‘Republic of the Arctic’ Proponent And Native Rights Activist Charles Etok Edwardsen Dies

A life devoted to whaling and land rights has come to an end. Charles Etok Edwardsen passed away in the place he loved best, a whale camp.

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Edwardsen was an outspoken activist who fought against the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act because he believed the Inupiaq people of the north should control the land and resources of the arctic. He was born in Barrow and was the oldest of 14 children. His sister Beverly Hugo says he fought for modern services for his people after seeing running water and flush toilets at boarding school. She says, even as a child, he was strong willed, stowing away on his grandfather’s whaling boat when he was only 5 years old.

“He did hide… [laughing]… and got into Grandpa’s boat. And when Grandpa realized that his son was not going to be denied, he gave him the task of throwing the float after the shoulder person has shot the whale and the harpooner has sent the harpoon off, and Etok’s job as a little boy was to throw the float out.”

Beverly says her mother loved to sew traditional clothing for her oldest son. She says when her mom was dying, her brother got his parka wet on a hunting trip and her mom worried about who would care for him after she was gone.

Beverly Hugo is a younger sister of the late Charles Etok Edwardsen, who died on May 8th. She says as he requested, there will be a political rally instead of a memorial service in his honor. That rally will happen on Saturday in Barrow.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for the Alaska Public Radio Network. She got her start in broadcasting at the age of 11 as the park announcer of the fast pitch baseball games in Deer Park, Wisconsin. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for more than 18 years. She was the co-founder and former Editor of Northern Aspects, a magazine featuring northern Wisconsin writers and artists. She worked for 7 years at tribal station WOJB on the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibway Reservation in Wisconsin, first as an on-air programmer and special projects producer and eventually News Director. In 1997 she co-hosted a continuing Saturday afternoon public affairs talk program on station KSTP in St. Paul, Minnesota. Radio brought her to Alaska where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting. Following her work there, she helped co-found the non-profit broadcast company Native Voice Communications with veteran Alaskan broadcasters Nellie Moore, D’Anne Hamilton, Len Anderson, Sharon McConnell and Veronica Iya. NVC created the award-winning Independent Native News as well as producing many other documentaries and productions. Townsend was NVC’s technical trainer and assistant producer of INN. Through her freelance work, she has produced news and feature stories nationally and internationally for Independent Native News, National Native News, NPR , Pacifica, Monitor Radio, Radio Netherlands and AIROS. Her print work and interviews have been published in News from Indian Country, Yakama Nation Review and other publications. Ms. Townsend has also worked as a broadcast trainer for the Native American Journalist’s Association and with NPR’s Doug Mitchell and as a freelance editor. Townsend is the recipient of numerous awards for her work from the Alaska Press Club, the Native American Journalists Association and a gold and a silver reel award from the National Federation of Community Broadcasters. Townsend was the recipient of a Fellowship at the Metcalf Institute for Marine and Environmental Reporting in Rhode Island as well as a fellowship at the Knight Digital Media Center in Berkeley. She is an avid reader, a rabid gardener and counts water skiing, training horses, diving and a welding certification among her past and current interests. ltownsend (at) alaskapublic (dot) org  |  907.550.8452 | About Lori