Mary Jane Fate: Celebrating an Alaska Native leader
By Jennifer Adams, MBA, Rural Center Director
Mary Jane Fate was Koyukon Athabascan from Rampart, Alaska who left a lasting impression on women in Alaska, especially Alaska Native women. Fate was one of the original Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act lobbyists and her work helped secure the 40 million acres of land and $1 billion conveyed to Alaska Native people. After completing high school at Mt. Edgecumbe in 1952, she became one of the first Alaska Native women to attend college at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. In 1992 she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Laws degree from UAF.
Fate’s leadership abilities are noted by the fact that she became the first woman co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives in 1988. She served on her Alaska Native village corporation board, the Rampart Village Council (Baan o Yeel Kon) where she was elected President for many years. She was a founding member and past president of the Fairbanks Native Association.
She helped form the North American Indian Women’s Association and in 1975 was its third national president. In 2001 Fate was also appointed by President George H.W. Bush as the only indigenous member on the US Arctic Research Commission.
The Alaska Native Commission was created by Congress in 1990 by the urging of Alaska Native groups, and Mary Jane Fate was elected co-chair with Perry Eaton. A lengthy report was borne out of the two-year study. The report served as a blueprint for change — regarding the way the federal and state governments dealt with Alaska Native issues. Fate stated: “Above all else, the Commission focused on the needs of the people. If the world can make drastic changes overnight for animals, bugs and even future fashion styles, we surely must and can make great changes for Alaska Natives.”
Fate also served Alaskans as one of four prominent Americans honored nationally for promoting cancer awareness in 1998 (others honored include Nancy Murkowski, Sue Ann Thompson and Sam Donaldson). Through her and others’ efforts, the Breast Cancer Detection Center nonprofit was formed in 1976.
She served as a director on the Alaska Airlines board for 25 years (for 23 of the 25 years she was the only woman on the board). She was the first woman and first Alaska Native to serve on the Alaska Judicial Council, as she was appointed in 1981 by Governor Hickel to screen, nominate and evaluate judges. Governor Hickel also appointed Fate to serve on the University of Alaska Board of Regents, where she served from 1993-2001. In 2003 she was appointed by President George W. Bush as a member of the US Census Advisory Committee on American Indian and Alaska Native populations. She was involved in so many boards and initiatives and also helped found the Tundra Times and the Institute of Alaska Native Arts.
A fellow Rampart Village Council member stated, “She is admired for her contribution to the advancement of the Alaska Native community and the well-being of women in particular and her kindness and grace toward people from all walks of life. She is a role model for Alaska Native women and for all women.”