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Hometown leaders honored for helping others

A man in a military uniform, Major General Torrence Saxe, puts a pin on an Elder who is sitting down.

Recently, a number of stories have emerged about leaders whose examples, sacrifice, and focus on others honor their communities.

First, Corporal Bruce Boolowon was awarded for his heroic effort rescuing 11 U.S. Navy airmen in 1955. Boolowon saw a U.S. Navy airplane, a Lockheed P2V-5 Neptune, shot down by Soviet fighter planes. He and a group of 16 other Indigenous Alaska National Guardsmen were first on the scene and got the airmen to safety. Boolowon, the only member of the group still alive, was given the state’s highest award for valor during peacetime, the Alaska Heroism Medal.

Days later, the Alaska Native Heritage Center recognized Sam Schimmel, a 23-year-old Siberian Yupik and Kenaitze Indian man, for his effort to share Alaska Native values and feed his people. Currently a law student, Schimmel coordinated an effort to distribute more than twelve thousand pounds of salmon: a gift of food, and also of cultural continuity. “Some of the greatest stories that you’ll ever hear are told around a table set with Indigenous foods,” Schimmel said.

Finally, Marjorie Kunaq Tahbone, an Inupiaq and Kiowa woman from Nome, was awarded the prestigious Governor’s Arts and Humanities Award. She is an artist, teacher, traditional tattooist, hide tanner, and business owner awarded for her efforts to revitalize culture, such as starting Nome’s Inupiaq immersion program for kindergarten and first grade. She has recently been named the director of Nome’s Katirvik Cultural Center.

“Our languages and our cultures will make us happier, healthier people,” Kunaq said. “It’s not my knowledge to keep. It’s something that must be passed down and shared with everybody and anybody who wants to learn.”

Image at top: Alaska’s top military officer, Maj. Gen. Torrence Saxe pins the a heroism medal on Cpl. Bruce Boolowon in Gambell. Photo courtesy Robert DeBerry, Alaska National Guard.

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