A picture of Senator Lisa Murkowski
Lisa M.
Republican AK

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    by Senator Lisa Murkowski

    Posted on 2014-01-13

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    MURKOWSKI. Mr. President, today I wish to honor the life and achievements of Bernice Joseph, who committed her life to improving our State through education reform and to ensuring the success of Alaska Native students.

    As the vice chancellor and executive dean of the College of Rural and Community Development at the University [[Page S289]] of Alaska Fairbanks, Ms. Joseph played an important role in advancing university services to Alaska Native and rural students throughout 160 communities within the State of Alaska. As a member of the university's senior management, she was a respected leader throughout the University of Alaska system and throughout the State. It has been said that if it had not been for Bernice and her work to build the College of Rural and Community Development, many would not have been able to earn their college degree.

    From 1995 to 2000 Bernice served as assistant professor at UAF in the Department of Alaska Native and Rural Development. Prior to her work at the university, Bernice served as deputy commissioner of the Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development, overseeing rural development programs as the tribal liaison and as a key advisor to Governor Tony Knowles. She worked tirelessly to strengthen rural Alaska communities and was a conduit in bringing rural Alaska concerns to the attention of the administration. She also served her community in many ways, including as a trustee for the Greater Fairbanks Community Hospital Foundation.

    As I reflect on her short time on this earth, I realize that she achieved so much. Bernice advanced our State's dialogue on Native education. In her 2005 keynote address to the Alaska Federation of Natives, during which she summarized her journey as a leader, she said: We are all too familiar with the statistics facing Alaska Natives about educational attainment, suicide, alcohol and drug abuse and the number of Alaska Natives in prison. Education is the key to overcoming many of the barriers Alaska Natives face. Yet, it must be an education that is sensitive to Native Ways of Knowing.

    She was tireless in working to help our State's leaders understand that a strong cultural foundation and an education system that values Alaska Native knowledge are vital to the success of our Native students. One of her greatest joys was attending college graduation ceremonies across rural Alaska.

    Living in Fairbanks, and originally from Nulato, Ms. Joseph maintained her personal connections to her heritage and culture. She went to fish camp every summer and enjoyed moose hunting with her husband. She did it all, from the bush to the boardroom and in 2012 was named citizen of the year by the Alaska Federation of Natives.

    She will continue to be an inspiration to leaders, both current and emerging, throughout Alaska. The impacts of her contributions to ensure that our education system is relevant to Native students will be felt for generations. ____________________

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