Family, friends, and former colleagues traveled from across Alaska to remember Mary Ciuniq Pete at the Bethel Cultural Center on Dec. 2. Pete’s partner and husband, Hubert Angaiak, didn’t speak at her memorial in Bethel, but he played “Amazing Grace” on his mandolin to open it up.
For two hours, Pete’s friends and former colleagues from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and its Kuskokwim Campus remembered the enormous impact she had on the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. She directed KuC from 2005 until her death, and was a strong advocate for protecting subsistence in the state. Pete succumbed to complications from ovarian cancer last month. She was 61.
Here’s what Mary Nanuwak, a friend of Pete's, had to say:
"This really pretty young lady is really smart, and whenever she said anything I just, like, shut up, and I even tell other people in the room, 'shut up and listen to her,'" Nanuwak said.
A huge earthquake shook Anchorage last week, which disrupted air traffic and kept some from flying in. Others were able to make it, one of them UAF's Vice Chancellor for Rural, Community, and Native Education Evon Peter. He’s Gwich'in from Arctic Village, and he introduced himself in his language. Peter was one of many people there who remembered Pete as a trailblazer for Alaska Native leaders, himself among them.
"She was really, like, one of those people a long time ago who would put on her snowshoes and put in that kind of work so the rest of the people could have it a little easier walking behind her," Peter said. "That’s how I saw her."
Almost everyone who spoke remembered Pete’s passion for subsistence, especially berry picking. Mary Sattler Peltola reminded the audience of her dedication to Yup’ik values.
"I used to joke with Mary that if Yup’iks had a flag, we'd put her face on it," Peltola said.
Another friend, Oscar Alexie, read from an essay written by the late John Active to remind everyone that Pete isn’t gone forever.
"And as we Yup’ik say to someone who is leaving the country for good: Tua-i-ngunrituq; it’s not the end. Tangerciqamken cam iliini; I’ll see you again sometime. Piuraa; be as you are," Alexie read.
To honor Pete’s legacy, the Bethel Community Services Foundation has set up a scholarship fund in her honor. Close to $20,000 has been raised so far, and the money will go to returning KuC students, preferably Alaska Native women.