Senator John Sackett: Leader and Mentor by Emeritus Professor Jenny Bell Jones

DANSRD staff, students and faculty, were deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Senator John Sackett. We extend our condolences to his family and Tribe.

Senator Sackett was born June 3, 1944 at spring camp, up the Huslia River, a tributary of the Koyukuk River. When he was six, he attended St. Mark’s mission in Nenana for a year after which a school was built and the Territory sent a teacher to Huslia. Later he went to Sheldon Jackson High School in Sitka and graduated in 1963. He studied at Ohio University for a year before returning to Alaska to attend UAF.

At 21, in 1966, he was the youngest person ever to be elected to the Alaska Legislature and he won his seat by two votes. He was involved with the early development of Fairbanks Native Association in 1965 through 1967. He also served as President of Tanana Chiefs Conference from 1966 to 1968 and as President of Doyon Limited from 1972 to 1976. He received an honorary doctorate of laws from UAF in 2013.

Senator Sackett filled many important leadership positions over his years of service to Alaska including two terms in the State House serving on the House Finance Committee and fourteen years in the Senate.

After two terms in the House, he took a break from politics and completed a degree in Business Administration (Accounting with a minor in Political Science) from UAF in 1972, after which he returned to the Alaska Senate where he served on the Senate Finance Committee. Senator Sackett was a strong voice for Alaska Native land claims and made sure that the State of Alaska paid its share into the Alaska Native Fund as required by ANCSA. He used his power as chairman and co-chairman of the Senate Finance Committee to make sure that rural priorities were properly financed and services were provided.

In later years he was incredibly generous with his knowledge in participating in the DANSRD leadership seminars. He showed many of us an incredible example of how to successfully combine traditional and modern lifeways. That knowledge was foundational for many DANSRD graduates who benefited from his kindness in sharing what he knew, and he will be missed by us. We encourage you to take a little time to learn more about Senator Sackett by listening to his 1991 interviews with the late Dr. Bernice Joseph on the Fairbank Native Association Project Jukebox at

You can also read his own story, written in 2010 online at This story is an education in itself!

John Sackett with DANSRD faculty and students at the 2010 leadership seminar. Senator Sackett is in the center with the red pullover.

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2 Replies to “Senator John Sackett: Leader and Mentor by Emeritus Professor Jenny Bell Jones”

  1. Wonderful and much appreciated tribute to a great Alaska Native leader and trailblazer. Thank you so much.

  2. I have listened to all interviews and read his article. What absolute treasures. Thank you for recording and preserving them. Please consider compiling them into DVD or CD that we can purchase. John C. Sackett was a friend, but more importantly he is a hero, leader, man of achievement who maintained humility, honesty, honor; and our undying love and appreciation and gratitude.

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