Athabascan leader and former AFN chair Mary Jane Fate passes away

Mary Jane Fate in 2014 (Photo courtesy of the Alaska
Women’s Hall of Fame)

Athabascan leader Mary Jane Fate has died. She was known for her advocacy for the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and her leadership of the Alaska Federation of Natives and the Fairbanks Native Association. Fate had many “firsts” at a formative time in Alaska’s history.

Mary Jane Evans was born in the Interior Alaska village of Rampart in 1933.

“She babysat, I think, about half of the village of Rampart,” said family friend Georgiana Lincoln, who grew up with Fate. 

Mary Jane Evans graduated from Mt. Edgecumbe boarding high school in Sitka in 1952, then became one of the first Native women to attend the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, where she studied accounting. She worked at Wien Alaska Airlines to pay her way through school.

In 1954 she married a Korea War Veteran, Hugh Fate, a relationship that lasted 65 years.

“At all times, you never saw Bud without Mary Jane or Mary Jane without Bud,” said Lincoln.

Hugh Fate, known as Bud, later went to dental school, and Mary Jane trained as a dental hygienist and in the 1960s, the young couple flew to many Alaska villages to provide dental care.

“All their lives. When he was dentist, she was a dental assistant. When they went to camp, fish camp, they went to camp together,” said Lincoln.

In Fairbanks, they raised three daughters, Janine, Jennifer, and Julie and Mary Jane’s cousin, Alfred Woods.

They also were friends with activists in Fairbanks who fought discrimination in housing and public access and helped form the Fairbanks Native Association in 1963. Mary Jane Fate served as president of the organization.

Lincoln says Fate’s leadership touched Native and political organizations across the state, who are calling in with condolences. 

“She was the voice of the people,” said Lincoln

Fate served on the board of the Rampart Village Corporation (Baan O Yeel Kon), after it was formed in 1972 for many years. Her daughter is now on that board.  

She helped found the North American Indian Women’s Association and in 1975 was its third national president. She directed a national research project for Congress about the treatment and care of Indian children and women.

She worked with Nancy Murkowski and other Fairbanks women to open the non-profit Breast Cancer Detection Center in 1976. It provides education and mammograms to Interior Alaska women regardless of their ability to pay.

She was the first woman on the Alaska Airlines board of directors, where she served 25 years. She was the first woman and first Alaska Native to serve on the Alaska Judicial Council from 1981 to 1987.

In the 1980s, Lincoln and Fate were active in the Alaska Federation of Natives. Neither saw gender as a limitation to becoming co-chair of the organization.

“In fact I nominated her. And she was the first woman co-chair of the AFN,” said Lincoln.

Fate served as co-chair with Henry Ivanoff between 1988 and 1989.

Fate served as a Regent for the University of Alaska from 1993 through 2001.

She was active in the Republican party, especially after her husband was elected to the Alaska House in 2000. Lincoln, who served in the Alaska House and Senate as a Democrat, says partisanship was never a barrier.

“We got along so well. I’m a staunch Democrat, and I’m sure she was a staunch Republican. We never talked about that. We talked about the issues, and Republican/Democrat never came up,” said Lincoln.

Mary Jane Fate died just after 1 a.m. last Friday morning, April 10. Her husband, Hugh B. Fate Jr. is 90 years old and was named by his son-in-law, U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan, as “Alaskan of the Week” in the Senate Chambers last December. They have three daughters and 11 grandchildren.

She is survived by two sisters, Lily and Alice and three daughters.