Flore Lekanov, an Aleut native of Saint George Island in Alaska, a leading defender of native Alaskan rights in the 20th century, and a member of Saint Katherine Mission, fell asleep in the Lord here on September 17, 2010.
One of 12 children born to Reader Anatoly and Agnes Lekanov, he spent his childhood on Saint George, one of the Pribilof Islands located near the Aleutian Island chain. He lived a subsistence existence with his family, hunting seals and obtaining a rudimentary education at the village school. Speaking Aleut at home he, like many of the island’s 200 or so inhabitants, regarded the government-run elementary school as foreign, due to its enforcement of the English language. (Alaska only became a state in 1959.) He and his family attended the single church on the island, Saint George’s, where as a boy he sang in the choir.
During World War II, the US government compelled the native population of Saint George and the neighboring Saint Paul Island to relocate to Funter Bay near Juneau, an experience that was documented by the 2005 Public Broadcasting Service documentary, The Aleut Story, which featured interviews with survivors such as Flore. The Funter Bay relocation was a disaster for the evacuees, ten percent of whom died from poor housing conditions and disease. Flore himself lost one of his sisters and both of his grandmothers. When he returned with the others to Saint George Island in 1944, he had contracted tuberculosis and spent the next few years in a tubercular hospital in Tacoma, WA.
He made the most of this time earning a high school diploma and studying Scripture. He earned a BA in Philosophy from Whitworth College and a MA in education from the University of Washington, Seattle, after which he returned to Alaska and taught in native villages and cities, including Sitka and Fairbanks. At Scenic Park Elementary School, Anchorage, he earned the distinction of becoming the first native Alaskan to hold the position of principal in an Alaskan public school in 1975.
He was acutely aware of the needs of native Alaskans and became the director of anti-poverty programs for the state and a leader of efforts to defend native interests. He contributed to the formation of the Aleut Corporation, and in 1966 he helped found and became the first chairman of the Alaska Federation of Natives.
He was active in preparing the way for the historic Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971, and was present at the White House when President Richard Nixon signed it into law. This billion-dollar land settlement was the largest ever in the history of the US Congress, and resulted in the transfer of 40 million acres of land to native Alaskans, who collectively became the largest land owners after the federal and state governments. In recognition of his service to the native peoples of Alaska, he was recruited by the Nixon administration to become Deputy Director of Community Programs for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Washington, DC, which office he occupied for two years. He then returned to Anchorage to continue his work within native Alaskan organizations and schools.
After his retirement, he moved to Seattle in 1999, spending the last decade of his life as a member of Saint Katherine Mission, Kirkland, WA, singing bass in the choir, and writing his as yet unpublished memoirs. At the time of his death, he was surrounded by his wife of 40 years, Mary, and his children and fellow parishioners. He passed his final hours greeting visitors with a warm smile and “thank you!” and singing Orthodox hymns in the Aleut language.
May Flore’s memory be eternal!