Lillian Mollie Hopson and John Clay Tippin Mom and Dad getting married 1969, Clay and Terzah in Fairbanks Lillian Mollie Hopson Terzah, Fox Water Terzah, The Thinker at age nine
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Inupiat Strong
Karina Moeller
filed 02.12.10

I almost held my breath when I opened the gate, greeted by two big, billowing, and curious huskies in the front yard. I was at the home of Terzah and Bob Poe, yes that Bob Poe, the one who is running for governor, but I was there to see his wife. I was there to listen, and to get a glimpse of a strong woman's story.
 
Terzah (Kasak) Tippin Poe is a stunningly beautiful woman. She has a fire that strikes you. She knows where she comes from, where she is going and what she is doing right now, this moment and why!
 
Her style is eminent, always dressed in strong colors, no patterns to distract, like the arctic winter, dressed in snow and ice.  But as Terzah mentioned the sunset, the most magnificent colors grace the sky...where life and survival, so to speak, is not to be played with, there is no room for doubt.  If you wanted to survive in the true arctic, the home of the Inupiaq people, your path must be clear.
 
Terzah’s parents met in Barrow, Alaska as people have shared with her later in life. "They were so much in love...your father just adored your mother," she fondly recalls.
 
The family soon relocated to Fairbanks, Alaska. "We had a smaller house with one freezer.  Aunt Mabel and Uncle Sam had four...The Inupiaq Central in Fairbanks.  They were always hosting and sharing their home and food with relatives passing by, a typical Native household.
 
"My father, John Clay Tippin, loved to read. He taught me to read before I entered kindergarten. During the flood in Fairbanks 1967, he first got the family to safety, and then the books, nothing else.
 
"My mother, Lillian Molly Hopson, was a community helper, always volunteering to help where she could, a certified dietician. I remember going to homes with her, where she would teach families how to survive on a limited budget, and still eat healthy.  She knew what she was talking about, because our family did not have much money either.
 
“My mother was an Inupiat speaker first, an English speaker later, so she had a Barrow accent to her, and she always said to me, speak English first. She sent me to ballet class, piano lessons; I was a Little Miss Future Queen in the Miss Alaska Pageant of 1971. She did what she thought a good mother should, gave me every opportunity to succeed in what she thought was the world I would be living in—a primarily non-Native world.”
 
“The pride (of being Inupiaq) got buried, when I was growing up.  When I was really young, I did my prayers before I went to sleep, and I asked to wake up with blond hair and blue eyes. I never did!” She added, “And now I am glad I didn’t—it is a different world now for Alaska Natives--a better world in a lot of ways.” 
 
Terzah's biological grandmother passed away at age 36 and her grandfather Steve Hopson remarried Terzah Kassak.
 
Terzah's parents wanted to honor the step-grandmother and name their only daughter after her while she was still alive. "She...how do you say it diplomatically...she was a powerhouse.  She had her opinions!" Terzah recalled. 
 
I asked what Kassak means, and Bob, her husband, was quick to respond, joking "troublemaker."  There was lots of laughter in the Poe’s small, but warm house. “I don’t know what Kassak actually means in Inupiaq," Terzah responded.
 
At the age of five, Terzah’s parents shared that her mother had an illness called breast cancer. Terzah's father and brother were deeply affected by her illness, and Terzah would become the caretaker of her mother, accompanying her to all her treatments, whether in Fairbanks or Anchorage. Lillian passed away at age 42.  Terzah was 11.
 
“My father and I became a team. I would cook dinner when I got home from school. On the weekend my father and I would sit down and make a meal plan for the week and go shopping. I took my responsibility after my mother’s death quite seriously.”
 
Terzah dropped out of high school at age 15.  "Back when I went to high school (in Juneau) it was not cool to be Native, and I was asked by a certain school administrator if I ‘would feel more comfortable’ somewhere else. At the time they were warehousing Native students at the alternative high school and it was very apparent to me why they wanted me to move schools. In fact, I don’t remember any non-Native students at the alternative high school.
 
