CIRI Spotlight: Alice E. Brown

Original CIRI shareholder Alice E. Brown was inducted into the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame for achievements in political activism in March 2010. Brown, a Kenaitze tribal member, was a pioneer in many ways. As the only woman on the original board of the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN), Brown fought tirelessly for the rights of Alaska Natives at a pivotal time in Alaska’s history. She championed the causes of all people who were disadvantaged or disenfranchised. Her work to build consensus and promote civic responsibility – coupled with courageous tenacity – helped shape the course of Alaskan history.

Before the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was passed in 1973 that created the Native regional corporations, the first Native activists made enormous personal sacrifices using their own money for travel, office supplies, postage, long distance phone calls and telegrams. They dedicated countless hours of their time without compensation and bore the brunt of public condemnation.

Alaska State Senate Resolution No. 27, passed in 1973, honored and recognized Brown’s life and devotion to her fellow Alaskans. She served as a role model for Native and non-Native women alike, exemplifying the powerful role women can play in shaping the direction for future generations.

In 1967, Alaska Gov. William Egan appointed Brown to the Alaska Governor’s Task Force on Land Claims, to which she was reappointed by Gov. Walter Hickel in 1968. She also served as the chairman of the board for the first Alaskan Native Political Education Committee in 1970.

Brown’s mother was born Anastasiia Nutnal’ta (English name Nancy Hedberg) and her father was John Hedberg (aka Moose Meat John). Born in Kenai on May 11, 1912, Brown passed away on Feb. 1, 1973. When she passed, there was an outpouring of condolences and honors. On Feb. 5, 1973, the Sealaska Corp. board passed a resolution honoring her: “Whereas, her passing has taken from all Alaska Native people, indeed all Alaskans, a person of true and enduring dedication who has inspired us all.”

John Borbridge, then Sealaska president, wrote, “The work she did for her people is her memorial. A lady respected by those privileged to know her, she persistently fought for a fair claims settlement for all Natives at a time when many believed that it was not possible.”

Upon Brown’s death, the list of her pallbearers read like the who’s who of the Alaska Native claims movement: Emil Notti, George Ondola, Miles Brandon, Emil McCord, Cecil Barns, John Borbridge, Jesse Maile, Willie Hensley, Cliff Groh, Mike Gravel, Robert Goldberg, Robert Ely, Byron Mallott, Harold Seater and Elmer Tennison.

Few of the original ladies of the Native land claims movement have been recognized for their contributions. It is fitting that Brown was inducted into the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame recognizing her as one of the women who have shaped Alaska – an honor long overdue.