Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley
One of the UA system's leading Alaska Native professors passed away April 24. Oscar Kawagley was involved in leading Indigenous Knowledge workshops to educators and students in the UAS educational community.
Angayuqaq, better known as Oscar Kawagley, died in Fairbanks on April 24th, 2011. He had a very long bout with renal cancer which finally caught up with him. He was born in Mamterilleq (now Bethel, Alaska) on Nov. 8th, 1934 and was raised on the Kuskokwim delta by his grandmother Matilda Oscar, following the death of his parents when he was two years old.
In addition to the loss of his parents David Kawagley of Akiak and Amelia Oscar of Bethel, he was preceded in death by his sister Florence Mildred Blatchford. his uncle Jesse Oscar and wife Celia, his aunt Martha and husband Clement Sara, and Anthone Anvil, husband of cousin Carrie.
He is survived by his children Sherry L. Colley, Sandra L. Haviland, Oscar K. Kawagley and Tamaree D. Kawagley, as well as his wife Anna Northway and his former wife, Dolores Kawagley, along with ten grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. Other surviving family members include Marita Snodgrass, Martha "Tiny" Jack, Rose Mowery, and Nils Sara.
Oscar’s life was one of many firsts as a Yupiaq person. His grandmother encouraged him to obtain a western education, along with the education he received as a Yupiaq child in the camps along the rivers of Southwest Alaska. Although this created conflicting values and caused confusion for him for many years, he sought to find ways in which his Yupiaq peoples’ language and culture could be used in the classroom to meld the contemporary ways to the Yupiaq thought world.
Along the way he was the first Yupiaq to graduate from high school in Bethel, was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Medical Services Corps and completed four university degrees, including a B.Ed., M.Ed. and Ed.S from the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and a Ph.D. from the University of British Columbia. His 1992 doctoral dissertation, which examined Yupiaq ways of knowing, was the first at UBC to use an Indigenous methodology of traditional stories and Indigenous ecological knowledge. His scholarly pursuits included the publication of the book, A Yupiaq World View: A Pathway to Ecology and Spirit, as well as serving as co-editor of two recent books on Alaska Native education.
Oscar served for the past 25 years as a faculty member with the Cross-Cultural Studies and Education programs at UAF where he introduced the construct of “Native ways of knowing” and contributed greatly to the understanding of issues concerning Indigenous peoples and world views that had been largely neglected in the past. He also served as co-director of the Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative and Alaska Native Knowledge Network.
While the ‘public’ face of Oscar was as an educator and cultural advisor, he also took on roles as an actor in television and films. He played a lead role in a feature-length movie, Salmonberries, as well as appearing in episodes of the TV series Northern Exposure and the Disney movie, Brother Bear. Amongst Alaskan Native people he was seen as father, uncle, friend, leader, teacher, mentor, professor and most recently as "Elder" - the most honored recognition among Native communities. Oscar’s leadership and vision helped his own people to find balance among communities, peoples and relationships, engaging them in open discussions that challenged them to believe in their abilities and traditions.
In each of these roles he left his mark and received numerous honors over the years, including the National Indian Education Association Lifetime Achievement Award, the American Educational Research Association Outstanding Scholarship Award, the Governor’s Award for the Arts and Humanities, the Alaska Secondary School Principal’s Association Distinguished Service Award, and the Association of Village Council Presidents Award for the years of services to the people of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. Oscar traveled a long journey, and his lifetime ends where it began as his ashes are spread on the tundra in southwestern Alaska.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Fairbanks Food Bank, or to an account in Oscar’s name in support of an award that will be presented annually to recognize an Indigenous scholar who has made a significant contribution to our understanding of Native ways of knowing. Contact information for submitting a donation for the AOK award is (907) 474-1902 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Donations to Oscar’s family may be sent to Anna Northway at 1224 Denali Way, Fairbanks AK 99701.