Wealthiest Man in Alaska

Original Article from:
Alaska Journal of Commerce -- WealthBuilder Column
Tim Pearson, June 13, 2004

Abe David

The Wealthiest Man in Alaska
by Tim Pearson

The wealthiest man in Alaska lives on Nunivak Island. His name is Abe David and he possesses the ability to turn straw into gold. Actually, he can make it even more valuable than gold.

Abe is a hunting and fishing guide extraordinaire. I met him this past week on the way out to the Nash Harbor science and technology camp on Nunivak. He told the following story:

One summer he had two clients from the Lower 48 – he thought they were friends – and took them out fishing. They were having mixed success, so with ever present good humor, he figured he’d show them how to do it. Abe being Abe, he hooked a big Dolly Varden on his first cast.

In the excitement of landingthe fish, he slipped off the rock he was on and fell into the icy water. The fish got away and he got drenched. His clients had a good laugh, but they laughed even harder when he stuffed his pants and shirt full of dried beach grass. No matter. The day wore on, he became warm and his clothes even dried out.

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Later in the day he left the men in camp and when he came back he saw only one of the partners. He discovered that they had had a falling out and the other man had walked out of camp. They went looking for him but couldn’t find him. In fact, they really couldn’t find him – not a trace. After doing their best, they returned to Mekoryuk for a larger search party. Abe had a sleepless night knowing his client was out in the cold alone on the tundra.

The next morning as Abe looked out his window preparing to search again, he saw his client walking into town. The client had left camp, taken a nap on the tundra, became disoriented when he awoke and started walking along the river – away from town. Night fell and when he saw the lights of Mekoryuk behind him, he turned around and walked back in.

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Then the client sprawled out on Abe’s front porch and told Abe, “It works.” He opened his pants and shirt to show that they were stuffed full of dried grass. He was scratchy, but warm. Like the hollow hairs of reindeer and caribou fur, the hollow stems of the dried grass served as the traditional natural insulator against hypothermia. The grass went home with him as a souvenir of his Alaskan adventure.

You pick up wisdom from hanging around Abe. It is who he is. He’s passionate about making a difference. He’s the field coordinator for the Nash Harbor sea kayaking camp, an educational, cultural, and adventure subsidiary of Nunivak’s village corporation, NIMA. Ten high school students from the YK Delta will be using it for a June science program. Other adventure and cultural activities will also occur through the summer. It’s part of a long-term, sustainable economic initiative for an island community of 215 in the Bering Sea.

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However, for Abe, it’s about something much, much larger. It’s about being an entrepreneur. Abe’s favorite phrase: “It’s a saleable project.” It’s about being in charge of one’s own economic destiny. Abe’s favorite comment: “We’ll show you how it’s done. Just give us a chance.” It’s about passing on life lessons. Abe’s favorite summary on seizing life by the horns: “I wish I had started earlier. I could have done so much more.”

In the entry way to the NIMA Grocery store on Mekoryuk, there is a xeroxcopy of an old photo from the 1950’s or 1960’s of ten small kids standing in a group. They’re all of five to seven years old and are dressed in parkas, mukluks and mittens. Hand-typed captions identify the kids’ professions: council member, VPSO (village public safety officer), heavy equipment operator, carver (two) and preacher.

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Abe stands in the back row: pilot. Kids turn into the future. Straw turns into warm survival. Wisdom turns into economic ventures and wealth. Abe is a wealthy man. Lest you doubt me, he’s the one who has a millennia-old summer fish camp between Nash Harbor and Mekoryuk. Value: priceless.

So then, what straw do you have at hand?

Tim Pearson is a Professional/Business Coach who helps people design meaningful careers and build great companies. He is at www.timpearson.net and can be reached at: (907) 562-1568 or by e-mail at tim@(remove this) timpearson.net.


NIMA Looks to Education

By Margaret Bauman
Photos: Tim Pearson / Martin Leonard III
Alaska Journal of Commerce
Publication Date: 08/30/04

On a pristine island in the Bering Sea, inhabited mainly by reindeer and musk oxen, the Cup'ig Eskimo residents of Mekoryuk are hedging part of their economic future on an innovative college biology program.

It began this summer with a 10-day concentrated college-level biology course for 10 students from the Yukon Delta. Over the next few years, the Nunivak Island Mekoryuk Alaska (NIMA) Corp. hopes the summer program and related jobs will lead to steady employment on the island, which lies within the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge.

