Remembering Amy Fredeen: A Life of Love, Humor and Advancement for Native people

Amy Fredeen

By Matthew Kincanon

On Thursday, July 28, 2022, Iñupiaq member Amy Fredeen’s life was cut short in a car collision, leaving behind a legacy of leadership, advocacy, love and compassion in the wake of her passing as friends and family honor her memory.

“Amy is like no woman I’ve ever known,” her husband Craig said. “Brilliantly smart, a master of reading and understanding people, an empath who would help anyone, honest whether you wanted her to be or not, exceptionally driven but humble in her accomplishments, creative both logically and artistically, wickedly sharp sense of humor but never at the expense of anyone, equally a pessimist and an optimist, amazing business acumen, and just exuding love and honest caring.”

Amy has been described as inspiring, witty, thoughtful, passionate, caring, rebellious, a force of nature, and a great listener by loved ones, and was devoted to Alaska Native culture and improving the lives of Alaska Native people.

Loving, Witty and Quirky

The second she was born in the summer of 1974, Amy made sure her voice was heard. The nurses had asked that she stay in her mother’s room rather than be in the nursery with other newborns who would echo her cries. Throughout her life she remained certain of her voice and dedicated to lending support where needed, whether it was being available for friends and family, or providing insight and the day-to-day work for projects and causes.

She first met Craig when they were in first grade at Birchwood Elementary School and attended the same junior and high school together as well. However, it wasn’t until 1992 during their senior year of high school that they went on their first date. Every year after that, they celebrated the anniversary of that first date. They later got engaged during college and married on June 29, 1996 at the Davenport Hotel in Spokane, Washington. Amy graduated from Gonzaga University the same year with a degree in Business Administration in Accounting.

They honeymooned in Rarotonga, Cook Islands and loved it so much they made it a tradition to go back every five years since then. The COVID pandemic shut down the island and they had made plans to go back in February next year. Craig will go back, but this time to spread some of Amy’s ashes.

Craig described spending the past 30 years with Amy as truly amazing, adding that she was perfect and way out of his league. Craig would send her flowers all the time at her job including bright red roses on their anniversary. She also loved orchids and nurtured them diligently. 

“I’m just lucky she liked nerds then and still liked them 30 years later,” Craig said. “It was really nice having someone as your soul mate who you knew for so long.”

Not only was she a caring wife, she was also a loving mother to her two sons, Ki and Conner, who were everything to her. Growing up, Craig said the boys were showered with affection. Gloria O’Neill, President and CEO of Cook Inlet Tribal Council (CITC) and Doug Fifer, board member of CITC, said Amy was at her happiest whenever she talked about her family and lit up when she talked about her sons. 

Even as the boys grew into teenagers, she would always look for opportunities to express her love for them, even in public. The family has photos of Amy hugging her sons while sitting in a booth at a restaurant with a wide smile on her face and her sons looking embarrassed. They accepted her hugs nonetheless.

“This was so common that she had a mischievous look she’d give me and I would casually get my phone up and ready to take the photo before she would pounce,” Craig said. “Amy’s active display of love for her boys taught me how to be a better father.”

Amy also possessed a sharp wit that she expressed with a sparkle in her eye and mischievous smile. Combined with her intelligence and quick quips that were hilarious and piercingly honest, Craig said she could corner someone with one sentence and make them laugh at themselves. Every quip was always underscored with love and only to the level that she knew people would never take personally.

“Amy also had a quirky and non-conforming personality so that would show up in hilarious observations and exasperated comments, but those were typically reserved for close friends and family,” Craig said.

Her personality was present in her work life as well. Gloria said Amy was always ready with a funny quip or a lighthearted moment. Amy’s sense of humor is also how she and Doug bonded.

“We would playfully mock ‘stuffy corporate events,’ wishing that they were a little more chill,” Doug said. “We’d talk about anything non-work related at those events. The typical subject was sharing stories about our kids.” 

She also had her own style. Like her personality, Craig said it wasn’t openly rebellious, but very much confident and unique. Her wardrobe mostly consisted of colorful embroidered outfits from Johnny Was clothing store. Her style was vibrant, but professional. 

