Obituary: Alaska Native elder and leader dies at age 77

ANCHORAGE — John Schaeffer Jr., an Inupiat Eskimo elder and tribal leader in northwest Alaska, has died. He was 77.

Schaeffer was the first president and CEO of the NANA Regional Corp., and is credited with protecting the subsistence lifestyle of his people.

NANA Chief Operating Officer Lori Henry says Schaeffer died Aug. 25 in Kotzebue, his hometown. He will be buried in Kotzebue on Wednesday following a memorial service at the high school gym.

A cause of death was not disclosed.

“Because of John and the early leaders, the land and knowledge of the NANA region are ours and we are firmly in control of our destiny,” NANA said in a statement. “He was a great Hunter for us all. His legacy is written in the future of our people, a future he worked a lifetime to ensure.”

Schaeffer joined the Alaska Army National Guard’s Eskimo Scout battalion in 1957, serving as the adjutant general of the Alaska National Guard starting in the mid-1980s until 1991. Guard officials say he was among the leaders in the state’s response to the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill.


He also was the first Inupiat two-star general in the nation, according to the Guard.

Earlier this month, Schaeffer attended a dedication of a Guard hangar named after him in Kotzebue.

He is survived by his wife, Mary, nine children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.