Mary Jane Fate was respected Athabascan leader and former AFN chair

Apr 20, 2020

Mary Jane Fate at induction ceremony for the Alaska Women's Hall of Fame in 2014. (Contributed photo)

Athabascan leader Mary Jane Fate has died.

She was known for her advocacy for the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, and her leadership of the Alaska Federation of Natives and the Fairbanks Native Association. Fate had many “firsts” at a formative time in Alaska’s history.

Mary Jane Evans was born in the Interior Alaska village of Rampart in 1933.

“She babysat, I think, about half of the village of Rampart,” said family friend Georgiana Lincoln, who grew up with Fate.

Fate graduated from Mount Edgecumbe High School, a boarding school in Sitka, in 1952, then became one of the first Native women to attend the University of Alaska Fairbanks, where she studied accounting. She worked at Wien Air Alaska to pay her way through school.

In 1954, she married Hugh “Bud” Fate Jr., a Korean War veteran. Their relationship lasted 65 years.

“At all times, you never saw Bud without Mary Jane or Mary Jane without Bud,” said Lincoln.

Hugh Fate later went to dental school, and Mary Jane Fate trained as a dental hygienist. In the 1960s, the young couple flew to many Alaska villages to provide dental care.

“All their lives, when he was dentist, she was a dental assistant. When they went to fish camp, they went to camp together,” Lincoln said.

In Fairbanks, the Fates raised three daughters: Janine, Jennifer and Julie, as well as Mary Jane Fate’s cousin, Alfred Woods.

They also were friends with activists in Fairbanks who fought discrimination in housing and public access, and helped form the Fairbanks Native Association in 1963. Mary Jane Fate served as president of the organization.

Lincoln says Fate’s leadership touched Native and political organizations across the state, who are calling in with condolences.

“She was the voice of the people,” Lincoln said.

Fate served for many years on the board of the Rampart village corporation, the Baan O Yeel Kon Corp., from the time it was formed in 1972. Her daughter is now on that board.

She helped found the North American Indian Women’s Association, and in 1975 she was its third national president. She directed a national research project for Congress about the treatment and care of Native American children and women.

Fate worked with Nancy Murkowski and other Fairbanks women to open the nonprofit Breast Cancer Detection Center of Alaska in 1976. The center provides education and mammograms to Interior Alaska women regardless of their ability to pay.

She was the first woman on the Alaska Airlines board of directors, where she served 25 years. She was the first woman and first Alaska Native to serve on the Alaska Judicial Council from 1981 to 1987.

In the 1980s, Lincoln and Fate were active in the Alaska Federation of Natives. Neither saw gender as a limitation to becoming co-chair of the organization.

“In fact I nominated her. And she was the first woman co-chair of the AFN,” Lincoln said.

Fate served as co-chair with Henry Ivanoff between 1988 and 1989.

Fate served as a regent for the University of Alaska from 1993 through 2001.

She was active in the Republican Party, especially after her husband was elected to the Alaska House of Representatives in 2000. Lincoln, who served in the Alaska House and Senate as a Democrat, said partisanship was never a barrier.

“We got along so well. I’m a staunch Democrat, and I’m sure she was a staunch Republican. We never talked about that. We talked about the issues, and Republican/Democrat never came up,” said Lincoln.

Mary Jane Fate died just after 1 a.m. last Friday morning, April 10. Her husband is 90 years old and was named by his son-in-law, Republican U.S. Sen. Dan Sullivan, as “Alaskan of the Week” in the Senate chambers last December. The Fates have three daughters and 11 grandchildren.

Fate is survived by two sisters, Lily and Alice, and three daughters.