This Friday, April 29, Mike Williams Sr. will receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Williams Sr. is one of three recipients the University has recognized for their work as educators in 2022.
For nearly 50 years, tribal leader Akiak has been an advocate for sobriety. After losing six of his brothers to suicide and alcohol-related deaths, Williams Sr. began working with the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation to establish its Behavioral Health Service to help communities deal with substance abuse. .
Williams Sr. has promoted sober living through many initiatives, and perhaps the most popular is his campaign for sobriety through mushing. During his career as a competitive musher, Williams has run 15 Iditarod sled dog races and 29 Kuskokwim 300s with the message to fellow Alaskans that the tradition of mushing is a healthy, holistic alternative to drugs or alcohol. The Iditarod named Williams Sr. Most Inspirational Musher in Racing three times for promoting its message of sobriety on the track. But for Williams Sr., recognition isn’t as important as making a difference in her community.
“I really try to be an example that we can live without drug addiction. [lives]be in good physical, mental, social and spiritual health,” said Williams Sr.
Williams is also an advocate for Native culture and language, serving on the board of the Yupiit School District and the Alaska State Board of Education.
Williams Sr. said his greatest accomplishment there was implementing Indigenous education and language immersion programs. “It was one of those small victories that we had to build in: respecting our Indigenous cultures at the state level. Providing adequate and culturally relevant education for our children.”
This year’s honorary recipients will be recognized April 29 at 5 p.m. at the Charles Davis Concert Hall. The ceremony is also an opportunity to honor Williams Sr. for his nearly five decades of work to promote healthy lifestyles rooted in native knowledge and language in Alaska, which he hopes to continue.
“It’s an honor to be recognized like this,” Williams Sr. said of the honor. “And I know I’m a little embarrassed at times, but it’s something I graciously and enthusiastically accepted, and I’m going to enjoy it for the rest of my life.”