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2022 BBNC Shareholders of the Year

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Willie Wassillie

Elder of the Year: Willie Wassillie

Willie Wassillie, born to the late Wassillie and Emma of Asvigyaq, is one of six siblings. He lives in Togiak with the love of his life Margaret, seven children, and numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren.

Willie was a tribal judge for Togiak Traditional Council for many years, where he assisted in legal decisions and court hearings for the tribe and their tribal members. Willie currently serves as an honorary tribal judge and his wisdom and advice continues to be a valuable source for the community of Togiak. Willie is a retired ivory, bone, and wood carver and shared his knowledge of carving to many residents. He was also a commercial fisherman until his early 80’s and he and his family continue to harvest subsistence food throughout the year.

Willie’s advice is to always leave the water and land like you were never there, so the berries, fish, and animals always come back.

Wassiliisia R. Bennis, Thomas Tilden, and Russell S. Nelson

Citizen of the Year: Thomas Tilden

Thomas Tilden, born to the late Mary and Earl Tilden, spent his early years in Portage Creek where his grandparents taught him their history and subsistence lifestyle and he learned to hunt, fish, and gather berries.

Thomas, a subsistence and commercial fisherman, has been dedicated to the well-being and cultural enrichment of the people of Bristol Bay for decades. He has served as Tribal Chief for decades, on the boards of Nunamta Aulukestai, United Tribes of Bristol Bay, Choggiung Limited, and a village representative for the Alaska Federation of Natives. He previously served as mayor and councilman for the city of Dillingham, and traveled the world advocating for the permanent protections of Bristol Bay, especially from the threat of large-scale mining.

Thomas deeply recognizes the value of his home and the richness of its people. He has shown a selfless and lifelong commitment to the preservation of salmon, the ecosystem of Bristol Bay, and Alaska Native people.

Wassiliisia R. Bennis, Makena Thompson, and Russell S. Nelson

Student of the Year: Makena Thompson

Makena Thompson, whose family is from Naknek and Egegik, is a senior at Trine University in Indiana where she is an athlete and a mechanical engineering student.

Makena attributes her interest in mechanical engineering to her time at the Alaska Native Science and Engineering Program Acceleration Academy. During her time at Trine University, she has maintained a 4.0 GPA, and has been on the president’s list each semester. Makena has also been recognized as an American Hockey Coaches Association Krampade “All American Scholar” for the past two years, an award given to varsity hockey players with exceptional grades. She was named assistant captain of the hockey team this past spring.

Makena is currently in the Purdue Engineering Graduate Track Program, which will help prepare her for graduate school. One day, she hopes to work with an engineering firm that designs products. In her free time, Makena enjoys fishing with her family in Egegik, reading, hiking, playing video games, and drawing.

Wassiliisia R. Bennis, Marie Tinker and her daughter, and Russel S. Nelson

Business of the Year: Forget Me Knots, Marie Tinker

Forget Me Knots is owned by Marie Tinker, daughter of Stephan and Elena Pat from Dillingham. She currently lives in Wasilla with her husband and three children.

Marie started her business in 2012 as a single mom raising her son and the business has continued to grow throughout the last ten years. She sells earrings, jewelry, custom qaspeqs, and created the first online qaspeq pattern that customers can print and use to make their own qaspeqs at home.

She also draws, paints, and creates custom logos for companies. Marie is knowledgeable about her Native traditions and strives to keep it alive with positive outreach and teachings.