North Slope elder Ugiaqtaq Wesley Aiken remembered for ‘life of hard work’

Elder Ugiaqtaq Wesley Aiken delivering his keynote address at the 2018 Elders and Youth conference in the Denai’ina Center. (Zachariah Hughes/Alaska Public Media)

The North Slope community of Utqiagvik recently mourned the passing of its oldest elder. 

Ugiaqtaq Wesley Aiken was born in 1926 in the village, long before the region was driven by oil development. 

“He came from the life of hard work,” said Martha Stackhouse, Aiken’s daughter.

Stackhouse says Aiken was a fixture in the community for most of his life starting as a reindeer herder at age 14. She says her father  was instrumental in establishing the local borough government and the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation with the first North Slope Borough mayor, Eben Hopson. 

“They were together in this land claims movement. And worked closely together,” Stackhouse said. “Eben always wanted to travel with him too sometimes. So when they were going back and forth to Washington D.C or Juneau or to AFN.”

A longtime whaler and champion of the subsistence way of life, Aiken was the keynote speaker at the 2018 Elders and Youth Conference in Anchorage. Stackhouse says her father was always asked to speak with the youth at the schools and community events. 

“He always talked about, ‘we did all this to secure our land and our way of life’ which is subsistence way of life,” Stackhouse said. “In a sense he was saying we’re passing the torch to the young people.”

Stackhouse says she’ll always remember her father for trying to attend as many community cultural events as possible. 

“He always wanted to attend all these things just to watch people being happy,” Stackhouse said.

Ugiaqtaq Wesley Aiken passed away on January 6th. He was 93 years old.