Bristol Bay frontman Ralph Andersen is known for his dedication, compassion and sense of humor


Friends and family say Ralph Andersen has left an indelible mark on the Bristol Bay region, the state and the country through his work. Andersen, who was chief executive officer of the Bristol Bay Native Association, died on October 20.

When people talk about Ralph Andersen, they usually mention two things first: his strong work ethic and his sense of humor.

Andersen brought these qualities with him wherever he went, said his wife, Flossie Andersen.

“He was really easy to get to know,” she said. “He’s always had a sense of humor around him, you know. So he has a lot of contributions that he’s made to all of us.

Andersen died on October 20 in Anchorage at the age of 67 from cancer, his family said. He is remembered by family and friends as a passionate and long-time leader of the Bristol Bay Native Association and an advocate for livelihood rights. They also remember his persistence, his laughter, his empathy and how he told a good story.

“He greeted the President and he even danced the Yup’ik dance with the President,” said Flossie Andersen, recalling then-President Barack Obama’s visit to Dillingham in 2015, which Ralph Andersen made. helped organize.

“I know a lot of people see this on YouTube or wherever it’s on,” she said with a laugh. “But that was one of the experiences he had. And that’s how Barack Obama and Ralph Andersen got famous.

Andersen was born April 24, 1954 and raised in Clark’s Point, a small village south of Dillingham on Bristol Bay.

He attended Dartmouth College for two years and received a BA from the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1979.

Andersen lived in Utqiaġvik for about 20 years. He met Flossie while working for his father, Inuit rights advocate Eben Hopson.

“My father, the late Eben Hopson, introduced me to Ralph once,” she said. “At Ralph’s insistence, he gave up, he was going down to where I was working, and my dad introduced me to Ralph. This is how it happened.

The two have been married for 40 years.

In Utqiaġvik, Andersen worked for the North Slope Borough, the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation and Ilisagvik College. In 1980, he traveled to Greenland to help establish the charter of the Inuit Circumpolar Council.

The first chief of the Curyung Tribal Council, Thomas Tilden, said he knew Andersen who grew up in Bristol Bay. He met him while passing by Clark’s Point, on his way to Ekuk fishing camp.

He remembers one time Andersen mentioned that he caught a whale near Utqiaġvik.

“And I was like, ‘Really? Did you catch a whale? “Tilden said. And we pitched a tent and people had come in to start heating the water for the tea. And he said he and a friend were out, and just along there. opening, a whale passes right next to it.

Andersen grabbed the gun and his friend threw the spear.

“So he pulled the trigger on the gun,” Tilden said. “And he said what was really funny was he forgot to take the glove off the gun, so he shot through that glove. And he said, ‘But I have the whale. all the same.’ We laughed a lot about it, “Tilden recalls.” People always teased him that when he shot that whale it was with that glove on the gun. He often told stories. funny things that happened to him, you know. That was one of the good things about Ralph, is that he shared things, and we laughed about it afterwards. “

Andersen returned to Bristol Bay in 1998, where he joined the Bristol Bay Native Association as the Natural Resources Program Manager before becoming President and CEO in 2005.

Tilden said one of the first things he noticed about Andersen was his willingness to listen.

“He would actually start investigating whatever topic they were working on, and he would go back to DC if that required it,” Tilden said. “But he was still precise and hardworking and got the job done. This was one of its outstanding features. Yeah, you know, it didn’t make any difference who he was talking to. And he was still joking. I mean, even when President Obama came to Dillingham.

As the head of the Bristol Bay Native Association, Andersen has been deeply involved in the debate surrounding the Pebble Mine project. In 2006, a year after Andersen’s appointment, the board passed a resolution opposing mining in the area until studies could prove it could be done safely.

At a 2014 Environmental Protection Agency hearing in Dillingham, Andersen said Pebble’s goal as a for-profit company is to make profits for its shareholders.

“They are not there to protect our cultures and our resources. They are not there to protect our lands and our waters, ”he said. “They are not there to make sure our world class fisheries thrive and grow. They are not an employment service. They have no commitment to our region. Their commitment is to get minerals out of the ground at the highest profit, at the lowest possible cost. “

Andersen also served as co-chair of the Alaska Native Federation’s Human Resources Committee and Board of Directors, and subsequently served as the BBNA Board Representative. He also chaired the Bristol Bay Partnership and the Western Alaska Salmon Coalition.

Patrick Anderson served with Andersen as the co-chair of the AFN Human Resources Committee and said they work closely on several federal policy issues that affect rural Alaska natives, including the Indian child protection and land policies such as the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act and the Alaska Act. Law on the conservation of lands of national interest.

Anderson said that when Alaskan native rights advocates failed to secure an Indigenous preference for subsistence rights, they focused on a system that gave them better access to subsistence resources.

“Ralph knew the technical details of this system better than I did. But basically he was trying to put in place, at this point, a tier system where locals would have access to resources before non-locals, ”Anderson said. “We were always trying to educate people on the importance of this, especially for Ralph. and his constituency in Bristol Bay, with a balance between commercial and subsistence fishing.

Andersen’s work has been marked by the breadth and depth of his knowledge – from international conferences on indigenous rights to meetings with politicians in Washington, DC, to local livelihood discussions in Bristol Bay.

He was also known to be compassionate and down to earth, with a talent for storytelling.

Fred Washington is originally from St. Michael, lived in Levelock and Dillingham, and now lives in Naknek. He said that one day, years ago, a friend invited him to a steam room, where he met Andersen. These vapors have become a permanent rendezvous.

“During the steam baths it was fun. Because the stories they were telling, and Ralph was such – he was a good storyteller, “Washington said. “I was sitting there – I could visualize in my mind as he told the story.

Washington said that when he lived in Dillingham, Andersen would take him on boat trips along the coast.

“I just want to say that I enjoyed it in life. And I hope you have a good trip beyond, and I send my condolences to his family and friends, ”he said.

Andersen was a shareholder of the Native Village Corporation of Clark’s Point, Saguyak, Inc., as well as the Bristol Bay Native Corporation. He was named BBNC Elder of the Year in 2019.

He was dedicated to working for the people, said Flossie Anderson.

“He was always working for the benefit of the Bristol Bay region, for the benefit of the Arctic Slope region, for the benefit of all of Alaska,” she said. “Wherever he went, he had a goal and he accomplished what he set out to do.”

Watch Ralph Andersen’s funeral, held at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Dillingham on October 29, 2021.

Contact the author at [email protected] or 907-842-2200.

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