FAIRBANKS—Two Fairbanks women received high honors Thursday at the Alaska Federation of Natives annual convention in Anchorage.
Bernice Joseph, born in Tanana and raised in Nulato, was named the AFN Citizen of the Year for 2012. She is vice chancellor for rural, community and Native education at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Joseph accepted the award from AFN co-chair Al Kookesh.
“To say that I’m honored to receive this award is a huge understatement,” Joseph said to the gathering assembled at the Dena’ina Center. “I will hold this to the highest regard because it came from all of you.”
Joseph, following the example set by her mother, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Her mother, Edith, raised the family of seven alone while working on university degrees to become a teacher. Joseph’s father died when she was 5 years old.
“My mom served as a guiding light and role model,” she said. “She taught for 34 years in the village of Nulato, so she instilled the importance of education to all of her kids and grandkids, and I’ve been blessed to use my education in exciting, adventurous, challenging and rewarding ways.”
“My annual rewards were not monetary, but they were in traveling to communities to celebrate graduations,” she said. “So many graduations I attended — in Bethel, Dillingham, Kotzebue, Tok, Fort Yukon and even in my hometown of Nulato, where we had our first college graduation a few years ago.”
Joseph was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer earlier this year and told the convention delegates that she is “fighting the good fight.” In May she was one of three women honored at the Farthest North Girl Scout Council’s Women of Distinction event in Fairbanks.
Earlier in the morning, Mary Jane Fate received the Shirley Demientieff Award for advocacy on behalf of Alaska Native women and children.
Gov. Sean Parnell presented the award to Fate, an Athabascan born and raised on a trapline in Rampart. The governor listed several of Fate’s accomplishments, among them her work for passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, her help founding the Breast Cancer Detection Center in Fairbanks, her becoming the first female co-chair of AFN, and her service as a member of the University of Alaska board of regents,
Fate received a standing ovation as she accepted the award.
“The opportunity to serve has helped me along the way,” she said in brief remarks to the crowd. “My Athabascan heritage also served me on a course which was sometimes not easy, so it is gratitude that I have for our Alaska Native culture and the many people who have helped me.”
Fate was honored earlier this year as the Citizen of the Year by Doyon, Limited, the for-profit Alaska Native regional corporation serving the Interior. Doyon cited her “leadership, strong commitment, competence and sensitivity in the educational and cultural survival of Alaska Natives.”
Contact managing editor Rod Boyce at 459-7585.