Lloyd Ahvakana

Lloyd Ahvakana came from that courtly generation of Native Alaskan men that I grew to know and appreciate during my 3 decades in Barrow. He was one of the founders of the borough and one of the early fighters for the right of the Inupiat people to govern themselves and benefit from the wealth of their land.

But here’s what I remember about him. One day, early on in the history of the borough when we still did things the way we wanted without too much attention to protocol, an employee (no, it wasn’t me) showed up in Lloyd’s office. He was, at that time, the first director of Administration and Finance for the borough. This employee tearfully told him about some IRS woes she and her husband were having due to some very bad tax advice. Having lots of money was a new concept on the North Slope at the time and she was probably not the only person who had gotten entangled with the IRS because of that.

Lloyd never hesitated for a moment. He asked if she planned to keep working at the borough until the money was paid back. She said yes. He gave her a payroll advance that took care of the IRS bill. He never asked her to sign anything to guarantee payback. He trusted her. She worked until that debt was paid off. And she never forgot the kindness of that man sitting in that corner office of the borough building who could just as easily have looked at her and said, “You’re not from Barrow. You’re not Eskimo. You’re not my problem.” But that was not the man Lloyd was.

He could sometimes be an SOB and sometimes make me so mad I saw red. But beyond the red, I always saw that kind and gentle man who helped a friend in need, no questions asked, no guarantees required. Just a belief that between them, a handshake was all that was enough.