Also, whenever she was in her office, Gloria said Amy would put on her wrap-around headphones and jam out to heavy metal rock music.

Amy was a tattooed non-conformist who would be listening to Rage Against the Machine one moment and singing along to the Lumineers the next. An artist whose work reflected her life and personality. A collector who surrounded herself in an eclectic mix of traditional and modern Alaska Native art, industrial architecture, Dali paintings and macabre oddities – all on the same wall. 

Never Alone and Dedication to Her People

Never Alone videogame poster

Despite being only 48-years-old, Amy had a long list of accomplishments during her lifetime. One of her most notable accomplishments was the groundbreaking videogame “Never Alone,” (Kisima Ingitchuna in Inupiaq). It was released in 2014 for which she served as lead cultural ambassador with E-Line Media and CITC. Amy began working at CITC in 2001 and became CFO around 2006.

The game was developed by Upper One Games, the first Indigenous-owned videogame company in the U.S. Its story is based on “Kunuuksaayuka,” a traditional Iñupiat tale, and is narrated in the Iñupiat language. The game helped people see themselves and their culture on the screen and was made to spark curiosity among Alaska Native people to learn more about their cultures.

Amy’s passion helped forge the game and spark a new genre of “world games” that brings traditional storytelling to a new generation.

In her role, Gloria said Amy worked to make sure the game was made with Alaska Native people – that it was co-designed with a community and that it was authentic to Alaska Native culture. Amy curated interviews for cultural insights used for developing the game and was an important voice in steering the game’s direction.

Both Gloria and Amy were invited to talk about the game across the world and were still being contacted by organizations and media years after its release.

Amy had been interviewed by several publications and institutions including The New Yorker, Gonzaga University, NPR, and Eurogamer.

The work she put into the game reflected how proud she was of her heritage and her dedication to her people.

“Amy’s creativity, sense of innovation, and her commitment to her Inupiaq culture shined through in her work on Never Alone – her spirit is part of its success,” Gloria said.

The game has been featured in over 1500 publications and has won 70 best of awards including a BAFTA for Best Debut Game in 2015 and the Peabody Legacy Award in 2022 for Interactive Media. It has been downloaded an estimated 10 million times as of 2022.

In addition to its commercial success, a K-12 educational curriculum about the game has been used throughout the U.S. There’s even a college course taught about the game at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

The game’s impact hasn’t gone unnoticed. It has been featured in the Smithsonian and The Museum of Modern Art (MOMA). Also, MOMA in New York has plans to make the game a permanent art display and will feature a plaque dedicated to Amy.

Not only was she lead cultural ambassador to the video game, she also served as Chief Financial Officer of E-Line Media, and as Executive Vice President along with CFO at CITC. She also had active roles on the boards of several nonprofits including International Funders for Indigenous Peoples, Cook Inlet Native Head Start, 49th State Angel Fund, Make-A-Wish Foundation of Alaska and Washington, and the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts.

“In all of her various roles, Amy brought perspective—she was generous of her time and heart in developing people, and an effective problem solver,” Gloria said.

Not only was she a problem solver, Doug said she also brought ideas. If he had an idea that needed her expertise and advice, Amy wasn’t afraid to give it.

Her honesty was one of her strengths that was instrumental in CITC’s growth. Craig described how Amy was not afraid to say something was wrong or an idea was bad; she was never a weak or wilted-flower personality. Her criticisms were constructive and helped those receiving them learn and grow.

A Passion for Advancing Native People That will Live On

Through the Alaska Community Foundation, CITC established and seeded the Amy Fredeen Cultural Advancement Fund that is accepting contributions.

“She leaves a great big hole behind,” Craig said. “I do think that the best way to honor Amy’s legacy is to boldly make positive change in the world going forward. Whether it is related to advancing Alaska Native culture in a new millennia or just being a kind and generous human being, it’s about the positive change.  And doing it wisely, methodically, creatively, and maybe a little rebelliously and mischievously. And, of course, with a room-warming smile on your face.”

Amy’s passion for advancing Native people will continue to live on through her family, friends, the fund, and the impact she’s had on the world.

Amy Fredeen was the cousin of Project Coordinator Matthew Kincanon.