Native Elder and Leader Caleb Pungowiyi Passes Away

A former leader of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference and a prominent Alaska Native traditional science advocate has died. Caleb Pungowiyi was born in the Saint Lawrence Island community of Savoonga in 1941.

Pungowiyi’s list of accomplishments is lengthy. He was a past President and CEO of ICC as well as for Nome-based Native non-profit Kawerak, Inc.

He served on many boards and committees that had direct involvement in the oversight of marine mammals and Arctic Ocean eco-systems. At the time of his death he was a senior advisor for the conservation group Oceana.

Pungowiyi’s brother in law, Mike Scott says because Pungowiyi grew up living off the land and water, he was instrumental in helping bridge the sometimes contentious relationship between environmentalists, western science and Alaska Native people.

“…to insure that future generations would be able to continue subsistence hunting and fishing and working with the scientific community about what some of the native community understands about mammals and wildlife that they may not know and understand using western science techniques. So he was a real bridge to that community from the Arctic ocean to Antarctica so his contribution will be lasting for sure.”

Pungowiyi had been on the Nome city council and was at one time the city manager for Kotzebue. He worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and Park Service documenting resources to help insure proper management, especially from a Native perspective. Scott says he believes Pungowiyi would want to be remembered for his hard work in this area.

“His role in helping his people be able to continue a subsistence way of life as well as culture and heritage to remain strong and not lose that identity. I think that was top on his list, he practiced what he preached and he was a great ambassador to the Native community. He will be missed.”

Pungowyi had lymphoma. He died Monday at his home in Wasilla. He was 69 years old. He is survived by his wife Gladys, 9 children, 24 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren. A funeral service will be held at the First Baptist Church of Anchorage on Saturday at 3 pm.

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Lori Townsend is the News Director for Alaska Public Media. She has worked in print and broadcast journalism for nearly 30 years. Radio brought her to Alaska, where she worked as a broadcast trainer for Native fellowship students at Koahnic Broadcasting before accepting a reporting/host position with APRN in 2003. APRN merged with Alaska Public Media a year later. 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. 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. 

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