Sullivan Honors Alaskan of the Week: Jake Adams

WASHINGTON, DC – U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) spoke yesterday on the Senate floor to recognize Jacob Adams, of Utqiagvik, a former mayor of Barrow and the North Slope Borough, former CEO of Arctic Slope Regional Corporation, a whaling captain and founding member of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, and a legendary advocate for the larger Alaska Native community. Senator Sullivan recognized Adams as part of his series, “Alaskan of the Week.”


Mr. President, it is Thursday, and it is one of my favorite times of the week because it is the time that I take to come down to the floor. The new pages are on the floor, and I think you are going to start to see this as probably one of your favorite times as well because it is when I talk about what we call the Alaskan of the Week. It is an opportunity to highlight somebody in my State who has done something great for their community, the State, and the country, and to brag a little bit about Alaska. 

Today I am going to talk about Jacob Adams from Utqiagvik, formerly known as Barrow, AK. He has been a hero to so many in our State, including me--a giant of an individual who has spent his whole life in public service for his culture, for his community, for his State, and for his country. 

Before I get started about Jake Adams, let me talk a little bit about what is going on in Alaska right now. 

I know we all think we live in the best States. Each of us likes to come down and brag. That is a good thing. But in Alaska, we certainly have a lot of bragging rights on a whole host of issues and a whole host of areas in which we are very unique. 

Right now, it is a beautiful time to be in Alaska. We want tourists and everyone watching on TV to come to our great State. Flowers are blooming, and salmon are running up our rivers. Hundreds of thousands--soon, literally millions--of salmon will be running. According to our Alaska Department of Fish and Game, it is going to be a great season for our reds. 

Of course, the sun is our familiar friend this time of year. In the northern part of my State, in Utqiagvik, the northernmost city in the entire United States, it is not setting at all. The sun is not setting at all. Midnight sun, pure energy--it is amazing to experience. We experience it, but we want everyone else to come up and experience it. 

Something else is going on in Alaska in villages in the northern part of the State around this time of year, a very unique and special cultural tradition. The spring whaling season in 11 communities on the North Slope is wrapping up. This spring, those 11 North Slope communities were able to land 24 whales, equaling somewhere between 300 and 400 tons of highly nutritious food for these wonderful communities. That whale meat is then shared in villages throughout the whaling communities. It is an incredible Alaska Native tradition that we are all in awe of. 

We are now heading into Nalukataq season. This is when communities get together to celebrate this incredible bounty and harvest. It is a special day, a time of celebration and sharing. On this day, successful whaling crews share and feed the communities from morning until night--whale, caribou soup, goose and duck soup, and fish is served to anyone and everyone who comes. It is really, really special. 

The community also celebrates with a blanket toss, where people are tossed high into the air. The seal skins sewed together from the successful whale hunts are used for the blanket. It is another beautiful Alaska Native tradition that Natives and non-Natives in our State cherish. 

There is a long list of people to thank for keeping this incredible whaling and Inupiaq culture and heritage alive in Alaska, but Jake Adams is certainly on the top of that list. He is a proud whaling captain himself and a founding member of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, which has been the primary force in making sure that our whaling communities continue to get the quotas they need from the International Whaling Commission to continue the practice and to feed their people and keep this amazing cultural heritage practice going. 

It has not been easy, but they have fought for self-determination, and they have won repeatedly, including at a big IWC meeting in Brazil last year.

It is because of Jake Adams' incredible leadership that this tradition is so far advanced and revered in Alaska, and, I would say, around the world. Jake has done that and so much more for his community and for people all across the great State of Alaska. In one word, he is a legend--a true legend--for Alaska, and I am proud to have him as a friend. 

Jake's accomplishments are too long to list here, but let me spend a few minutes highlighting just a few of those accomplishments. Let me start with his background. 

He was born to Baxter and Rebecca Adams in Utqiagvik in 1946. He was raised in the tradition of the Inupiaq people--respecting their elders and revering the land and resources for his spiritual, physical, and emotional sustenance. 

Like so many Alaska Natives, as a boy he was sent away to school--far away--to a school in Alaska called Mt. Edgecumbe. It is thousands of miles away, and it is a boarding school that was run by BIA. Then, he went to the University of Alaska Fairbanks, until he got his first job with BIA. 

All of this was at a time of great change for the whole State of Alaska and, particularly, for the Alaska Native people. While Jake was still a young man, the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, or what we call ANCSA, was being debated in the halls of Congress and right here on the floor of the Senate. This ended up being one of the largest lands settlements anywhere in the world--literally, in the history of the world. It was right here in the U.S. Senate. The story around the passage of ANCSA in 1971, after decades of struggle, is certainly one for the ages. 

