Bristol Bay elder Lena Andree passes at 95

Jan 28, 2016

Born near Igushik during the sailing days of the salmon fishery, Andree is remembered as a bilingual interpreter, teacher of subsistence skills and great storyteller of the old times in Bristol Bay.

Helena Marie Bartman Andree died January 20 at the Alaska Native Medical Center from complications following hip surgery.

Bristol Bay elder Helena Bartman Andree passed away January 20 at the age of 95.

Known as Lena, she was born in 1920 to a Dutch father, “Glass-Eyed” Billy Bartman and Yup’ik mother Amalia Rose Acitmuq.

Andree’s niece Ina Bouker says the family settled upriver from Igushik to avoid the Spanish flu that swept the region, killing many, in 1919.

"They lived very isolated," says Bouker. "They didn't want people to come because of the great flu and they didn't want to get the disease. So there they became caretakers of an old saltery station, and there they lived for many, many years.”

Andree learned subsistence skills from her mother, and also fished commercially. Tim Troll interviewed Andree for KDLG’s Our Story program.

"She told the story that I related in the book Sailing for Salmon of how one summer her brother got sick and couldn't fish with her dad, so she fished with her dad for a good part of the season, in sailboats," says Troll. "So I think she is the only woman who fished commercially for salmon out of a sailboat."

Their father also carried mail by dogsled and was frequently away, so after their mother’s death in 1927, Andree and her siblings were sent to the orphanage at Kanakanak to go to school for the first time.

Later, Andree put her bilingual skills to use as an interpreter for Kanakanak Hospital, Western Alaska Airlines and Lowe Trading Co. She went on to translate for the political campaigns of three Alaska Governors, including the wife of her grandson Todd Palin.

Andree was known as a great storyteller of the old times in Bristol Bay. In an interview for Our Story, she described how people would travel from one village to another to dance and feast:

"[They had] good food, akutaqs, them days seals were quite available... Then they had also fancy squirrels, dried squirrels and stuff like that. They really saved all this good stuff for these particular dances," recalled Andree. "I mean, there was a true meaning for this celebration of this dance: bringing people together and showing them that they respected each other, and that was the best part." 

In the 1970s, Andree worked as a drug and alcohol counselor in Bristol Bay, and in 2000 she was named BBNC Elder of the Year. Andree was also involved with the Alaska Rural Science Initiative, the Homer Senior Citizens Board, and taught weaving at the Homer Community College. 

Lena Andree passed away last week in Anchorage from complications following hip surgery. She was 95.