Andrew remembered as protector of Bristol Bay
Rain fell steadily as family and friends laid Bobby Andrew to rest Saturday evening in Aleknagik. The funeral service for the Reader Pavela, as he was known in the church, was held earlier in the day at St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church in Dillingham.
Andrew, 73, who lived at the end of Wood River Road in Dillingham, passed away while spending time alone at his cabin on Lake Aleknagik. He was found Tuesday, May 12.
"He went up there to get whitefish and pike," said longtime friend and Nunamta Aulukestai coworker Kim Williams. "He was supposed to come home Sunday or Monday morning, and when he didn't, his wife Ingrid asked someone to check in on him. He passed away in his sleep, in a place he loved and cherished."
Family and friends from several villages packed the church for the funeral service Saturday. The celebratory service was honored with the attendance of Bishop David Mahaffey, the head of the Orthodox Church in Alaska. Father Michael Oleksa gave the sermon, speaking of Andrew's lived commitment to the Orthodox affirmation of the holiness of land and water.
Andrew's grandchildren placed mementos in the casket, which was hand-built by Father Michael Nicolai and the boys and men in the Andrew family. The casket cover was made from red cloth and wood, painted and stained to bear the symbols of the cross. His nieces Dora and Diana and family friend Robyn Chaney worked together to sew the burial pillow by hand out of dry grass.
Chaney felt Andrew would be proud of these efforts and pleased by the traditional Orthodox preparations.
"Everything for his funeral was fashioned by hand from people that he taught and people that he loved," she said.
Saturday's panikh?da, the Orthodox memorial service, was relocated to the Aleknagik Middle School gym due to the large crowd in attendance. Following a viewing, Andrew was buried near the Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church on the North Shore of Aleknagik.
Andrew's daughter-in-law Sarah Andrew described him in her eulogy as a generous and knowledgeable "son of Bristol Bay," raised in traditional Yup'ik values, who eventually became a protector of Bristol Bay's resources and people.
Bobby was a teacher at heart, she said, and an attentive, loving Uppa (grandfather) to her children.
"They both had the good fortune to sing with his Slaviq Star, ride on the back of his snow machine, sit by him at an ice fishing hole, camp with him during moose hunting, hang strips on the fish racks and watch him light the smokehouse at Wood River," she recalled. "He was patient and generous with his praise. I saw the power of intergenerational love in each of their visits."
"He loved his family, and was especially proud of his grandchildren," said Kim Williams. "As an Uppa, he wanted to make sure that whatever he did today would benefit his grandchildren."
Andrew's daughter-in-law said she learned a great deal from Bobby's strong leadership, a style best described as "a blend of courage and administrative savvy."
In the last decade of Andrew's life, his leadership was tested by two profound challenges to protect natural resources in the region. First, he became an early and leading voice opposing the Pebble Mine, and was named spokesperson for Nunamta Aulukestai. Second, as president of Aleknagik Natives Limited, he led what may be the largest conservation deal in the history of Bristol Bay, securing some over 26,000 acres of conservation easement in the Wood Tikchik State Park.
Despite being "at an age when it would be normal to consider taking life easy," said Tim Troll, director of the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust, Andrew "stepped up to those challenges with grace. His legacy is the gift of security for his village corporation and its shareholders, and the defeat of that mine."
Andrew traveled extensively to advocate on behalf of Bristol Bay.
"I think he's been to London five or six times carrying the message to the large mining companies Rio Tinto and Anglo American to say, 'You know, Bristol Bay is not a place to develop a large, open-pit mine,'" said Williams.
He traveled around the country, often to Washington, D.C., and was part of a delegation on behalf of the Nushagak River for the Thiess International Riverprize in Australia.
Bob Waldrop, the former executive director of the Bristol Bay Regional Seafood Association, traveled with Andrew on several occasions. Waldrop calls Andrew the "Paul Revere of the Pebble issue: he sounded the alarms, rallied the troops." He says Andrew was consistent in the way he spoke about protecting Bristol Bay, whether he was abroad or close to home.
"What he would say to a group in Dillingham is exactly what he would say to shareholders of Anglo American," said Waldrop.
Waldrop, who took many photographs of Andrew, says he was always struck by the expressiveness of the elder's eyes.
"He could be as serious as a winter storm when it came to somebody disrespecting his subsistence rights and culture," he said. "But it was all well-balanced by a youthful playfulness that he never lost. It was all expressed in his eyes."
Waldrop says his eyes marked the depth of which he felt "both the seriousness of the issues that he had thrown himself into, and his default mode, which was to be playful."
BBEDC Board Chairman Robin Samuelson also recalls Andrew's stern determination.
"I've been in meetings with him where the whole darn room was against us, and he didn't back down an inch," he said.
Samuelson added that Andrew was always well-prepared for meetings and presentations, represented his region well, and believed till the end that the fight against Pebble would be won.
"He was unique too in that he never asked for anything for his efforts," he said.
It is telling of Andrew's sincerity and openness that he is remembered fondly even by his political opponents. John Shively, chairman of the board of the Pebble Limited Partnership, said he was saddened by Andrew's passing.
"He was taken way too soon." Shively said. "I think we always respected each other, our friendship remained throughout the years, and to be perfectly frank, I'll miss him a lot."
Andrew will be missed by many people throughout Bristol Bay. Luki Akelkok Sr., an elder in Ekwok, fellow Nunamta board member and advocate for Bristol Bay resources, called him "my one and only little brother Bobby Andrew."
Bobby's legacy, his daughter-in-law said, can be summed up as follows:
"First, be proud of Bristol Bay traditions and resources, whether natural or human. Second, protect both with your abilities, personal resources and hard work. Always believe that persistence will pay off. Speak up for that which is both precious and vulnerable. And finally, true leadership is about making meaningful connections, not looking for ways to compromise.
"To quote another great leader," she added, " ... never, never, never, never give up."