Tim Troll’s brother Ray, an artist from Ketchikan, is probably better known. You’ll find his surreal paintings of fish emblazoned on t-shirts in shops all over Alaska. But when it comes to projects that benefit Alaska Natives, his brother Tim has a creative streak as well.

The Alaska Federation of Natives gave Troll its Denali Award on Saturday — AFN’s highest honor to a non-Native person for service which improves the lives of Alaska Native people.  

When Troll stepped up to receive the award, AFN’s president, Julie Kitka, presented him with a seal skin necktie — a friendly jab at his aversion to wearing ties.

“Don’t you think he’s going to look good with that?” Kitka joked.

Troll now works as executive director of the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust, which works to protect environmentally sensitive lands and preserve them for subsistence hunting and fishing.

Troll has been a presence in Southwest Alaska since 1978 when he went to work for Alaska Legal Services in Bethel. It was there that he embraced Alaska Native culture — and later in the early 1980s when he was city manager of the Yukon River community of St. Mary’s. There, he worked with the late Andy Paukan to start the first Yup’ik dance festival in the region.

“From him, I learned the absolute joy of Yup’ik dancing,” Troll said.

Troll told AFN that the idea for the dance festival sprang from a conversation in a maqii, the Yup’ik word for steam bath.

In many Western Alaska communities, the maqii is used to bathe, relax and socialize — similar to a sauna. It’s usually a small wooden building with a stove that’s stoked with driftwood. 

Troll said several other projects were hatched in the maqii, where Yup’ik elders shared their ideas with him. 

“To the extent I did anything worthy of standing here today, it is because there were Native elders and friends who showed me the way,” Troll said at AFN.

He said the idea for the Bristol Bay Fly Fishing and Guide Academy, which trains local kids to be fishing guides, came out of a steam bath conversation with the late Luki Akelkok, tribal chief of Ekwok.

“It’s now going on its twelfth year, and we are confident in the near future, that the visitors who come to the great fishing lodges, including those in Bristol Bay Native Corporation, will all be guided by locals,” Troll said. 

History is another passion of Troll’s.

He said he got many stories about the early sailboat days of Bristol Bay fishing from the late Hjalmar Olson, who was chairman of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation. Troll later wrote the book “Sailing for Salmon,” which became a fodder for a radio series.

Troll said that project was also “cooked-up” in a steam bath — and even though Olson is gone now, he says the elder’s wisdom still inspires what he does today.


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