Indian country today
ANCHORAGE, Alaska – Dr. Gordon L. Pullar Sr, a longtime Alutiiq educator and author in Alaska, died April 18 after a long illness. He was 78 years old.
Pullar was a teacher and mentor to dozens of students, a researcher and author who helped revitalize the Alutiiq culture, and a leader in the worlds of local tribal, regional Indigenous non-profit and for profit.
He was also credited with helping to bring home more than 1,000 Alutiiq remains that had been removed from Larsen Bay in the 1930s and were stored at the Smithsonian Institute – a decision credited with helping enact the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act.
“He was revered not only for his academic genius which shone through in a long list of scholarly publications, but also for his willingness to help all students no matter what the question, and especially for his general kindness to all those he met,” wrote Jenny Bell Jones on behalf of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska Department of Native Studies and Rural Developmentwhich he led for 17 years.
A celebration of life will be held at 3 p.m. on May 5 at First Presbyterian Church in Anchorage.
A new direction
Pullar grew up in Bellingham, Washington, and earned a bachelor’s degree in anthropology in 1973 from Western Washington University and a master’s degree in public administration from the University of Washington.
Then he changed direction in the 1980s, his family said.
“After many years working as a machine operator at the Georgia-Pacific Paper Mill, Pullar embarked on a life-changing journey to connect with his Sugpiaq Alaska Native identity,” his family said.
He earned a PhD in Organizational Anthropology from the Union Institute in 1997.
Pullar served on the Tangirnaq Native Village Tribal Council and the Alutiiq Museum plank. He is former President and CEO of Kodiak Area Native Association and former president of the Koniag Educational Foundation.
the Koniag Native Society The 2017 Annual Report honored Pullar with an “Elder in the Spotlight” article. The report says his career helping his people began in Washington state when he “produced a monthly newspaper for a tribal organization that helped small, Native-owned businesses develop business plans. “. He also served on the Washington Governor’s Minority and Women’s Business Development Advisory Council.
His family was originally from the village of Tangirnaq on Woody Island near Kodiak in south-central Alaska. His maternal uncle encouraged him to move to Kodiak, where he took over his uncle’s weekly, Kadiak Times. He was asked to become president and CEO of the Kodiak Area Native Association (KANA).
There, one of his “greatest accomplishments” was the return of more than 1,000 remains from Larsen Bay for proper burial in 1991, according to the report.
Pullar also served on the board of the state advocacy organization, the Federation of Alaska Natives. As a member of its legislative committee, he was one of the Alaska Native leaders who successfully lobbied Congress for the 1991 amendments to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. . The amendments blocked the sale of shares in Alaska Native corporations, which had been permitted in the original law.
Pullar mentored future Alaska Native leaders
In 1993, Pullar began teaching at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where he worked for 21 years, including as director of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development department. He has taught graduate and undergraduate courses, and planned and developed new courses. He has advised students and served on graduate student committees at the master’s and doctoral levels.
“Gordon is a remarkable and humble man and his words say it best,” his daughter-in-law, Diana Pullar, said in a recent letter at University. “In a 2011 interview, Gordon shared, ‘When one of the [my students] refers to me as a mentor of whom I almost burst with pride. They are the ones who accomplished what they set out to do.
Jim LaBelle, Inupiaq, who is now the first vice-president of the National Native American Residential School Healing Coalitionsaid Pullar had him attend and complete a master’s degree program.
LaBelle said he knew Pullar from his work with Indigenous organizations and met him at the airport. Pullar said in passing, “Hey, LaBelle, we’re setting up a master’s program in rural development. I would love for you to review us and sign up.
LaBelle replied “okay,” in a “casual manner,” and didn’t think about it again until this fall, when he received a phone call.
“Hey, LaBelle,” Pullar told her. “‘Do you remember when you said you were going to take that master’s?'”
Pullar held him to his word.
“It kind of felt like my honor was on the line,” LaBelle said. “And so I signed up for all the courses in the UAF (University of Alaska Fairbanks) master’s program in rural development.”
He said his master’s thesis focused on the historical trauma surrounding the boarding school experience, using his own years at a boarding school in Wrangell, Southeast Alaska, as an example.
“It was kind of like a cathartic experience.” LaBelle said: “But Gordon kept supporting me and saying, ‘You can do it, you can do it. “”
LaBelle finished her article and has been a spokesperson and advocate for residential school survivors ever since.
Research, cultural preservation
KANA said on Facebook that Pullar founded the first cultural committee dedicated to the development of a tribal museum and cultural center, which later became the Alutiiq Museum.
Through his work as a member of the board of directors of Alutiiq Museum and for repatriating human remains and sacred objects, LaBelle said Pullar has become a model for other nonprofits.
In addition to his work as an educator, Pullar was a researcher and author. His writings have contributed to a revival of Alutiiq cultural activities, language, and historical preservation in the Kodiak region.
Among other topics, Pullar studied the ethno-history of Kodiak Island and his own family history, which includes the ancestry of the indigenous people of the Kodiak region as well as Russians who worked in the fur trade in Russian America in the 1700s and 1800s.
Among his recent publications is the 2013 Duke University Ethnohistory article“The Legacy of Russian-American Society and the Implementation of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in the Kodiak Region of Alaska”, which traces two centuries of cultural transformation and continuity from Alutiiq.
Previously, he was editor with Aron L. Crowell and Amy F. Steffian of a 2001 book, “Looking Both Ways: Heritage and Identity of the Alutiiq People”. The tests in the book describe the connection between ancestors, parents, place and a natural environment as the basis for the continuity of the Alutiiq identity. It also discusses collaborative engagement in Indigenous heritage projects as a complex but indispensable engagement for contemporary anthropology.
Pullar has lectured in the United States, Arctic countries and Europe. It has been widely published in academic and mainstream publications.
He retired in 2014, the same year he married Flossie, who he described as his “beautiful wife”.
The family said the couple’s time together was special for Pullar. He loved to travel and was able to enjoy a final international trip to Iceland, France and Italy in 2019 with Flossie, and with Jim and Susan LaBelle.
He enjoyed spending time with his three adult children and was thrilled in 2017 when his grandson, Gordy III, was born. He became a passionate Aapa (grandfather), says the family.
He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease around 2016, and the disease has worsened in recent years.
He is survived by his wife Flossie; son Greg (Janice) of Bellingham, Washington; daughter Tracy (Craig) of Vallejo, California; son Gordon Jr. (Diana) of Anchorage; grandson Gordon III of Anchorage; his step-daughter Chris (Jody) and step-grandchildren Jesse and Sarah of Anchorage and Skylar and Teryn of Colorado Springs; and his brother Robert LaPlante of Arlington, Washington.
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