Dora Iyapana Ahkinga
Dora was born on Little Diomede Island to James Iyapana of Big Diomede and Annie Omiak Iyapana of Teller. She attended grade school on Diomede and was sent off to Chemawa Indian High School in 1959 for 9th grade, but was called back to the island to take care of her grandfather. Dora married the love of her life, Orville Ahkinga Sr., on Diomede June 10, 1965. All the elders attended, and everyone enjoyed the wedding cake prepared by the Little Sisters of Jesus. They began their life together at Albert Iyahuk’s house and soon moved into the sod house that Orville Sr. bought from Walter Kazingnuk in 1968. It was in this house that their first four children Michael, Orville Jr., Frances and Opik were raised.
During 1969 to 1971 Dora and family followed Orville to Anchorage while he served in the military. While in Anchorage, Dora and Orville were blessed with an infant daughter Roberta, who unexpectedly went to the Lord at age 18 months. When the time was right, they returned to Diomede. Back on the island, their family continued to grow with the arrival of Catherine, Jamie, Florence and Christopher. They also legally adopted and raised two young girls Patty Ahkinga and Alyssa Ahkinga.
Dora was raised traditionally and as a young girl began to learn the many lifelong skills required to excel in the Bering Strait region. Diomede and its bountiful ocean waters provided all the ingredients she needed to raise a happy family. She enjoyed living on Diomede with her husband Orville Sr., all their children, and the rest of the island’s community. She taught her daughters traditional subsistence skills, which included preparing and maintaining barrel foods. These involved gathering greens, seaweeds, Eskimo potatoes and berries, as well as storing foods prepared from walruses, bowhead whales, belugas, polar bears, oogruk, and all the other seals, and also seabirds, eider ducks, bullheads, and crabs — for all manner of delicious family meals.
From a young age, Dora had prepared herself with all the knowledge and skills needed as the wife of a successful skin boat captain. At one time, she and Orville successfully supported two boat crews. Without ceasing, Dora enjoyed splitting and sewing walrus skins until she left the island for Nome in 2011. Their eldest son Michael mastered all the skills needed to provide for others, and he did so until he left Diomede in 1989 to start his own family. In 1992 they turned their skin boat over to a successful young captain, Orville Jr., who continued to provide for the family and the village.
Her dynamic daughters brought Dora pride and joy as well. Her oldest daughter Frances had the benefit of Dora’s traditional teachings the longest and continues to practice what she has learned to live. Dora and Opik shared the ability to see all manner of things through and to never quit. Catherine’s dependability and humor is a direct reflection of her mother. Dora appreciated the strength of character in Jamie and her independent spirit. Florence’s experience with medical care was well suited for Dora’s recent needs, and she was a great comfort to her mother at the end. Dora knew that her youngest daughter, Alyssa, will carry on with her education, including traditional ways.
Sewing was a passion Dora mastered, and her skills included making parkas, mukluks, kuspuqs, sealskin pants, gloves, mittens, hats and all other types of clothing. Singing, dancing, and the history of each traditional song were a joy to Dora, and she continuously taught these skills to every generation of her ever-growing family. If anyone wanted to learn subsistence skills, traditional knowledge, or the many Inupiaq dialects spoken in the Bering Strait region, they knew where to find an answer.
Dora was a tireless worker even outside of her subsistence activities while raising her large loving family. For 36 years, she served the many students, teachers, and her community as the head cook at the BIA and Bering Strait School District Diomede school. For almost 20 years she served as the Bering Air agent for the island. For over 10 years she worked with the Bering Sea Women’s Group and provided the island with a safe home. Additionally, she served on the Diomede Tribal Council, and was mayor of Diomede for seven years.
After her move to the mainland in 2011, Dora remained involved with her family, friends and community. In Nome, she was an active member of the King Island Dance Group. She also worked with the Bering Sea Women’s Group, and for five more years provided a safe home for others in need.
Dora always believed in goodness, forgiveness and that all things were possible through faith in God. She will be deeply missed by all who knew her passion for life, her great sense of humor and her everlasting love for her family.
Dora is survived by her husband of 53 years, Orville Sr., her older half-sister Wilma Sandstrom, and eight of her children, Michael Sr. (Goldie Crisci), Orville Jr. (Etta Ahkinga), Frances Ozenna, Opik Ahkinga, Catherine Ahkinga, Jamie Ahkinga, Florence Ahkinga and Alyssa Ahkinga.
Dora is also survived by 37 grandchildren: Angela, Cynthia, Alicia, Janice, Sherri, Dylan, and Michael Jr., and Hillary Ahkinga; Melissa Kazingnuk, Hannah Ahkinga and (by marriage) Jared, Agnes and Matthew Menadelook; Justin Ahkinga, Gabriel Jr., Ahna, Rebecca, Kyra and Kristen Ozenna; Samuel Ahkinga, Edward III, Devin, Dakota, Landon Kakaruk, and Jacy Ahkinga-Kakaruk; Natalie Ahkinga, Marcus and Adrienne Okpealuk, and Darlene Kaleak; Chloe, Tyler and Jaelyn Milligrock, and Christopher Ahkinga; Emily Payton, Jovon and Elayne Cunningham and Kayisha Brian.
Dora is survived by 16 great-grandchildren: Hailey Komonaseak, Thomas and Leo Mayac, Roselynn Crisci-Savetilik, Caitlin Crisci, Todd Milligrock, Sylvester Crisci, Julie Kazingnuk, Nyah Omiak, Peyton and Remy Joseph, Sage and Jasmine Ahkinga, Josiah Ozenna, Elijah Soolook and Laney Ahkinga.
She was preceded in death by her parents James and Annie Iyapana, her older brother Lloyd Elasanga, her infant daughter Roberta, daughter Patty, her youngest son Christopher, granddaughters Sonja Ozenna and Laney Ahkinga, and grandsons Timothy Ahkinga, Jacob and Brandon Kakaruk, Elijah James and James Jacob Ahkinga.