Celebration of Heritage: In Commemoration of my Grandmother, Ticasuk

Emily Ivanoff Ticasuk Brown

Last week the Nome campus of University of Alaska Fairbanks named and dedicated a Student Resource Center to my grandmother, Emily Ivanoff Ticasuk Brown.

Invitation to the dedication ceremony

In 1984, two years after her death, The Crossing Press selected my grandmother, Emily Ivanoff Ticasuk Brown, as one of twelve women to appear in a calendar recognizing heroines of the feminist movement. The family joke at the time was she’d be proud to appear with the other eleven women, but irritated over being named a feminist. She stood in the month of July. Other women in the calendar included Golda Meir–Prime Minister of Israel; Elisabeth Kubler Ross–a psychiatrist that revolutionized hospice care and our understanding of grief; and Carrie Chapman Catt–a suffrage leader that helped establish the 19th amendment, women’s right to vote.

During portions of the last century Alaska Native languages were not allowed to be used in schools, and various cultural practices were also banned or illegal. My grandmother, Emily, fought to have such laws changed while also encouraging her students to speak their language anyway. As a result, she was fired from her teaching post. The local communities demanded she be reinstated.

Emily went on to dedicate her life to preserving the stories, history, and knowledge of our elders publishing three books and leaving multiple manuscripts. In order to direct her work, she spent her life earning multiple degrees, spending much of her time on the University of Alaska Fairbanks campus. While there she helped start the Alaska Native Studies program, and helped found the Alaska Native Heritage Preservation movement through the state. She was recognized as a result by both a President of the United States, and the Governor of Alaska.

She died in 1982 near the close of her PhD at the age of 78. One week later University of Alaska Fairbanks awarded her an Honorary Doctorate for the work she had already completed.

Dad at the dedication ceremony

my dad at the dedication, photo from Heather Jones

Last Thursday, my parents and extended family flew to Nome to attend the celebration of my grandmother’s life, and the opening of the new Emily Ivanoff Brown Student Resource Center. The Center symbolically brings together Emily’s two passions — preserving and sharing knowledge of our heritage, with an eye towards learning for the future.

In her book, The Roots of Ticasuk, she explains the meaning of her name, Ticasuk. “My Mother explained that my Eskimo name ‘Ticasuk’ meant not just ‘Hollow in the Ground’ but the place where the four winds stored their treasure gathered from all over the world, and I felt very good about my name after that.” For Emily, heritage and education were those treasures.

Thank you to the University of Alaska Fairbanks Northwest Campus.

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  1. Auntie Emily and I took a class together in 1964, my freshman year…Bonehead English! We both made it out of that class really fast! Good memories of her trying to help us during our school years while she stayed at Wikersham Hall!

  2. My family moved to Kotzebue in 1958. I spent 3 years in 1st grade Norfolk Virginia. They thought I was retarded because I could not speak clearly enough for them to realize I could read.
    Mrs.Brown was my 2nd grade teacher. She changed my life and I went from failure to honor roll.
    I went to UAF in 1969. I thought I saw her in the registration liner. We had photography and music classes together. She often came to our Saturday dorm soup parties, telling many Alaskan folk tales. The day I left for ODU Norfolk Virginia, she gave to me an oil lamp. In spite of flood, fire, and hurricanes, I still have it.

  3. My parents, John and Helen Whalen, took teaching positions with the BIA in Kotzebue, Alaska for the 1957-1959 school years. Mrs. Brown was their co-worker and my first grade teacher. We had moved from Chicago, Illinois. Kotzebue was a huge adventure in our family’s life and Mrs. Brown will always be a part of it. My father went on to teach High School English in Missoula, Montana and would be proud of the writings of Mrs. Brown. Thanks for posting this news.

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