Born in a village without a school, Moore pushed for better educational opportunities for future generations.Martin B. Moore, a former state legislator and Emmonak city manager, passed away at 84 years old on Feb. 3, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Calista Corp.)

Former state legislator and respected community leader Martin B. Moore Sr. from Emmonak died last week from COVID-19. He was 84 years old.

He’s remembered as a supportive and caring father who worked tirelessly to improve the lives of Alaska Native people in rural Alaska, his family says.

Born in a village without a school, Moore pushed for better educational opportunities for future generations — including advocating for more schools to be built so children could get educated in their own communities, preserving their cultural identity and family connections.

Virginia Moore-Kelly, one of Moore’s four living daughters, said her father was not only a champion for education as a state legislator, but also at home as a dad.

“Our school was very important to him,” she said. “I remember when it was time for our grades, he studied our grades with a magnifier.”

Later, when Moore-Kelly was struggling in college, she called her dad, telling him she was thinking about giving up on school.

“And he said, ‘Remember, everything good in life is always hard to get,’” Moore-Kelly said. She and each of her sisters went on to get college degrees.

Moore was speaking from his own challenges with education. He was born in the lower Yukon village of Emmonak in 1937, where there were no schools. He didn’t step into a classroom until the age of 10.

From the back of the St. Mary’s boarding school classroom, he squinted at the blackboard, unable to make anything out. One, he didn’t know how to read, and two, he was half-blind from a tuberculosis infection in his eyes.

But he overcame those challenges, had his eyes treated and graduated from high school at 24 years old.

“My grandfather, my uncles, my aunties that believed in me, that’s what make me go,” Moore said in a 2020 interview with Calista. “Those people that also didn’t have the education said, ‘Go, Martin, school.’ That’s where I learned to work.”

From then on, Moore fought to pass on better educational opportunities than those given to him.

He was a representative in the 7th state Legislature from 1971 to 1972 and also served as a special assistant to Gov. Wally Hickel. In his year as a state legislator, he fought to build schools in Alaska’s villages so Alaska Native children could get educated in their own communities.

“You could do the same thing better than me. You have a lot more opportunity than me,” Moore said in the 2020 interview, encouraging young people in rural Alaska to take advantage of being born in this time. “You have the future. Your future is brighter than ever.”

Moore also served as a board member for many regional organizations, like Calista and the Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation. He was mayor of Emmonak and then served as its city manager for the last three decades.

“When I was 16, I started working. I’m 83 now. I’m still working,” Moore said in 2020. “I like to help people. That’s why I’m here: because I love the people.”

Moore’s youngest daughter, Natalia Moore, said that her father helped people in his personal life as well. When he saw two young people in Emmonak that needed his help, her father adopted them.

“That’s one of the things that I think I gained from him was just to help people, especially when they’re down,” said Natalia.

Natalia said that her dad also taught her to be proud to be Yup’ik. Any time they were eating Native food, he would say he was eating like a king. Once, while Natalia was fishing with her dad on the lower Yukon, he turned the motor off and held her arm.

“And then he told me, ‘Nat, your blood is rich and rare. And I don’t want you to forget that. And I love you,’” Natalia said.

About two months before he passed away, Moore gave his second youngest daughter, Dora Christine Moore, one of the final lessons he would teach her.

Dora said he told her this: “You’ve seen the hardships, you’ve seen the challenges, you’ve seen the obstacles. You’ve experienced the love, you’ve experienced the unconditional love, you’ve experienced forgiveness. You’ve experienced lessons. That’s what marriage is.”

A few weeks after her marriage, Moore was medevaced from Emmonak to Bethel for COVID-19 complications. He did not share his vaccination status with his daughters. Dora said that he fought until the end. On Feb. 3, at 5:46 a.m., Moore died at the Bethel hospital.

He is survived by four daughters, 23 grandchildren, and 23-great grandchildren. His youngest great-grandchild was born one day after he passed. That child was given his Yup’ik name: Caranaq.

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