Mary Jane Fate

Mary Jane Fate

Mary Jane Fate has often been blunt about describing conditions she saw as a child in rural Alaska in the mid-20th century.

"Mom and Dad worked as a team, and we stayed on the trap line, living in tents, all winter,” Fate was quoted by The Washington Post in 1978. “Often we were left alone. Some might call it child abuse, but to us it was necessity.

"We fished for a living in the summer. We had to follow the animals. The whole goal of life was just to survive.”

Despite the hardships, she clearly retained a love for the land and lifestyle. She and her husband for decades have maintained a traditional salmon-fishing camp just upstream from her home village of Rampart on the Yukon River.

She saw education and economic development as antidotes to the harshest realities of a pure subsistence existence, though. So she worked to promote their benefits for Alaska indigenous people. In the process, she served on a remarkable number of public and private organizations.

Fate attended the Mount Edgecumbe boarding high school in Sitka then returned to Fairbanks and took university classes. In the 1950s, she met and married Hugh “Bud” Fate, who then went to dental school. They settled in Fairbanks and raised a family.

During the 1960s, Congress was debating legislation to settle Alaska Native land claims, and efforts to ensure equal rights for minorities were receiving national attention. Fate helped organize the Fairbanks Native Association to strengthen the social and political standing of Interior Alaska’s people. She also joined the board of the Tundra Times, a statewide newspaper published in Fairbanks that focused on Alaska Native issues and was edited by Howard Rock, an Inupiaq man from Point Hope.

Following the claims settlement in 1971, Fate spent decades helping to lead the Rampart village corporation, which was created to receive a share of the land and monetary compensation.

In Fairbanks, Fate helped found the Breast Cancer Detection Center in the 1970s. She also served on the Alaska Airlines board for 25 years. From 1993 to 2001, she served on the University of Alaska Board of Regents. She then spent four years on the federal Arctic Research Commission.

Doyon Ltd., the regional for-profit Native corporation for Interior Alaska, named Fate its Citizen of the Year in 2012.

More online about Mary Jane Fate:

  • A profile at the Alaska Women’s Hall of Fame, into which she was inducted in 2014

  • An article about a Doyon Foundation scholarship established in her name in 2017

  • An Alaska Business Monthly article from 2011 that puts her work in the context of Alaska’s evolving educational system

  • The Dec. 12, 1969, opinion page from the Tundra Times, on whose board she served, announcing the one-time publication of a 35,000-copy edition

  • A Feb. 23, 1978, article from The Washington Post, quoting her comments to a conference of rural women in Washington, D.C., as Congress was debating whether to put millions of acres of Alaska land in new federal parks and refuges