Abunaat Atqaq Esther Bourdon
Abunaat/Atqaq, Esther Bourdon, was born April 12, 1929 in the Tupqabruk (Teller), raised in Kifigan (Wales) and passed away peacefully on September 23, 2021 in Siqnasuak (Nome).
Esther was the seventh child of Kimasuk (Josephine) and Kauwailak (Michael) Koweluk.
She lived a robust, traditional life in Kifigan before moving to Siqnasuak in the early 1950s. Her life wholly embraced and reflected the richness and sustaining bounty of land and sea. Hunting, gathering and Native food preparation and preservation was an important focal point and essence of her life.
Upon her family’s move to Nome, Esther caught the eye of “the boy next door.” After a three-year courtship, she married Ibabina Afafauqsraq David Bourdon. They were happily wed by Maurice Kelliher in a civil service and were blessed with five beautiful children: Dwayne, Josephine, Brian, Mary and Wilson.
Esther found great joy in nature whether at the family’s fish camp at Fort Davis, or boating on Grantley Harbor to the Imruk Basin and onto Iglaaruk (Mary’s Igloo), her father’s homeland. Both she and her late brother Andrew were often hunting and gathering food, which she loved immensely. Food was the center of Esther’s life; graciously inviting guests to dine on marine and land foods she prepared in the rich-culinary style of Inupiaq people.
Esther and David had a unique and loving family life. David remained the sole homecare provider, and she was the economic “bread winner” for the family. Her work history was as varied and rewarding. Whether cleaning guest rooms at the Wallace Hotel or teaching students at Nome-Beltz High School’s cultural studies program; cooking for elders at the XYZ Senior Center and Nome Preschool or providing home elder care services for Norton Sound Regional Hospital, and nursing patients at the Maynard McDougall Memorial Hospital or working in house keeping at the North Star Hotel, Esther found joy in labor and providing for her family.
Volunteering her linguistic knowledge for any entity was a true honor.
The Community United Methodist Church provided her spiritual needs. She actively attended church services since moving to Nome. Esther remembered when she and Jean Stasel represented the church women’s group at a conference in Seattle. Whether sewing items that benefited the Methodist Church’s “Sisterhood” or knitting or sewing a multitude of crafts for the annual United Methodist’s Women bazaar, her service was very important to her. She often volunteered to be the dish washer at the bazaar, translating Bible verses during and singing in the Inupiaq Choir during Sunday services and throughout the community. Her faith was boundless. She possessed a strong conviction and prayed daily. Leaning on her faith, especially during difficult times, and in times of celebration, was very important.
Esther enjoyed people. Socializing with family and friends brought her much joy. She made acquaintances easily and enjoyed sharing her rich Inupiaq culture with anyone; often recounting tales of hunting, fishing and gathering from Wales, Mary’s Igloo and the Nome area. Both she and her brother, Andrew, spent all available free time on land and sea. The Koweluk family’s late friend and neighbor, Sophie Swanson, often commented that Esther “just needed an airplane to fly” as she was quite capable of operating vehicles, boats and motors, snow machines and ATVs.
Being idle was never in Esther’s vocabulary. For most of her life, her hands were occupied sewing parkas, ubijhaat (kuspuks), sealskin slippers and mukluks, knitting gloves and socks, beading and embroidery. During the latter part of her life, word searches, jigsaw puzzles and reading her spiritual devotional from The Upper Room occupied her time. Life’s simple pleasures made Esther happy. Whether gazing out at the greatness of the ocean or serenity of a river, spending time with her grandchildren and great grandchildren, enjoying a lengthy-car ride in the countryside, or squirrel trapping with her late husband, David, she found immense joy in moments such as these.
Esther was not keen on seeking public recognition; however, her cultural knowledge and devotion to what she represented did not go unnoticed. In 2004, she was awarded Sitnasuak Native Corporation’s Elder of the Year, which lead to her receiving the Alaska Federation of Native’s Cultural Bearer Award. The 2019 Alaska State Legislature recognized her with a heart-felt proclamation on her 90th birthday in 2019. Sewing garments had been a large part of Esther’s life, mostly necessitated by environment and livelihood. She earned “Nicest Kuspuk” in 1992 sponsored by Kawerak’s Elders/Regional Conference. Her hand-sewn fur doll won first place in the Kivetoruk Moses Arts and Craft Fair in 1986. She unwaveringly shared the Inupiaq language, with many entities in Nome and statewide; most recently sharing her memoirs of Inupiaq life in Wales and Nome in The Nome Nugget newspaper.
Her resilience throughout the decades, knowledge of Inupiaq language and culture, love of labor, love of family, and deep spiritual connection were paramount to her longevity. The love for her children, family, grandchildren; Josephine, Andrew, Madeline, Derek, Anthony, Zachary, Kayla, Keegan, Joshua, and Samuel; great grandchildren, Alaina, Morgan, Luca and Hailey, grandniece Jessica and niece Hazel Nyberg were near and dear to her heart. She found great joy in their success and prayed and relied on her faith and prayer to ease the difficult moments in life’s struggles.
Esther was proceeded in death by her parents, Kimasuk and Kauwailak; siblings Sarah Koyuk, Clara Angnagnabooguk, Andrew Koweluk, Teddy Koweluk, Polly Koweluk, Harriet Koweluk, Billy Koweluk and Hilda Ashcraft, and her husband, David Bourdon.
She is survived by her children Dwayne Koweluk (Bertha), Josephine Bourdon, Brian Bourdon (Julianne), Mary David (Jay), and Wilson Bourdon (Kathleen); nephew Raymond Koweluk (daughter Jessica) and many wonderful friends, nieces and nephews, grandchildren and great grandchildren.
May Esther rest in eternal peace.