The camp is operated through Nunivak Island Cultural Education and Adventures LLC, a subsidiary of NIMA. It is located some 35 miles west of Mekoryuk, at Nash Harbor, on the north side of the island.

"The main purpose of the camp was to create economic opportunities for shareholders on Nunivak Island," said Terry Don, who managed the camp. "We are looking to expand our operations next year. We hope to double or triple that number (of students)."
Don is also vice chairman of the NIMA board of directors.

KuC Students Hiking

The program included lectures, plus day hiking, backpacking and sea kayaking to augment classroom instruction. The academic staff included Native elders in residence, who supplemented scientific knowledge with local and indigenous knowledge of Nunivak Island.

The outdoor classroom, the Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, is known for its abundance of seabirds, shorebirds, whistling swans, emperor, white-fronted and Canadian geese, black brant and other migratory birds, plus salmon, musk oxen and marine mammals.

Muskox in the Dunes

The core curriculum of the course is a blend of Western academic and traditional subsistence sciences. Field projects are designed around real-time needs for data for the community and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as for long-term scientific efforts at the wildlife refuge. http://fc.bethel.uaf.edu/~summer_science/

"NIMA did a great job pulling the camp resources together," said Martin Leonard III, an associate professor at the Kuskokwim campus of the University of Alaska Fairbanks in Bethel. Leonard is also the executive director of the outdoor center, which offers alternative education and village-based economic development. "They are doing work force development at the village level, everything from computer training to hospitality, guide training, first aid and training for transportation specialists," Leonard said.

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The university has received funding through the National Science Foundation for a five-year program to develop science, technology, engineering and mathematics initiatives in the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Leonard said. "We are providing education resources to develop students here so they can get four-year degrees in engineering and science."

Leonard also said he hoped the summer biology courses would be a springboard not only for the participants to attend college, but to also get them substantial jobs in the area in engineering, mining and management of the wildlife refuge area.

"We are hoping they will get a good start on their four-year degrees," he said. "In the past, there has not been a lot of good science and math instruction in rural Alaska."


Don envisions the program attracting a wide range of students.
"Part of the academic emphasis is attracting students in the Delta for exposure for a post-secondary course, but I don't think we will restrict the applicants to the Yukon Delta area," Don said. "Our goal is to provide the service and have it available to anyone. We'll be accepting applications from whoever is interested."

Don said it was a report from the Denali Commission citing the serious economic problems of Nunivak Island that prompted him to explore creative economics. "Our approach to education (through the subsidiary) emphasizes both the traditional Native way of knowing as well as the Western scientific approach," said Wayne Don, Terry's brother and program manager for NIMA's board. "Nunivak Island provides the ideal wilderness, historic and cultural setting for students to develop expertise in both disciplines." Wayne Don is also an assistant professor of military science at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Martin's EPIC

Participants in the education program also included the Alaskan Outdoor Center, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Yukon Delta National Wildlife Refuge, Nuniwarmiut Piciryarata Tamaryalkuti (the nonprofit cultural heritage organization for the village of Mekoryuk), the city of Mekoryuk and the Mekoryuk School, among others.

"NIMA has really stepped up to the plate," Leonard said. "They know they have a resource out here on the island, and we're happy to be part of it. We have five years to get it better and better. We think the resource is that valuable."

Ed Shavings and First Tourist Arrivals

In a related development, NIMA also jumped into the tourism business by offering guided tours three times this summer to cruise ship travelers with Cruise West, which stopped at Nash Harbor. Together, the Don brothers approached Cruise West, which had been operating tours in the area for several years.

Cruise ship visitors offered NIMA an opportunity to train a handful of its young residents in tourism hospitality. Following courses in hospitality training and a wilderness first aid responder course, NIMA sent the young people off to guide several dozen visitors on an area tour, plus a little sea kayaking. "We had people from Australia, England, all over the planet," he said. "We took them on tours of the old village and campsite, hiking and kayaking. The guides actually did very well. They had a blast, interacting with the folks that came ashore. (Cruise West) agreed to come back next year."

Terry Don said the NIMA board would hold a planning session with Cruise West on ways to customize the tour to the travelers' desires next year. "We want to see what their customer base wants and to fine tune our product," he said. "We're hoping to offer them experiences they can't have anywhere else."

Text © The Alaska Journal of Commerce Online
Photos © Tim Pearson, Martin Leonard III

Other Web resources:

• NIMA Corporation http://www.nimacorporation.com

• Nunivak Cultural Programs http://www.nunivak.org

• Alaskan Outdoor Center http://www.alaskanoutdoorcenter.org

• Alaska Journal of Commerce