Bethel City Council member Andrei Jacobs has announced that he will resign his seat on the council during the Sept. 28 regular meeting. Jacobs, 29, says he decided to leave Bethel in order to pursue other interests. He also has resigned his position as deputy vice president of support services at the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation.
If the council accepts his resignation, the seat must be filled by a council appointee within 30 days. There are three seats on the council to be filled by the Oct. 5 municipal elections. The new council, which will be sworn in on Oct. 12, will appoint someone to fill Jacobs’ seat.
“Personally, I think Andrei was a breath of fresh air. He’s young and he’s native, which I think is important,” said fellow councilman Mike O’Brien. “I’m sorry to see him go. He added a different perspective to the council that’s going to be real hard to replace.”
Jacobs, who co-founded the clothing line inga for real, posted a message on the inga website saying he plans to devote more time to his family, his business, and travel following his departure from Bethel.
“I’m going to San Diego and hang out with my family,” he said. “I’m also going to do some surfing and just bum around for a while.”
Jacobs says the clothing line is his way of empowering people and promoting the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta, which he says has suffered from bad press.
“I want to get away from the idea that Bethel is the armpit of Alaska. I’ve never felt that way, that’s old thinking,” he said. “I see Bethel as an Eskimo Manhattan and a very thriving community.”
inga for real makes shirts, dresses and kuspuks sporting phrases like “i love to pukuk!”, “native rock star” and some more controversial phrases. One shirt instructs Natives to multiple in protest of remarks made by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, that tribes and the growth of young Native Alaskans were threatening Alaska’s statehood. Perhaps the most controversial “hot eskimo sex” was a response to a frightening trend, Jacobs said.
“Since January, the number of HIV cases in the Bethel area has more than doubled. This July, the state of Alaska cut nursing jobs that monitored an increasing STD and HIV workload,” he said of the inspiration for the shirt. “Southwest Alaska people are generally quiet and reserved, this shirt had to be the opposite.”
The 29-year-old Bethel native is not new to the public spotlight. In 1986, at the tender age of 10 years old, Jacobs interviewed incoming Gov. Steve Cowper for KYUK radio. In his inaugural address, Cowper mentioned Jacobs as an example of future Alaskan leaders. Nineteen years later, Jacobs remembers the interview as a turning point in his life.
“That’s when I became socially conscience of my existence and how I fit,” he recalls. “That’s when I really understood that I affect people.”
Jacobs has worked for Alaska Public Radio Network, Native America Calling, Inuit Circumpolar Conference, as a social worker and waiter before returning to Bethel for a position at the health corporation. His mother is from Philadelphia, his father from Hooper Bay. He is part Alaska Native and part African American. He hopes to draw on his unique experiences to give a voice to young people.
“I’d like to write a book. Nobody that’s young from around here has done that,” he said. “There is a young demographic in Alaska and we need an author. Hopefully I can do that.”
Flora Olrun, executive director of the Orutsararmuit Native Council, says Jacobs has already been a leader for the young people of Southwest Alaska.
“He really supports young people in the region moving up and taking leadership positions,” she said. “Everybody around here respects our elders, but he really goes beynd that and encourages young people.”
The idea for a book came from the journal Jacobs keeps detailing his experience as a city councilman. As the council’s youngest voice, he found the experience difficult but rewarding.
“For the last two months I’ve felt very unpopular because of the way I voted on things,” he said.
“But I don’t mind, making hard decisions is part of being on the council.”
Jacobs says he’d like to run for apublic office again though he said it would most likely be a statewide position. He has no immediate plans for such a move though.
As to whether or not he will return to Bethel, he says there is no question.
“This is my home. I grew up here, when I walk down the street I find myself waving to every other car. I’ll always be a part of Bethel and Bethel will be part of me.”