Etta Tall, Hoogendorn brothers pick up AFN President’s Awards
By Megan Gannon
No annual meeting of the Alaska Federation of Natives would be complete without awards, and the Bering Straits section of the Dena’ina Center had a few reasons to get on their feet during the President’s Awards ceremony on Friday. Two of the seven honors distributed this year went to Nome residents.
Etta Tall, who is originally from Little Diomede and now works as a tribal healer for Norton Sound Health Corporation, took home the Della Keats “Healing Hands” award. Meanwhile, Nome-grown brothers Oliver and Wilson Hoogendorn won the Walter Soboleff “Warriors of Light” award.
The “Healing Hands” award, according to AFN, “recognizes an Alaska Native who has demonstrated strong commitment, competence and sensitivity as a tribal healer or health care provider, and whose accomplishments have most directly affected Native people in their home communities.”
Tall was trained as a combat medic in the Army National Guard. She has also worked as a traveling health aid, certified nursing assistant, phlebotomist, and family health navigator before becoming a tribal healer at NSHC. In her acceptance speech, Tall said that learning about Keats, an Iñupiaq healer from the Kotzebue area, inspired her to go into the medical field. She was also inspired by early experiences with plant medicine. She recounted that when the providers at the local clinic didn’t give her anything to help her clear a chest cold, her father encouraged her to treat it with locally foraged stinkweed.
“I was amazed how it really helped me feel better,” Tall said. “I would look at every plant and wonder if it’s medicinal and how it would help people.”
Tall thanked her teachers, including tribal healer Maria Dexter, as well as her husband, Michael Tall, who she said did a lot of the childcare while she was traveling.
According to AFN, the Walter Soboleff award recognizes individuals who “uplift our people, enrich our spirits, and unify our people.” The Hoogendorn brothers Oliver and Wilson were the first Alaska Native team to summit Denali and ski down in a day. They also won the competition reality series “Race to Survive: Alaska,” which aired on USA Network earlier this year.
“When I was a kid, I would see successful people and think they did it all by themselves, but as I grew older, I quickly learned that’s not the case,” Oliver said. He shouted out the support he and his brother have received from their friends, family and girlfriends.
They also spoke about using their platform to represent Iñupiaq values.
“I think we just try our best to represent our people the best we can,” Wilson said. “We want to represent our people well.”
Dr. Edna Maclean won the Elder of the Year award for her work to help the next generation establish Iñupiaq literacy. During her acceptance speech, Maclean spoke of the richness in the language that her ancestors put together.
“Through the Iñupiaq language, they brought all the knowledge that they had of the ocean, the land, the interaction between land and ocean, and then their conception of spiritual life and how it functions,” Maclean said. “Our language identifies for us how we should react to each other in a community. It’s a pleasure to have spent my life doing research and discovering the Iñupiaq language.”
AFN’s Culture Bearer award went to Nita Yuurliq Rearden. A lifelong teacher, Rearden has found ways to impart traditional Yup’ik cultural values through educating others in the art of dollmaking, sewing and other crafts.
AFN’s Young Youth Leadership award went to Kaitlyn Angayaq Hanson, who is Yup’ik from Alakanuk. She mentors middle schoolers from around the state as a Lead Youth Peer Mentor for the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program. Hanson is also involved in Yup’ik drumming and dancing as a founding member of the Ciuliamta Traditional Drummers and Dancers in Anchorage.
Jerica and Qaiyaan Leavitt won the Parents of the Year award. These Iñupiaq parents are raising their two daughters in their hometown of Utqiaġvik, and immersing them in their Alaska Native culture.
Carol Gore, of Aleut descent, took home the Public Service award. In her 23-year career with Cook Inlet Housing Authority, she sought solutions for affordable housing and community development.