Edward Itta, Inupiaq whaling captain and former mayor of Alaska’s North Slope Borough, dead at 71

Edward Itta, Commissioner, U.S. Arctic Research Commission (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)
Edward S. Itta (Loren Holmes / Alaska Dispatch News)

Former North Slope mayor and Inupiaq whaling captain Edward S. Itta died on Sunday, his family said. He was 71. He had been ill with cancer, his family said.

Itta held many prominent roles in the American Arctic. He was captain of the Saggan Whaling Crew and from 2005 to 2011 served as mayor of the North Slope Borough, a sprawling territory at the northernmost edge of the U.S., where the majority of residents are Alaska Native.

As mayor, Itta was called upon to balance the protection of traditional Inupiaq ways of life, such as subsistence hunting and whaling, with the economic potential of the oil and gas industry on which his region’s economy relied.


He was known as an eloquent and influential voice for Inupiaq values in Alaska, Washington, D.C., and beyond.

“I try to remind people that we (Inupiat) need to be heard, loud and clear. We are the people of the Arctic. We still live in America’s Arctic and we’re going to live in America’s Arctic, after all the battles over the wilderness and the oil are done. We are the ones who have to live with the consequence,” Itta said in a keynote address at the Arctic Encounter Symposium in 2015.

In 2012, President Obama appointed Itta to the U.S. Arctic Research Commission. Itta was also president of Inuit Circumpolar Council-Alaska and a representative for Alaska on the Outer Continental Shelf Policy Committee, president of the Barrow Whaling Captains Association and a vice chairman of the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission.