John Borbridge Jr. (1926 - 2016)

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John Borbridge, Jr – husband, father, teacher, historian, grandfather, history-maker and Coach – passed away early the morning of Monday, May 9, 7:00 a.m. at Wildflower Court in Juneau. Born July 15, 1926 in Juneau to Minnie Knudson Borbridge and John Edward Borbridge Sr., he was 89 years of age.
John was raised in Juneau, Alaska where he attended school, gaining a love of reading, basketball and track and field. He valued his education, graduating from Juneau-Douglas High School in 1945, Sheldon Jackson Junior College in 1947, and from the University of Michigan in 1955.
During his time at Sheldon Jackson Junior College John met Emma Christine Nicolet, his wife of 68 years. Together they formed a partnership with the goal of putting John through college.
To help pay for his education, John worked in the world-class Bristol Bay salmon fishery, starting with the final years of commercial fishing with sailboats as a deckhand and then skipper for the "monkey boats" that would tow sailboats out to the fishing ground at the beginning of the week and bring them back to shore at the end of the week. He later participated in the Bristol Bay drift fishery and then with his family at their setnet site in Naknek, Alaska.
John Borbrige considered himself first and foremost a teacher. Following his graduation from the University of Michigan he returned to Alaska where he started his career in education at Sheldon Jackson High School, teaching government, history and physical education. He coached basketball, track and field and tumbling, working with students from across the state of Alaska. In 1961 he moved on to teaching and coaching at Juneau-Douglas High School. He taught there for six years and coached basketball, track and field, and cross country. The basketball team won the state title in 1963. To this day he is still referred to as "Coach" by his former team members and "my teacher" by his former students.
In the late 1960's John was called upon by Tlingit leadership to work on their behalf following the Court of Claims decision for the Tlingit and Haida people. During that time, Borbridge was elected as the first full-time President of the Tlingit and Haida Central Council, establishing the structure for the tribal government to provide services to its members. John's love of history and government enabled him to participate fully in this effort. His beliefs and values were essential for him to help lead this effort. He believed in the central role of the tribes in Alaska's past, present and future.
During the late 1960's, Southeast Alaska joined efforts for a statewide settlement of Native land rights when John served as the lobbyist for Southeast Alaska and the first chairman of the Alaska Federation of Natives board. The effort to settle Native land rights spoke to John's strong belief in justice -- not only that the settlement of Native land rights was just but that it was the obligation of the U.S. government take action, and the belief that the government would do the right thing. He had a commitment to scholarship and preparation for each meeting and presentation. He followed his calling as a teacher whether speaking to individuals, groups, or Congress. In the words of former U.S. Senate Interior Committee counsel Bill Van Ness, "I remember one time when it looked like we wouldn't get the ANCSA legislation and John spoke without notes for forty minutes, an amazing delivery, better than many constitutional lawyers I've seen."
In 1972 Borbridge moved from land rights advocacy to organizing and running one of the regional ANCSA corporations as the founding President and Chairman of the Board for the Sealaska Corporation, a position he held until 1978. During the mid-1970's John received a congressional appointment as a commissioner to the American Indian Policy Review Commission, and a presidential appointment as a delegate to the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe. In 1992 he became the Subsistence Specialist for the Bureau of Indian Affairs.
In recent years John Borbridge returned to his life-long vocation – teaching. He was asked to give lectures by Federal agencies including the Departments of the Interior and Agriculture. He particularly enjoyed participating in the UAF Rural Development Program, presenting the historical aspect of the fight for Native land rights as one who was directly involved. It was always encouraging to him to share that firsthand information with students, for future generations.
John received an honorary doctorate of laws degree at the University of Alaska Southeast, He advised the students it only took him 50 years to earn that degree.
John continued his interest in athletics, remaining a diehard fan of the Michigan Wolverines. He took the opportunity to attend the Olympics when they were held in Montreal to watch the track and field events, and he followed with interest the careers of former Wolverines who went on to play professional basketball and football.
John is Raven/Luk.nax.adi from the Frog House and Wooshkeetan yadi. His Tlingit name is Duk.saa.aat.
He was preceded in death by his parents, Minnie Knudson Borbridge and John Edward Borbridge, Sr., his brother Ted Borbridge, daughter Linda Borbridge and son John Edward Borbridge. He is survived by his wife of 68 years, Emma Nicolet Borbridge, son Charles Borbridge, daughter Sandra Borbridge, grandchildren Violet, John (Melissa), Phillip (Becky) and Jamie Borbridge, sister Nellie Bennett and his great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews.
The family extends a special thanks to the nursing and therapy staff at Barlett Regional Hospital, Dr. Kirk (SEARHC) and the nursing and therapy staff at Wildflower Court.
A memorial service for John Borbridge, Jr. was held in Juneau Saturday, May 21, attended by members of John's family, former students and friends.
Published in The Juneau Empire from May 22 to June 21, 2016
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