“I took one look at that – and understand up until then I had been pretty much a straight-A student, and was not going go for that option. So I went in front of the Juneau School Board, took my dad with me to testify on my behalf and got special dispensation to drop out of school at age 15. I enrolled at what was then the University of Alaska, Juneau (now University of Alaska Southeast), but first I had to go talk to the chancellor who at the time was Marshall Lynn. I was very focused on continuing my education—but on my terms.”
 
Terzah had a passion to travel and the following eight years was spent in Vancouver, BC, Canada working and attending college. She was exploring a different worlds, but still not sure of what she wanted to do.
 
Returning to Alaska, Terzah finally had a goal: to get her undergraduate in journalism with a concentration in sociology. Immediately upon finishing her undergraduate she started in the Masters of Public Administration program at UAS—continuing those classes later at University of Alaska Anchorage.  During this time, Terzah's career took off. She worked in radio and print journalism, for the Nerland Agency, the State of Alaska, and CIRI, where she was marketing director for a $100 million operating division. "I worked with all five regions of Alaska, primarily working in community relations, community development and communications,” before she struck out to establish her own consultancy—what eventually became Integrated Communications Strategies (ICS).
 
Today, Terzah serves on many boards including Koahnic Broadcasting, Safe Harbor Inn, Breast Cancer Focus Inc. and The Nature Conservancy. “I serve on boards where I feel I can do good work and really contribute.”
 
She is participating in the mentorship program of Leadership Anchorage and the First Alaskans intern program, where she finds it extremely rewarding to encourage and support young people in obtaining a degree and always continue learning and growing. "I cannot stress enough how important education is. I say, ‘It is something they can't take away from you—ever, it is yours (the degree). We have to give young, especially Native, people the opportunity, the option of learning, of knowing, of reading, and also a sense of worth. It is of value to be Inupiaq, it is valuable to know your land, your culture, your family history and from there, from the place of knowing, learn about the world outside your own world."
 
In the midst of her successful career, at the age of 38, Terzah was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She said, "Going through harsh treatment is not pleasant, but even more challenging when you have to be outside your own environment for treatment.”

So Terzah, along with a group of survivors and supporters went to Al Parrish, CEO of Providence Hospital to encourage them to built a cancer treatment center right here in Anchorage. He listened and they raised 20 million dollars to build the Providence Cancer Center, which will host an open house on February 20, 2010. "That was a real sense of victory, and it is being a part of solving problems like that, that gets me out of bed in the morning."

Terzah's current job involves being a bridge builder between the Native community and the corporate world, and many times during the interview, flashbacks from her recent trip to Kaktovik, Alaska was mentioned.  "When I travel up north, in Inupiat country, I feel my mother strongly.  I am told stories about her, my grandparents, my ancestry. It has helped me fill in the holes in my knowledge and connections with my people. It has also helped give me a sense of pride in my cultural heritage that I seem to have been out of touch with for a good chunk of my adult life after my mother died.” 
 
Being on the road, campaigning with her husband, has also made her realize how many people truly care about their community, about Alaska. “It is inspiring really—the investment people have in not only their own future, but collectively in the future of the state of Alaska.”
 
I asked Terzah, "You must wake up feeling pretty good about your life, all your accomplishments, about what you are doing?”
 
Ironically enough the answer was far from that. "Sometimes,” she said, pausing to think.  “But mostly I wake up thinking, there is soooo much more to be done. I look forward to the day I wake up at peace, and I feel perhaps that will come soon. I am ready for the next challenge that will allow me to feel ‘okay now you’ve made it’; I feel it is right in front of me and I just can’t quite see it.”
 
By getting a glimpse of her story, where she came from and who she is, I felt like I understood.
 

Karina Moeller was born in the small town of Qaqortoq in Greenland, and has been a performing artist all her professional life.

She moved to Anchorage in 1996 and has since been a part of the award winning group Pamyua, touring all over the world sharing songs and dances of the north, the Inuit and Yu'pik cultures. 

She has a deep fascination for people, hearing their stories and is excited to share some of them here.



  Photo credit:
  Charles  Tice