Jake Adams, among so many others, was highly involved in the passage of this landmark legislation for Alaska, and he was even more involved in the implementation of ANCSA, which set up shareholder-owned businesses with land for the Alaska Native people, what we call regional and village corporations, throughout the State. Stories abound of him and other Native leaders knocking on doors throughout the region, making sure that people were signed up as shareholders of these new corporations.

When he was only 21, Jake was elected to the Barrow City Council, and he began his long decades of public service for Alaska and for his people. He then served as mayor of the city from 1971 through 1977. Then, the North Slope Borough was incorporated, the borough on the north part of Alaska--bigger than California. That was established, and he was a leader for the North Slope Borough in our State. 

The Alaska Native corporation on the North Slope, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation--or, as we call it in Alaska, ASRC--is one of the great business success stories in our State and, I would say, in America. Many people credit the work that Jake did at ASRC for making it so successful. He worked closely with many other great leaders at ASRC and on the North Slope. 

Oliver Leavitt certainly is another great leader. In fact, the North Slope Borough and the ASRC are organizations that have produced really wonderful leaders for Alaska: Crawford Patkotak, Rex Rock, Tara Sweeney, and Richard Glenn. 

But I am digressing here a little bit. Let's get back to Jake. 

He was on the board of ASRC from the very beginning and is still on the board today, over 40 years. He was involved in the selection of nearly 5 million acres of land for that corporation under the law passed by the Senate and the House, with limited time and limited funds to do this. But he is a wise man, and ASRC selected well. ASRC land is rich in natural resources and abundant in wildlife. Jake has always been a strong proponent of making sure those resources and that wildlife form the basis for economic development and a sustainable way of life. “Our lands are the basis for all of our culture and all our wealth,” he likes to say. 

Eventually, Jake became the president and CEO of ASRC. Under his leadership, ASRC has grown and diversified in terms of one of the top corporations, certainly in Alaska and, I would say, in the country, with thousands of employees, not just in Alaska, but all over. 

He was able to do all of this while still doing subsistence hunting and raising a family of six with his wonderful wife Lucille. He often conducted business on his boat, in the North Slope and overseas, while whaling. Not many business leaders in America can say that. 

Jake once told a reporter: 

“The land and a sense of place remain extremely important to our people. 

We truly do exist in two worlds. ..... Our culture and the value of traditions are part of our life every day, even as we pursue more Western business type of activities.

He has done so much more for Alaska, for his people, for our people: supporting the Native sobriety movement and working to eradicate illegal drugs from Native villages. He has been involved with the volunteer search and rescue organization and is a huge advocate for education. 

In honor of Jake's commitment to education, the ASRC's Alaska Educational Foundation created a scholarship award in his name. The ``Anagi Leadership Award'' is given each year to a student, providing up to $24,000 for tuition, fees, and college expenses. 

At his retirement ceremony from executive leadership of ASRC in 2006, the people of the North Slope Borough literally cried. He is that well respected. For his many accomplishments last year, he was awarded an honorary doctorate of law degree from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. 

Jake Adams is a man of wisdom. I have a story. When I was attorney general, 10 years ago, I was dealing with a particularly difficult situation. When I worked out what I thought was a good resolution, I flew to Utqiagvik to meet with Jake to ask him if he agreed and, importantly, if the community agreed. I explained the situation. Importantly, when I asked him what he thought, he said he thought it would be a just resolution and he would be supportive of it. That meant so much to me, as Alaska's attorney general, getting his advice and his wisdom. 

Jake Adams is a man of few words, but when he speaks, it is powerful and people listen. He is a man of deep, deep wisdom. Ask anyone who knows him, and they will talk about his wisdom, his natural leadership, his humility, and his abiding love of the land, the people, Alaska, and his family, which now includes 13 grandchildren. 

A few years ago at a celebration in his honor, John Hopson, Jr., another great Alaska Native leader from the North Slope, talked about how much Jake had contributed to his community and Alaska. 

He said: 

“Jake has also bridged the world between traditional whaling captain and corporate leader. A highly successful whaling captain, he has also provided guidance to our North Slope Borough and Arctic Slope Regional Corporation as they matured as institutions. He has filled these roles with deep resolve, wisdom, and great foresight. And always, he has acted with the highest honor toward his family and his community.”

Well said, John Hopson, Jr., about Jake Adam. 

Jake, thank you for all you have done for us, for your community, and for all Alaskans. Thank you for your decades of service to Alaska and your leadership. 

Thank you, Lucille, for sharing him with us. 

Congratulations, again, on being our Alaskan of the Week. 

# # #