cutter Bear could be so gracious to a young Eskimo on his way to school.

When Howard started the Tundra Times in 1961, he asked my dad to be the vice president of the Tundra Times and that continued for a number of years. Howard was a very quiet, soft-spoken individual, probably the most soft-spoken person I knew who could have the most tremendous impact in just a few words -- somewhat like my Dad. I worked with Howard. Howard became the editor for the Tundra Times in 1962, and served as editor and publisher until his death in April 1976.

I joined that newspaper as a staff writer for Howard in 1968, and worked with him at the newspaper in various capacities until 1974. In the next seminar, you'll see my co-moderator Edgar Blatchford. Edgar became a journalist the hard way -- he went to school. Actually, I think he was born to be a journalist. Most folks, you know, when you're born, let out a cry just being shocked at being in the world, and I think when Edgar was born, he started crying, saying, "Where's my first byline?"

Howard taught me so much. I was with him when he died in April 1976. I've seen a number of people die. I've never seen anybody die the way Howard did. He went out in a blaze of glory -- literally. His eyes started to burn brightly, almost like tungsten on fire. I'd never seen that before.

The last time I went to visit Howard was at his grave site in Point Hope. That was September 20th, 1983. I was on an airplane. By that time, my father had retired as a jet captain and was working for Baker Aviation out of Kotzebue, so he took us to Point Hope on a 207.

I was working for AVCP, part of the Inupiaq foreign aid program. We flew to Point Hope, with the social workers, who were going to learn how social services were delivered in the Nenana region. The social workers were doing their casework in the village, and my dad had been visiting his friends, and I was looking for Howard's grave. When we buried Howard in April of '76, it had been still winter time. There was a lot of snow. When I came back that day in September in 83, there was no snow on the ground; it was very different. I couldn't find Howard's grave.

After a while, I looked toward the airport, and I saw that Dad and Dorothy and Boff and Bea were waiting for me, so I was about ready to give up. I said Howard, I'm here, came to visit, I can't find you. Then I heard a call, I heard something above my head, and I looked up, there was a raven – right above me. I hadn't seen anything in the sky, but as soon as I said Howard I can't find you that bird appeared and started circling; it made several wide circles. It circled me about three times, all the time calling to me, and it landed about a hundred yards away, and I thought well, this is kind of curious. I walked over to where that bird was, and when I got within about ten feet, it flew straight up, about 20 feet straight up in the air and it disappeared. I looked over to where it had been and that was Howard's grave.

So I know that we're not done when we're done. Probably half the people, more than half the people that were involved in ANCSA have passed on, but they're still with us.

One of the things I do remember very much about Howard was just before he died, he was asked to talk to a gathering of young Native people about what they ought to be doing, what should guide them in their studies, in their work, in their lives.

He went to Anchorage to the hotel room at the Western Hotel and he wrote a very short speech on a napkin. He said, "When troublesome obstacles overcome you, remember the achievements of your ancestors. They overcame the harshest environment that this whole world has to offer. They succeeded, and succeeded very well, and there's plenty of room for shares, many shares of lightheartedness."

That was Howard. Thank you so much for dedicating this seminar to my friend.

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Michael Catoggio, Reference Librarian, University of Alaska Anchorage

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