Sullivan Honors Alaskan of the Week: James Charles

WASHINGTON, DC — U.S. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-AK) this week spoke on the Senate floor in recognition of James Charles, a Tuntutuliak elder who has spent nearly 50 years championing conservation, subsistence and wildlife management in Alaska. Charles was recognized as part of Senator Sullivan’s series, “Alaskan of the Week.”

Alaskan of the Week

Click here to watch Senator Sullivan’s floor remarks.


The following is the statement submitted to the Congressional Record:



Mr. President, for the past year or so, I have been coming to the floor nearly every week, and I know the Presiding Officer looks at this as possibly his favorite time of the week because he gets to hear a lot of these ``Alaskan of the Week'' speeches. I know the Pages love them. I come to the floor to talk about my State, really brag about my State, and recognize an Alaskan who has made a difference--made a difference in their community, whether it is a small community or a big community in the State, in the country.

I have repeatedly stated--I am sure not all my colleagues agree, but maybe some of them do--that Alaskans live in the greatest State in the greatest country in the world. We certainly have the most beautiful landscapes and all the seasons. I was in Fairbanks and Anchorage over the holidays. It was wonderful. Winter is such a great time in the great State of Alaska. For those who love snow, Alaska is the place to be, so we want everyone to come visit. But it is truly the people and strong communities throughout Alaska that make our State so great--such a welcoming place.

For those of us who live in Alaska, sustainable community is everything. Living in one of the most magnificent places on Earth, also, certainly has its challenges. We depend on each other. Our traditional knowledge, our ingenuity, our warm-hearted nature, and our determination to overcome these challenges is what makes our State great and is often the theme of our ``Alaskan of the Week'' speeches.

Today I wish to transport you to the village of Tuntutuliak--a village of about 400 people, southwest of Bethel, AK, on the 700-mile long, mighty Kuskokwim River--and introduce you to a truly amazing elder who, for 77 years, has worked tirelessly for his community and for our State. This is James Charles, who is our Alaskan of the Week.

Over the past decades, when there has been a meeting on the Kuskokwim concerning fish or wildlife or subsistence, James has been there helping to create and shape a fishing and hunting community and regulations, not only for the region but for the entire State of Alaska.

James was born in 1940 in a fish camp below Helmick Point on the Kuskokwim River. During that time, Alaska was being devastated by a tuberculosis epidemic. In fact, in the mid-20th century, Alaska Native people experienced the highest incidence of tuberculosis of any population ever. This is one of the many challenges we talk about.

Sadly, the epidemic took James's father, his uncle, and both grandparents, leaving his mother and the community to care for her three children. The community--like many still, unfortunately, in Alaska--didn't have hospitals or clinics. They didn't have medicine. The Federal Government basically turned a blind eye to the havoc that this disease was wreaking over all of Alaska, particularly in our small villages.

What the community did have was each other. They had food, and they had the bounty of the land. They had elders to help teach the young people in the village the true meaning of subsistence living.

James's mother, Emma, hunted and fished to feed the family, and she and James's uncle taught James how to be a conservationist, only taking enough fish and wild game to survive and ensuring enough was left for other villagers--lessons he has passed on to the younger generations of Alaskans, year after year.

James met his wife Nancy 50 years ago. She lived in another village. He met her when he was out trapping for food. He said: “I walked 52 miles and found my wife at the end of my trapline. It was my best catch ever.”

James's accomplishments are legion. He spent 22 years in the Alaska National Guard, like so many Alaskan Natives who serve at higher rates in the U.S. military than any other ethnic group in the country. He has served on the Federal Subsistence Regional Advisory Council, the Fish and Game Advisory Council, and the Kuskokwim River Salmon Management Working Group.

James travels all around our great State, attending different meetings and testifying at the Board of Fish and Game. He has dedicated his life to fish and wildlife conservation so he can set an example for Alaskans today and future generations, including his own family.

He has 5 children, 15 grandchildren, and 12 great-grandchildren. He is so committed to keeping the culture and tradition alive that none of his kids or great grandkids are allowed into his house unless they are able to speak Yupik, the traditional language of his people.

For all his work to help continue a vital tradition of subsistence and conservation in Alaska, James was awarded the Conservationist of the Year Award by the Fish and Wildlife Service this past summer, which he accepted at this year's Alaska Federation of Natives Convention.

For his work, James is our Alaskan of the Week. Thank you, James, for all you have done for the great State of Alaska.


# # #