Robert Willard dead at age 64

Posted: Tuesday, June 05, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Robert Willard, a longtime Native rights activist and proponent of subsistence rights, died last week in Juneau.

He was 64.

Willard was Alaska's first Native state trooper. He had held numerous offices, including executive director of the Commission for Human Rights under then-Gov. Bill Egan, director of the Tlingit-Haida Housing Authority in Juneau, president of the Southeast Native Subsistence Committee, legislative analyst for the Alaska Native Brotherhood and several positions with Juneau's Tlingit-Haida Community Council.

''Just about everything that impacted Native life here in Southeast, Bob was involved in,'' said Ethel Lund, former president of the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium. ''He was just kind of a can-do person, a problem solver.''

Lund met Willard through their work at SEARHC, where he served as interim executive director for several months. She said he traveled to Anchorage and negotiated with Indian Health Service for the first contract.

''He was competing with well-established health organizations. It was a highly competitive field and he came home with the bacon,'' Lund said.

Native lands claims activist John Borbridge, a former president of Sealaska, Southeast's regional Native corporation, said he had an informal working relationship with Willard for more than 30 years. Together, they followed the Legislature, alerting one another when their testimony might be needed.

Willard also worked on behalf of the landless communities struggling to receive recognition under an amendment to the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. His leadership was primarily directed toward working with the Alaska congressional delegation, Borbridge said.

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