ANCHORAGE, Alaska — An Alaska Native broadcaster who helped preserve the Yup'ik language and culture one story at a time died Monday. John Active was 69.
Active worked at KYUK public radio and television stations in Bethel for about 47 years, translating the day's news from English to Yup'ik and vice versa and hosting talk programs, said KYUK general manager Shane Iverson, who confirmed Active's death. The cause of death wasn't immediately known, but Iverson said Active had been in failing health.
Active typically began newscasts by telling a story in the native language. Often these were Yup'ik stories related to him in his youth by his grandmother, tales like "How the Fox Turned Red" and "How the Crane Got Its Blue Eyes," U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan said when honoring Active on the floor of the Senate a few months ago upon Active's retirement.
"He was an incredible storyteller and he held on to a lot of stories that might have been lost or simply not shared, so I think just sharing was one of his greatest virtues," Iverson said.
Active worked at KYUK at various times, but was with the station when it got its start in the early 1970s. He performed various roles, from talk show host to reading the news. He wanted to share the world with elders in the region who didn't speak English, and would often wait for a plane to deliver the Anchorage Daily News and then rush back to the studio to read the news in Yup'ik.
Active retired at the end of March, and the station held a potlatch in his honor. "He belongs to our community and to this radio station and we're proud to have shared time with him and space with him, and the words that he passes onto our people. We're just fortunate to have had Aqumgeciq here amongst us and to share what God had gifted him with," co-worker, Peter Atchak, said when honoring Active. Aqumgeciq was Active's Yup'ik name.
Iverson said Active was a broadcasting legend not only in Alaska but throughout the world in native communities because he was so good at what he did.
"As KYUK is one of the pioneering broadcasters for native journalism and local media, John Active was the essential component of that," Iverson said. "He was the lynchpin for not just creating local native media, but for its success."
Active was born Oct. 6, 1948, in a small village outside Bethel in southwest Alaska. His mother died, and his father couldn't take care of him.
He was adopted by James and Elsie Active of Bethel. His grandmother, Maggie Lind, filled the boy's childhood with stories about Yup'ik legends, culture and wisdom, according to Sullivan's tribute to Active.
Active's goal was to spread not only the culture of the Yup'ik people but also their values, or to "Yup'ify Alaska and the world," Sullivan said.
Sullivan related this quote from Active: "There are so many people in this region who can understand what we're saying. I feel it makes them proud to hear their language being spoken over the airwaves."