Forward of "Tales of Ticasuk" - Part 1

Brown, Emily Ivanof. Tales of Ticasuk : Eskimo legends & stories Fairbanks : University of Alaska Press, 1987. Genre: Folklore ISBN: 0912006242
Emily Ivanoff Brown. Photo by Jimmy Bedford
Emily Ivanoff Brown. Photo by Jimmy Bedford

Notes on the Author
Of all the legends collected over the years by Ticasuk, none are more interesting than the true story of the incredible journey through life of Emily Ivanoff Brown.

It all began February 21, 1904, in Unalakleet where she was born to Amelia (Malquay) and Stephan Ivanoff. He was a Russian-American-Eskimo boat builder, skilled carpenter, storekeeper, and Covenant church missionary.

Emily's Eskimo name, Ticasuk, means "a hollow place in the ground" where the four winds store the treasure they gather from all parts of the world; and Emily spent her lifetime serving as a focal point where people and ideas could find a place to get together.

Emily's parents built a roadhouse at Unalakleet, "well patronized by the mail carriers who travelled the North in winter by dog sled," she wrote in her book Roots of Ticasuk, published in 1981 by Alaska Northwest Publishing Company. Unfortunately, the prosperity they earned through their hard work was not appreciated in the village. "The chief said that they had broken the community taboo that 'no member of our village will rise in wealth over and beyond the others'," Emily was told.

Jimmy Bedford and Emily Brown talk outside the Patty Gym after the May 11, 1980 graduation ceremony.
Jimmy Bedford and Emily Brown talk outside the Patty Gym after the May 11, 1980 graduation ceremony.

The Ivanoffs sold their business "to white man" and moved with their three sons and 3-year-old Emily to Shaktoolik, farther along the shore of Norton Sound. It was here at Shaktoolik that Emily began her education in a tent, beginning in the spring of 1909 at the age of 5.

She grew up on the cutting edge of two civilizations. Her mother clung to the old ways of the Eskimo heritage, while Stephan held to the culture of the white man's ways.

When she was about 15, she was sent to Chemawa Indian School in Salem, Oregon, where she remained for 9 years. She was there so long that the other students often called her "Grandma," but in the process of learning she received her elementary, high school, and teaching certificate, enabling her to return to Alaska as a teacher in the school at Kotzebue.

Although she enjoyed teaching, Ticasuk was appalled at the health hazards in the village and she decided to become a nurse. She went back to the Pacific Northwest to study nursing in Seattle.

Emily Ivanoff Brown and Poldine Carlo meet up at a March 1973 meeting of the Tanana-Yukon Historical Society. Photo by Charley Mayse, Daily News-Miner
Emily Ivanoff Brown and Poldine Carlo meet up at a March 1973 meeting of the Tanana-Yukon Historical Society. Photo by Charley Mayse, Daily News-Miner

Her nursing career was cut short when she met and married Robert Brown and the couple returned to Alaska where they had three children. Emily's new vocation as a mother was interrupted when her husband died, and she had to return to teaching to support herself and her three sons.

In 1954, at the age of 50, Emily began 10 years of attending summer school at the university to earn her bachelor of science degree in education while teaching full time during the academic years.

By May 22, 1964, when she received her degree, one would think that Ticasuk would have had enough education, but she immediately plowed into another course to study the visually handicapped child.

She continued taking courses every summer even after she retired from 30 years of teaching. Still, she studied on, after her three sons were grown and making their own living.

Emily's thirst for knowledge was so great that in the fall of 1969 she moved onto the campus at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks and stayed there through each academic year until her death on May 3, 1982.
During her last semester, she was enrolled in an individual study course in Eskimo heritage, but ill health was catching up with her and she spent very few days in her room at 104 Wickersham Hall. Most of her spring semester in Fairbanks she spent at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital, except for two trips home to Unalakleet.

In late March 1982, she flew to Anchorage to attend the Alaskan of the Year dinner where she was to receive the governor's award for outstanding service to her fellow Alaskans. Unfortunately, she was too tired to go to the dinner and her granddaughter Paula, accepted the award for her.

Emily's service to her state was widely known and she received many awards throughout her lifetime, including a presidential citation by Richard Nixon for her "exceptional service to others, in the finest American tradition."

She was twice cited by the Alaska legislature for preservation of Alaska Native culture. This included her involvement in the production of a dictionary for her own Malimiut dialect of the Inupiaq Eskimo language. She was also assisting in the development of a curriculum guide for teaching the Inupiaq language and culture in the elementary schools.

Her teaching career included schools at Kotzebue, Unalakleet, Shaktoolik and Meade River. After returning from teaching she was widely sought as a speaker or resource person for conferences throughout the state.

At the same time, she continued her schooling, learning more about Native languages, arts and culture, and concentrated on writing these things down for her own people and to communicate their heritage to other cultures.


Forward of "Tales of Ticasuk"                                                                                                                  Part 2