(November 7, 1922 - June 16, 1980)
He was born in Barrow, the son of Al and Maggie Hopson, the
grandson of Alfred Henley Hopson, a whaler from Liverpool, England, who settled in Barrow
in 1886. He was the first child to be born in Barrow's mission hospital. When
he was 15 years of age, Eben wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington,
D.C., to complain about the school principal's use of unpaid student labor on small BIA
public works projects. When the BIA forwarded the letter to the principal in Barrow,
Eben was branded a troublemaker and was prevented from boarding the BIA ship to travel to
boarding high school. Remaining in Barrow through his teens, Eben worked as a
construction laborer until 1965. He married Rebecca Panigeo in 1942. In 1957
he became a member of the Operating Engineers.
He was drafted in to the Army when
Rebecca was eight months pregnant with their first child and was not to see his first son
until he returned to Barrow in 1946. During the war he was employed in the
lend-lease program that delivered new war planes to Soviet crews in Nome. Later, he
served as a bosun's mate aboard an Army tug boat along the Aleutian Chain. In 1946,
Eben began his political career as a member of the Barrow City Council. During the
following two decades, he worked on the construction and maintenance of the DEW Line
sites. Eben joined the Alaska National Guard in 1949 and, by 1953, had attained the
rank of Captain, Command Company D, First Scout Battalion.
In 1956, Eben was elected
to the Alaska Territorial Legislature and, when Alaska became a state, he was elected to
the first State Senate. He served in the Senate until 1965 as Chairman of the Labor
and Management Committee.
Eben Hopson, founder
of the North Slope Borough and the Inuit Circumpolar Comference
In 1965, Eben helped organize Alaska's first regional land
claims organization which entered an aboriginal claim to all of the traditional land of
the Arctic Slope Inupiat. He became the first Executive Director of the Arctic Slope
Native Association (ASNA) which launched the Alaska Native Land Claims movement that year.
In 1968, after serving as the first Vice-President of the Alaska Federal of Natives
(AFN), Hopson moved to Anchorage to become its Executive Director. Under his
direction, the AFN became a strong, well-financed federation of the native regional
associations of all Alaska. During that time, he launched the Washington, D.C.
native land claims lobby that secured the enactment of the Alaska Native Land Claims
Settlement Act in 1971 which awarded the Alaskan regional and village
corporations a cash settlement of nearly $1 billion and entitlement to roughly
forty million acres.
Eben left the AFN to become Special Assistant for Native
Affairs to Governor William Egan in 1970. Working closely with Egan, he helped shape
a new State policy toward the native land claims which enabled State financial
participation in the land claims settlement enacted by Congress. From his desk in
the Governor's Office, Hopson insured the State's cooperation with the Arctic Slope Native
Association to organize the North Slope Borough: a plan that would provide
the 4,000 residents of Alaska's eight most northerly villages with the
advantages of a county-type home rule municipality, one that would encompass
88,000 square miles, reaching from the Canadian Border to Point Hope on the Chukchi
Sea, and from the Arctic coast to the crest of the Brooks Range. Revenues would come from the
billion-dollar tax base growing on the Prudhoe Bay oil fields. In
1972, Eben left the
Governor's Office to campaign for voter approval of the organization of the North Slope
Borough, and for the office of Borough Mayor, to which he was elected.
housing in the Arctic had been tolerated too long, according to Hopson. Housing was
the single greatest social problem on the Arctic slope in 1972, and both the Arctic Slope
Regional Corporation and the North Slope Borough responded. Upon incorporation,
Hopson sold $13.7 million in municipal bonds to finance the construction of public housing
for low-income families. The project was plagued with setbacks which included the
capsizing of supply barges on the Alaska coast, and ice conditions at Nome which prevented
passage of other barges for months. Once the supplies arrived, much time was taken
hiring and training the local hire personnel which Eben demanded for the housing
construction. But with persistence, Hopson saw the homes built and finally won the
financial participation of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (DHUD) in
the NSB housing project.
A strong Democrat, Hopson
was called upon to chair the volatile 1972 State Convention of the
Democratic Party, and his well-known strength as a mediator enabled
the Convention to join peacefully together the young pro-McGovern
activist wing of the Party with older Party regulars in a coalition
that resulted in a stronger Party organization.
In 1974, Hopson declared his candidacy for the Democratic
Party's gubernatorial nomination and ran against Governor Egan. He withdrew
from the primary race after reaching a nine-point political agreement for rural
Alaska, including the development of modern communications. Most of the points
of this agreement with Governor Egan were later implemented by Governor Jay
Hammond who defeated Egan in the General Election.
In 1975, Hopson was
re-elected Borough Mayor. That same year he was invited by Congressman John Melcher
(D - Montana), Chairman of the House Interior Subcommittee on Public Lands, to send a
planning team to Washington to work with the Committee staff to draft legislation that
resulted in the transfer of the Naval Petroleum Reserve #4 to the control of the
Department of Interior. In 1976, Hopson won his party's Congressional nomination.
He used his Congressional campaign to draw national attention to the need for both
a national and international Arctic policy to facilitate environmentally safe Arctic
In 1976, Hopson called upon the Inuit leaders of Greenland,
Canada, the U.S., and the U.S.S.R. to form an international organization, called the Inuit
Circumpolar Conference (ICC), in order to pursue these goals. The first meeting of
the ICC hosted by Hopson in 1977 in Barrow. Hopson's influence on the international
level was greatly enhanced when the International Whaling Commission (IWC) attempted to
ban the Inupiat subsistence hunting of the bowhead whale in 1977. Eben traveled
first to Tokyo and the next year to London to plead the Inupiat case that the IWC was not
authorized to regulate subsistence whaling. In federal courts in Washington, D.C.,
Anchorage, and San Francisco, Hopson asserted that the U.S. was not authorized to submit
the dietary habits of U.S. citizens to the arbitration of the IWC.
Hopson's efforts were directed toward the environmental protection of the Arctic in the
face of oil and gas development. Marshaling the best talent he could find, he
mounted a detailed zoning plan for the Arctic coast and presented to the state and nation
a Coastal Management Program which he felt provided for an environmentally safe program
for the industrial development of America's Arctic coastline. As the state and
federal governments approached the Joint Federal/State Beaufort Sea Oil and Gas Lease Sale
in 1979, Eben and his staff scrutinized the Environmental Impact Statement and found it
wanting in several important areas. He sued to stop the sale and found a sympathetic
ear in U.S. District Court Judge Aubry Robinson in Washington, D.C., who enjoined the sale
because of the failure of the government to exercise its Native trust responsibility, and
for neglecting protection of the endangered bowhead whale.
The bowhead battle put to the
test the Native trust responsibility of the U.S. government, an issue not yet
fully resolved and embodied in the Hopson vs Kreps suit.
Hopson entered Barrow
Indian Health Service Hospital on June 16, 1980. After several days in a coma, he
expired on June 28, 1980, the opening day of the Second Inuit Circumpolar Conference in
Greenland. He was 57 years old.