Olson, Emma Olga 12-26-06

Pioneer of education programs passes on

Juneau, Alaska (AP)

Emma Olga Olsen, a pioneer of Native education programs and a longtime Alaska Native Sisterhood leader, passed way Dec. 26. She was 87.

A funeral service was held at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall.

Olsen didn’t have much chance to advance her education after eighth grade since the high schools were segregated.

“She wanted to go to a high school, but could not do that,” said Marie Olson, Emma’s niece. “That was one of her goals later in life, to support many of the children that wanted to go to high school.”

Olsen was born July 22, 1919, in Dundas Bay to Sam and Sally Hopkins. She was a Yaashundoosteen, of the Tin.aa.Hit (Copper Shield House) of the Kiks.adi, Frog Tribe.

Her parents brought her up in the Alaska Native Brotherhood and instilled a deep appreciation for her culture, Olson said.

“(Her parents) were not only performers for special events, but also at potlatches,” Ebona said. “Emma could speak the Tlingit language fluently. She always knew what was happening when people were speaking publicly or at potlatches.”

Olsen married her husband of 61 years, Oscar P. Olsen, on April 12, 1945, in Juneau.

She served 15 terms as president of Alaska Native Sisterhood Camp 2, where her focus remained on education. She began the Tlingit Tea for Teachers program and supported the Juneau’s Indian Studies programs. She also talked about revitalizing the Tlingit language.

“She had an interest in education that included everyone, and particularly the Alaska Native child,” said her nephew, Andy Ebona. “She was obviously interested in the high dropout rate and felt that those issues needed to be addressed more firmly. The alternative forms of education were also a priority, especially for those kids that were not succeeding in the regular school system.”

As chairwoman of the Juneau Clinic Advisory Board, Olsen helped form the SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium.

She eventually earned her general equivalency diploma and entered the GED Hall of Fame, a program that the ANS supported.

“It wasn’t just herself that she pushed,” Olson said. “She pushed and encouraged a lot of younger people to do better. Doing good wasn’t good enough.”

Among survivors are her husband and four sons.