Bristol Bay elder Bobby Andrew, who has been a leading voice in the fight against Pebble Mine, passed away Tuesday in Aleknagik at the age of 73. State troopers say Andrew died of natural causes, and was found at his cabin on Lake Aleknagik Tuesday afternoon.
“He went up there to get whitefish and pike,” said longtime friend and Nunamta Aulukestai coworker Kim Williams Wednesday. “He was supposed to come home Sunday or Monday morning, and when he didn’t, his wife Ingrid asked someone to check in on him. He passed away in his sleep, in a place he loved and cherished. It’s a sad day for Bristol Bay, but it’s a happy day, too.”
For a decade or more, Bobby Andrew has been outspoken on protecting Bristol Bay. He has been featured in films, written articles, spoken at public meetings, and taken his message around the country and overseas.
“I was looking at the photos this morning, and I think he’s been to London five or six times carrying the message to the large mining companies Rio Tinto and Anglo American to say, ‘You know Bristol Bay is not a place to develop a large, open-pit mine,'” said Williams. “He’s gone to Juneau, to D.C., to Nevada … anywhere he was needed, he would go.”
Others recall the gentle, unassuming, elder with a soft voice as a powerful advocate for Bristol Bay.
“I’ve been in meetings with him where the whole darn room was against us, and he didn’t back down an inch,” said Robin Samuelson.
Samuelson added that Andrew was always well-prepared for meetings and presentations, represented his region well, and believed till the end that the fight against Pebble would be won.
“He was unique too in that he never asked for anything for his efforts,” he said.
According to Earthworks website, Andrew was born in Aleknagik and attended the B.I.A. territorial school there as a child, then Dillingham High School. Andrew earned an accounting degree from Dyke Spencerian Business College, which is now Chancellor University in Cleveland, Ohio.
Andrew lived at the end of Wood River Road in Dillingham, but the cabin on Aleknagik was a favored retreat, according to friends. They speak of a man tied intimately to the lands, waters, and people of Bristol Bay.
“He loved fish, he loved his family, and was especially proud of his grandchildren,” said Kim Williams. “As an Uppa, he wanted to make sure that whatever he did today would benefit his grandchildren, and the fish that they had today, he wanted to make sure they had in the future.”
Andrew was also a strong Russian Orthodox believer, and was a reader and choir member at church. Family and friends were still planning services Wednesday, but indicated a funeral and burial were tentatively scheduled for Saturday.