Agnes Isabel Harrison (1929 - 2017)

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  • "I was telling someone just last week about how wonderful..."
    - Michael Carius
  • "She always had a smile and was so kind. I will miss her..."
    - Laura Revels
  • "Gai, Denis, Kos, Stan and Simeon, I'm sorry for your loss. ..."
    - Melanie Binion
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    - Shirley Townsend
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    - Jan Bullock
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Lifelong Alaska resident, Agnes Isabel (nee Parent) Harrison passed away peacefully on Sept. 16, 2017, at the Alaska Native Medical Center. She was 88 years old. She was born on May 30, 1929, to Denis and Massa Parent. Her father owned and ran the trading post in Crooked Creek, Alaska, on the Kuskokwim River. On the advice of her grandmother, she studied the white man's language until she attained proficiency in communicating in English, using this skill throughout her life to advocate for the Native people of Alaska, both privately and publicly.
After eighth grade, she moved to Anchorage, Alaska, to work and attend high school. She quickly learned that Natives coming from the villages would be arrested and jailed for being "indigent" because they had no money when they arrived. So, when she earned her first dollar she took it to the bank and exchanged it for 100 pennies.
She then proceeded to give a penny to every Native person she met who was new to Anchorage, so they would not be arrested.
In the early 1950s, she completed a baccalaureate degree in education at Western Washington College of Education in Bellingham, Wash., married Wallace Harrison and started her career and family in Alakanuk, Alaska. She taught in both English and Yupik at a time it was against school policy to speak Native languages. She was described as being sharp minded and driven to do everything she could so her students would live better lives, teaching children during the day and adults in evening classes. She also served as village Magistrate. The family later moved to Bethel and Fairbanks, Alaska, and in 1963, to Anchorage, where she lived and worked the rest of her life.
She tirelessly promoted Native culture within community schools and organizations, serving on the Greater Anchorage Area Community Action Agency at a time when multiple community services and programs were being developed. She was also a successful advocate for Native hiring policies within Atlantic Richfield Company, where she worked as a personnel specialist. She once said her life spanned "the Stone Age to the Space Age," where in childhood her grandmother would put a wooden box on the ground so she could mount the family mule; and later, she was flown in an ARCO company jet throughout Alaska and the Arctic regions as a good-will ambassador, reinforcing Native language and culture.
In addition to careers teaching and working for ARCO, she worked for the Alaska National Guard and then ANTHC's Division of Environmental Health and Engineering. She continued working full time until her third retirement last year, at the age of 86. She was known to be an outspoken and independent thinker who reminded agency directors and employees that, first and foremost, they worked for the Native peoples of Alaska. She encouraged
co-workers to be the best they could be, supported them in times of hardship and counseled them to persist, undaunted by prejudice or limitations. Had her health not interfered, she would still be working today.
In 1949, she became the first person of Native Alaska ancestry to become a member of the Baha'i Faith while living in Alaska, which she often said was inspired by a dream she had as a child. She nourished her spirituality by years of prayer and meditation practiced at least two hours a day and backed it with persistent endeavor to imbue her actions with her values. Throughout life, she respected the beliefs of others, encouraged them to ground themselves in their respective spiritual paths, and focused on commonalities as a higher value than differences.
A small service was held at the graveside at Anchorage Memorial Park, where she is now buried. For anyone wishing to make a contribution on Aggie's behalf, the family requests that they share any and all stories about things Aggie might have said or done to have an impact on their lives (whether humorous, interesting, supportive, whatever stands out!) c/o [email protected].
Aggie is survived by daughter, Gai Harrison; sons, Denis and Kosmos Harrison; three grandsons; four granddaughters; two great-grandsons; and three great-granddaughters. An infant daughter, Jorene Michelle, preceded her in death. See complete obituary online at
Published in Anchorage Daily News from Oct. 17 to Oct. 18, 2017