Tundra Drums Article

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.”

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Bethel Entrepreneurs share culture through t-shirts

By Rachel D’Oro, Associated Press, 22 August 2003
BETHEL, Alaska – Few will ever live the Yupik Eskimo experience, so John Chase and Andrei Jacobs are packaging a taste of their Alaska Native culture – with a little urban chic thrown in.

The Bethel men have launched a line of T-shirts embossed with such messages as “big fat uppa,” “mamterillermiu” and “nukalpiaq.” Translation: uppa means grandfather, mamterillermiu is a person from Bethel and nukalpiaq is a man in his prime, a good hunter and provider. A top seller is “I love to pukuk!” – Yupik for eating meat clinging to a bone.

“We look for universal themes,” said Chase, 28, who has known Jacobs since boyhood. “Any culture you go to, people like to suck bones. It’s not just old Native women who do that.”

The entrepreneurs are banking on that collective experience for the success of their fledgling company, “inga for real.” T-shirts and Alaska are just the beginning, they say. The enterprise is barely off the ground, but the two envision trendy young people wearing high-quality Yupik- influenced fashions in Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris.

“We like simple yet elegant, products that have an emotional impact, products that command an unrelenting loyalty among the 14-to-35 age group,” said Jacobs, 28.

“Well, or anybody with a disposable income,” Chase said.

But for now, inga for real is all about $20 white T-shirts with color trim and eye- catching guttural words in simple fonts.

The company name refers to Jacobs’ nickname in childhood, when he split his time between his Yupik father’s hometown of Bethel and Philadelphia, the hometown of his mother, who is black. Jacobs, who now lives in Bethel with his mother, said living in two cultures figures heavily in the company’s focus.

“We want to educate the world on the Yupik language,” he said. “There’s also the urban element for me, living in a black home in an Eskimo town.”

Despite the international ambitions, however, moving beyond the Western Alaska town of 5,700 has proved difficult. Local sales were brisk at a July 4th celebration, where Chase and Jacobs introduced their venture with a batch of 300 T-shirts, individually packed in gallon-size zippered plastic bags, a presentation that is “so Bethel,” according to Chase.

Since then, they’ve lobbied a friend to sell a few T-shirts in Nunapitchuk, a village near Bethel, which is 400 miles west of Anchorage.

Chase’s cousin, Nunapitchuk Mayor Robert Nick, picked up a “big fat uppa” shirt at the Bethel event. He found it amusing.

“It’s humorous and has a happy attitude,” said Nick, 61. “It’s kind of a collector’s item.”

But Chase and Jacobs have yet to find a statewide distributor. Part of the problem, they said, is finding the time for a marketing blitz. Both hold full-time management jobs with the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corp. in Bethel. Jacobs also is a member of the City Council and Chase is a professional Alaska Native dancer.

Other challenges are operating without outside capital and finding the right niche.

“Our product is not an Alaska Native craft,” Jacobs said. “Therefore with businesses that follow a strict handmade Alaska Native crafts business plan, we don’t meet criteria.”

But the two remain confident they can overcome the obstacles. They’ve enlisted the services of a Web page designer to develop an online site. They continue to fill orders from individuals through word-of-mouth publicity.

Once they finish developing a business plan, they plan to escalate their marketing efforts.

“We’re getting a good feel for what people want, a lot of feedback, a lot of ideas,” Chase said. “We need to have all our ducks in a row to do it right and that’s going to take some time.”

This article was re-printed in Alaskan newspapers including: Ketchikan Daily News, Juneau Empire, Anchorage Daily News, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, and the Kenai Peninsula Clarion.

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Clothing line sends message to “Think Yup’ik”

Business finds success in T-shirts with Native slogans
By Katrina Baldwin, Tundra Drums, 10 July 2003
A new clothing line called ‘inga for real’ hit the market last week.
Inga for real gave its first show under a makeshift blue tarp-tent at last Friday’s Fourth of July celebration in Bethel. Started by locals John Chase and Andrei Jacobs, the business found immediate success.

T-shirts with slogans like “Big Fat Uppa” (big fat grandpa) and “Mamterillermiu” meaning “person from Bethel,” proved to be very popular among the crowds as more than 200 were sold at the festival for $20 a piece.

Inga for real is derived from Yup’ik culture and its rural surroundings.

However, Jacobs and Chase have thrown an urban spin on their clothing. Boldly- colored print upon sharp, white T-shirts proudly shout out Yup’ik messages across the Delta.

“Andrei and I agreed that our shirts are to be empowering, and we wanted to throw in a little humor and make the reader think from a Yup’ik world view,” Chase said. “Basically we are educating people to think Yup’ik.”

“The motivator for this is self-esteem,” Jacobs said. `Making people feel alive and valuable and worthy.”

Jacobs views the company as a reflection of his own life experiences. As half Yup’ik, half African-American, Jacobs and his two brothers Torin and Julien grew up with their mother Blanche Jacobs in both Philadelphia and Bethel.

“My mom is from Philadelphia, so we spent summers in the ghetto in West Philly,” said Jacobs. “Growing up we were always in either extreme urban or extreme rural settings, we never saw suburbia.”

One of the most intriguing aspects of the business is the name, inga for real, and the story behind it.

“Inga is a pet name that my brother Vern gave Andrei, it used to drive him nuts. Vern would tease him about it and make him so mad, and then one day he just accepted it. I wanted to put a more Yupik twist on it and so I thought of Inga for real because Yup’ik means “the real people,” explained Chase. “It flows and it pays homage to the Yup’ik culture.”

Both Chase and Jacobs were graduates of Bethel High School in 1993. Chase graduated from the University of Alaska Fairbanks with a bachelor of arts in psychology. He now works for the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation as the manager of staff development.

As a graduate in communications from Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, Jacobs has worked for Alaska Public Radio Network, and was one of the first disc jockeys for the Koahnic Broadcast Corporation. He now directs the Grant Development Department at YKHC.

Another addition to Jacobs’ busy schedule came last October when he was elected to the Bethel City Council. As a council member, Jacobs hopes to open the flow of information to Yup’ik speakers in the Delta.

“There should be equal access to information. Generally those who have information are those who are successful. That equal access should be included to our non-English speaking residents,” said Jacobs. I would like to extend communications into the Yup’ik print. It’s fair and reasonable to expect us to do that for the citizens who are predominately Yup’ik. It’s fair because we can do this and should do this.”

Despite his many other projects and ambitions, Inga for real is a high priority for Jacobs. “I think I’m a high performing person and this is an extension of myself that I want to take into over-drive,” said Jacobs.

Chase is also highly motivated to develop their new business. “I want to hit the statewide market and then go as far as we can from there.”

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