Lucy Adams, a professor of making freaks, translating the scriptures into Inupiak and giving life advice, died this month at the age of 88.
“She was as unique as anyone, no one could be,” said her daughter, Bertha Adams.
Lucy Adams, a famous Kevalina Elder, sewed animal skins for family members, hosted students and visitors, and supported those who were going through a rough time. She was also one of the last women to know the process of making Maklaks, shoes traditionally made of seal leather.
“It was Kefalina’s rock,” said her niece, Janet Mitchell. “Many loved and trusted her. It was our prayer fight.”
Adams’ heart was severely damaged after two heart operations. She passed away on December 9, and her family and friends who attended her funeral on December 20 spoke of how she always took the time to pray for them and advise them when they were “in trouble, whether it was with family, with the law, or with her son Enoch,” said Enoch. Adams Jr.
“When people asked her to pray, she also spoke powerfully of their need to change their lives,” he said. “She always knew the right thing to do. I can still hear her giving me advice, and I can still hear her voice.”
Lucy Adams and her husband, Enoch Adams Sr., raised three children and a niece – a relatively small first-class family. But their home was never empty: they took students who came to Kefalina to study in high school and offered visitors a place to stay.
“They even invited what we call strangers in the village to stay with us,” said Bertha Adams. “They thought you needed to welcome any stranger who didn’t know if it might be an angel or not.”
Maya Katak Lukin spent a winter evening in Kefalina about 15 years ago. When her flight was cancelled, she asked if anyone wanted to feed her soup, and that’s how she ended up at Lucy Adams’ house.
When she entered Adams’ house, she saw the skins of two wolves hanging to dry on a clothesline outside. The arctic inlet was full of maclaks of all sizes and two twisted seal skins dried and rolled to make the soles of boots or tongaks. Lucken remembers how Adams greeted her with caribou soup and seal oil, with royal cream biscuits instead of Sailor Boy Pilot bread. Adams also showed Loken how to make a pattern for the Attungaks.
Years later, Adams paid a visit to Lukin’s home in Kotzebue and asked her about her progress with the Maklaks, but Lukin replied that she never finished making the pair. Adams asked her to bring what she had and inspected her work.
“She told me I needed to make sure my husband had warm feet,” Lukin said. “I needed to take care of him and never tell him not to go fishing. A good sock equals a warm foot, which means he will always come home.”
To keep the Maklak-making tradition from disappearing, Adams taught the multi-step process to her children and anyone else who showed an interest. As the years progressed, she taught her craft in workshops, conferences, and in classes of Chukchi College. Local artist Mary Lou Soures was among Adams’ students.
“She’s brilliant at what she does, and I’m so grateful I learned from her,” Sowers said. “When I worked with her, she made sure I learned her way of doing things. And she told me I’d be the next teacher, which is kind of ironic because that’s what I’m doing now.”
protect the earth
Her sister-in-law, Alice Adams, said Lucy Adams had been sewing, in addition to collecting food, all her life as her health allowed her. She said she “goes to have some tea or snacks with (Lucy Adams) almost every day.”
The two women worked together on the Kefalina City Council and went to San Francisco to represent the city in 2008. Alice Adams remembered the exploding air conditioner in her San Francisco hotel room that made the air “cooler than home.” Fortunately, her sister-in-law brought a parka jacket with her everywhere.
She said they in San Francisco are among the leaders representing Kefalina in a lawsuit against the Red Dog Mine for polluting the village’s water supply and salmon fishery.
“We wanted to be careful what they did to our land,” Alice Adams said of the lawsuit. “We didn’t want them to spoil our hunting grounds.”
Hunting seals and caribou, fishing for graying and picking berries, her daughter Bertha said, “did it all all season long, whatever the season.”
Born in 1933, Lucy Adams spent her childhood outside Point Lay, in a place with year-round gray stocks, said her son Enoch Jr. They traveled in a leather boat or had their team of dogs haul the leather boat along the shoreline for hunting and fishing.
Her family came to Kefalina in 1945, attracted by caribou, bearded seals, and fish available year-round. Her niece Mitchell said Adams lived a subsistence lifestyle her whole life, and until last spring, she spent time working outside.
Keeping traditions alive
Within her home and room, Adams relied on a different kind of sustenance: piles of beloved bibles and worn-out dictionaries, her daughter said. Adams was translating the Bible into Inupiaq “so that sages or people who have difficulty dealing with some parts of the Bible could understand it,” Bertha Adams said.
Enoch Jr. said people respected Lucy Adams “not only for being a leader of the church but also for being a carrier of traditional culture.” She grew up with no electricity, no government-provided housing and no powered cars, moved into a different era, and experienced – and adapted to – huge transformations around her.
“If you think about the lives our elders have lived, we cannot understand the changes they have gone through,” Lukin said.
In their lifetime, she explained, the Alaskan Native sages switched from using handcrafted wooden boats to aluminum and fiberglass motor boats. After traveling over sea or ice to reach places, they can now use airlines that fly twice daily to their villages.
“They witnessed the loss of our language,” she added. “Many of their children did not learn that language because of the trauma they themselves experienced when learning how to speak English.
“When the wise men die in our region, everyone is affected in one way or another,” she added. “Not only do we lose grandparents, aunts, uncles, mothers and fathers, but we also lose precious traditional knowledge.”
Her daughter said Adams imparted traditional knowledge to her children, teaching them how to sew, make maclaks and jackets, and cook food from the ground.
Bertha Adams continued, “She taught us how to be independent, but most of all, she taught us how to love God and respect others. Every human being deserves respect – that’s what she told us. You don’t look at their place” in life. You don’t look at what they think they are. You respect the dignity of every human being.”
The death of Lucy Adams shook the community of Kefalina and the villages and towns of Northwest Alaska beyond.
On the night when family and friends gathered at Adams’ funerals, half of the village had no power, so the church light was glowing even more on a bleak arctic winter’s night.
“There were a lot of people and a lot of grief,” said Alice Adams, her sister-in-law. “We didn’t want to break up with her.”
The party started at 5pm, and when I got home, it was midnight. Until then, friends and family had been doing what Lucy Adams loved to do: sing.
Songs in Inupiaq, gospels in English, instruments playing live – her family and friends filled the church with sounds and voices.
“For a moment, it just got very lively, and we were dancing,” said Alice Adams. “We were happy to have the Lord with her.”