Memory Eternal: Jacob Martin Stepetin
Jacob Martin Stepetin, aged 71, of Akutan, Alaska, passed away Dec. 18, 2023. Jacob was born Nov. 5, 1952, to Mattie and Art Stepetin in Akutan, Alaska. Jacob was an innovative Unangax̂ leader who left a long legacy of progressive change. He inspired everyone who knew him, and he is remembered as a beloved Elder, Unangax̂ leader, and culture keeper of Akutan.
Jacob was also known as a gifted community leader, a dedicated Unangax̂ advocate, a skilled fisherman, and a loving father, grandfather, brother, uncle, and friend. At only 19 years old, Jacob was the first mayor of the City of Akutan. He worked dutifully and diligently to incorporate Akutan as a city in order to harness benefits, such as the raw fish tax amidst the early heydays of crab fishing in Alaska. Akutan became a superpower in the fishing industry due to the inspired leadership and dedication which Jacob displayed for many years. Jacob was an original board member for the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association (APIA), the Alaska Native nonprofit organization serving the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands Region for health and social services, and he served on numerous boards throughout the Aleutian region during his lifetime.
Jacob’s work was pivotal in informing fishery conservation policy that created the Aleutian Pribilof Island Community Development Association (APICDA), of which he was an active stakeholder and affiliated fisherman, and he testified on the national stage on behalf of the Aleutian fisheries. Jacob served his community as the former president of the Akutan Tribe, the Akutan Village Corp., and the Akutan Fisheries Association. In his community roles, he masterminded the construction of the Port of Akutan, developing a small boat harbor for the community, and he retired as the tribal administrator for the Native Village of Akutan, where he managed a multi-million-dollar Indian Roads Reservation project through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Jacob also developed one of the most viable tribal courts in the State of Alaska and advised statewide experts on issues of tribal justice over the course of his tenure as Akutan Tribal President and Administrator. He provided significant direction for planning, governance, fundraising, seamanship, Unangax̂ subsistence practices, traditional foods, and cultural arts and traditions.
Jacob lived a remarkable life that was characterized by several drastic shifts in ways of living both for Unangax̂ Peoples and for residents of Alaska. To the younger generation, he was a true Old Timer and to the older generation, he was a gifted leader. Jacob told stories of his first job sealing with his father, Art, and his brothers, Sam and Peter, in the Pribilof Islands, when that was the only way to generate income for their large family. Jacob went to high school on Kodiak Island where he learned to drive a tractor, tend a ranch, and study mechanics. He went to automotive school in Chicago with his long-time best friend, the late Demetri Tcheripanoff of Akutan, where they experienced life in the big city for the first time together. He held an Associates of Science degree in Auto Diesel Mechanics, and he achieved a U.S. Coast Guard captain’s license.
Jacob was a diplomatic leader for Qigiiĝun Unangax̂ Peoples of Akutan, and Unangax̂ and Alaska Native Peoples at large, through his years spent dedicated to Tribal governance and Tribal affairs. Amidst his work as an Unangax̂ leader, he also spent 10 years crab fishing in the Bering Sea with his brothers and friends. Jacob was passionate about serving his family but also about ensuring future generations of Unangax̂ People know who we are, where we come from, and what is important for us to keep thriving and living our Unangax̂ way of life. He enjoyed teaching his children, grandchildren, and anyone who would ask, about subsistence hunting, fishing, and surviving in the turbulent waters of the Aleutian Islands. He was a talented navigator and taught his son, Jacob, how to drive a skiff, how to travel from island to island with only a compass, and how to navigate the island passes and straits.
Jacob is remembered as a loving father, grandfather, uncle, brother, and great friend to many. He is survived by his three children, Jacob Mark, Robin, and Haliehana Stepetin. Jacob thrived in his role as Grandpa over the last decade to his surviving grandchildren Jordan, Jaxson, James, and his “Chubs,” also known as “Tato,” Jayce. Jacob is survived by his siblings Anita Pelkey, Vera Pelkey, and Art Stepetin II; and by numerous nieces, nephews, and godchildren. He was preceded in death by his mother, Matrona Stepetin; his father, Arthur Stepetin Sr.; his brothers Sam, Peter, and Thomas; and his sisters Anna, Alice, Agnes, Pauline, Nancy, Sophie, Florence, and Jennie.