SE loses Native leader

Stella Martin remembered for community activism

Posted: Friday, August 30, 2002

Stella Martin is being remembered today by the community she dedicated her life to helping.

Martin, who died Monday at age 79, had been active in Native and civic organizations for most of her life, including the Alaska Native Sisterhood and Alaska Native Brotherhood, Tlingit and Haida Community Council, and the Salvation Army.

"She always brought balance to the deliberations of our community and was concerned always about the well-being of the people in terms of their education and their health and their social well-being," said Bob Loescher, president of the Juneau Tlingit and Haida Community Council. "She will be very much missed as we look at our future."

Gov. Tony Knowles ordered state flags in Southeast lowered to half-staff today in memory of Martin. A memorial will be held for her at the Juneau Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall at 7 tonight.

Martin first became a member of the Alaska Native Sisterhood in 1941 while living in Sitka. She served two terms as grand president of the Alaska Native Sisterhood Grand Camp and held the honored title of grand president emeritus.

"She had a great understanding of human nature and she had wisdom to be patient and to provide solutions to the many problems that we faced in our community," Loescher said.

Martin will be missed at Tlingit and Haida Community Council, where she was a member for 30 years, Loescher said. She served as a member of the local Community Council and as a delegate to the Central Council General Assembly for many years. She also served a term as one of the first tribal judges. This year she was honored by the tribe and designated the hostess of the General Assembly.

She served on many other boards as well, including for St. Ann's Care Center, Sealaska Heritage Institute and Alaska Legal Services. Through her example, Martin taught others how to be leaders, Loescher said. The standards she set were very high, but she demonstrated how to live up to them, said Martin's son, Bob Martin Jr.

"One of my highlights was when my mother told me she met someone who said, 'Oh, you must be Bob Martin's mother,' because usually it was the other way around," Martin Jr. said. "She held us up to some very high expectations."

Martin and her husband also balanced their community service with their home life, making time for their six children.

"I couldn't have chosen a better mother," said her daughter, Priscilla Steele. "She was very encouraging, very wise, always willing to give advice. She always seemed to know what to say."

Martin knew what to say in public as well. A frequent and accomplished speaker, Martin was known for being able to speak off the cuff, Steele said. In Sitka in 1997 she became the first woman ever to give the keynote address at an ANB and ANS Grand Camp Convention.

"She was very proud of that, as we all were," Steele said.

Martin earned many honors for her work, including the Sealaska Woman of the Year award, the Elizabeth Peratrovich ANS Citizenship award, and a Woman of Distinction award from AWARE, a women's and children's shelter in Juneau.

Martin was too sick to attend the AWARE ceremony, so she asked her son to read her comments:

"I think we must take a lesson from the ANB founding fathers, who went and took action accomplishing great good for our people," she wrote. "We need to give more thought and commit to educating ourselves, if not in the schools, then by experiencing and teaching others. Our commitment must be to unity and to our youth."

She continued to work with youths herself, providing cultural and traditional presentations for the Juneau School District, the Central Council Head Start Program, and the Healthy Nations Program.

"We must give our children and grandchildren the best advantages we can so that they and the tribe will succeed and thrive," she told her son. "It is the key to our very existence."

Kristan Hutchison can be reached at

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