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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


August 25, 2001 - Issue 43


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Scholarship Honors Late Native Leader


 by Jeff St. John Anchorage Daily News - August 12, 2001

Juanita Corwin inspired all those who knew her. A beautiful and vivacious Tlingit woman with nerves of steel and a passion for the struggle for human rights, she rose from a background of intolerance and privation to become a supporter and then a leader of the Alaska Native rights movement.

Corwin died in May at age 65 after a long illness. Now her husband, Sam Corwin, and her five children have dedicated a college scholarship for Tlingit and Haida Indians in her name.

Sam Corwin wants the Juanita Corwin Scholarship to help today's students take advantage of educational opportunities his wife never had.

"I called her my diamond in the rough,' " he says.

A largely self-educated woman, Corwin built on her early experience as office assistant for the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska to eventually become executive director.

John Borbridge, the council president who first hired Corwin, says he had no idea at the time that she would go so far in the organization. Looking back on her career, he is not surprised.

"She had very strong beliefs and principles," he says. "There's no question that she was able to draw the line and take her stand."

Before illness forced her to curtail her activities in the early 1990s, Corwin served as a delegate for the council and was appointed to several state boards by Gov. Jay Hammond.

Corwin had a front-row seat at the birth of the modern Alaska Native rights movement. In the early 1970s she worked for the newly formed Alaska Federation of Natives. As administrative assistant, she took minutes at AFN meetings in which today's Native corporations were created. She also administered grants and helped get the fledgling organization's finances in order.

Lee Gorsuch, chancellor of the University of Alaska Anchorage, worked as a consultant for AFN in those early years. He believes Corwin's accomplishments can be traced to the unbiased way she applied her principles.

"She was proud of her Tlingit culture, of her representation as one of Alaska's many Native people, and as someone who stood for universal human rights," he says. "She did not see any conflict."

Lindy Raymer, Corwin's oldest daughter, says her mother stressed the importance of education, not only as a way to improve one's own life but as a way to help people understand each other.

"She believed the root of racism was people who didn't educate themselves," she says.

She recalls her mother's stories about her hometown of Wrangell, where the movie theater was segregated into white-only and Indian-only sections and restaurants and other businesses posted signs telling Indians to stay out.

In the face of racism, says Raymer, her mother found strength in her culture, which stresses the interconnection of all life.

"Tlingit spirituality was very strong in her," she says.

It was something she passed on to her children, Raymer says.

"She always told us the stories and myths of our heritage," she says. "It was just a sense of being part of a very large family. Our roots were in Alaska."

The Juanita Corwin Scholarship is open to individuals enrolled in Central Council Tlingit Haida. Annual scholarships of $1,000 each will be awarded to one high school graduate, one college undergraduate and one college graduate. For an application, contact the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Higher Education Department, 3239 Hospital Drive, Juneau, AK 99801, phone 1-907-463-7375 or e-mail

   Maps by Travel

Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska
CCTHITA (Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska) is the Tribal Government representing over 24,000 Tlingit and Haida Indians worldwide. We are a sovereign entity and have a government to government relationship with the United States. The Council's headquarters is in Juneau, Alaska but our commitment to serving the Tlingit and Haida people extends throughout the United States.

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  Canku Ota is a free Newsletter celebrating Native America, its traditions and accomplishments . We do not provide subscriber or visitor names to anyone. Some articles presented in Canku Ota may contain copyright material. We have received appropriate permissions for republishing any articles. Material appearing here is distributed without profit or monetary gain to those who have expressed an interest. This is in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107.  

Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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