INTENSIVE – Professional dancer Adam McKinney formerly with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and choreographer Sarah Ashkin lead a rehearsal of an upcoming Summer Dance Intensive production Thursday in Allen Hall. Students will dance a 25-minute program Saturday 7 p.m. in the Performing Arts Center. A five dollar donation is suggested at the door. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Agnes Isabel (Parent) Harrison

Agnes Isabel (Parent) Harrison

Lifelong Alaska resident Agnes Isabel (Parent) Harrison passed away peacefully Sept. 16, 2017, at the Alaska Native Medical Center. She was 88.

She was born on May 30, 1929, to Denis and Massa Parent. Her father owned and ran the trading post in Crooked Creek, on the Kuskokwim River. On advice of her grandmother she studied the white man’s language until she attained proficiency in communicating in English, using this skill throughout her life to advocate for the Native people of Alaska both privately and publicly . 

After 8th grade she moved to Anchorage to work and attend high school. She quickly learned that Natives coming from the villages would be arrested and jailed for being “indigent” because they had no money when they arrived. So, when she earned her first dollar she took it to the bank and exchanged it for 100 pennies. She then proceeded to give a penny to every Native person she met who was new to Anchorage, so they would not be arrested. 

In the early 1950’s she received a baccalaureate degree in education at Western Washington College of Education in Bellingham, married Wallace Harrison, and started her career and family in Alakanuk, Alaska. She taught in both English and Yupik at a time it was against school policy to speak Native languages. She was described as being sharp minded and driven to do everything she could so her students would live better lives, teaching children during the day and adults in evening classes. She also served as village magistrate.

The family later moved to Bethel, Fairbanks and, in 1963, Anchorage, where she lived the rest of her life. 

She tirelessly promoted Native culture within community schools and organizations, serving on the Greater Anchorage Area Community Action Agency at a time when multiple community services and programs were being developed. She was also a successful advocate for Native hiring policies within Atlantic Richfield Company, where she worked as a personnel specialist. She once said her life spanned “the Stone Age to the Space Age”, where in childhood her grandmother would put a wooden box on the ground so she could mount the family mule; and later in life was flown in an ARCO company jet throughout Alaska and the Arctic as a good-will ambassador, reinforcing Native language and culture.

She worked for the Alaska National Guard and the ANTHC’s Division of Environmental Health and Engineering. She continued working full-time until her third retirement last year at the age of 86.

In 1949 she became the first person of Native Alaskan ancestry to become a member of the Bahá’í Faith while living in Alaska. Throughout life she respected the beliefs of others, and focused on commonalities as a higher value than differences. 

A small service was held at the graveside at Anchorage Memorial Park where she is now buried. 

Aggie is survived by daughter Gai Harrison, sons Denis and Kosmos Harrison, three grandsons, four granddaughters, two great-grandsons, and three great-granddaughters. An infant daughter, Jorene Michelle, preceded her in death. 


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