Everybody liked Mike: Manokotak remembers Yup’ik elder Mike Minista

An Alaska Native man in a red button up shit sits at a table lookinng at a camera
Mike Minista (Credit Melvin Andrew)

Mike Minista lived in Manokotak all his life. He was an avid hunter and fisherman, and fished commercially for decades. 

One of his long-time friends, Jerry Liboff, met Minista 50 years ago at the Ekuk Cannery. Minista was commercial fishing at the time: A storm had kept him at the cannery for several days. 

“I tried to stumble around with a few Yup’ik words,” Liboff said. “Once I started mis-saying Yup’ik words, that sort of broke the ice and we became actually very good friends at the beginning.”

Liboff said that during their many visits over the years, Minista would teach him Yup’ik.

“Mike would, with his patience, over and over again — ‘Say it again, Jerry, say it again.’ And I would say it,” Liboff said. “He would crack up and laugh and he would do it enough times until I finally picked up. I said, ‘You should be the Yup’ik teacher for all the dumb people like me that are trying to learn it,’ and he would just laugh.”

Minista was an active member of the community, and served on the Manokotak City Council and the Village Tribal Council for several years. He volunteered for his church, and often supported the school. 

Louie Alkiak, one of Minista’s childhood friends, said Minista stayed positive despite issues with his health.

“It didn’t affect his personality,” Alkiak said. “He was the same old guy. He was a good man, humble, and jokes, and would always laugh with people.”

Judy Itumulria, Minista’s sister, said that while Minista didn’t have children of his own, he loved spending time with her grandchildren.

“He was with them and he’d always give them something,” she said. “He would share with food, and all that kind of stuff.”

Liboff said Minista’s death is a loss for the community, and his happy spirit will be missed.

 “Everybody in the village of Manokotak liked Mike. He was one of those guys you couldn’t help but like — he did not have an enemy,” Liboff said. “I think everybody is going to miss him because he was always laughing, and always enjoying himself, so he was always a fun-loving and happy-go-lucky person.”

Minista moved to an assisted-living facility in Anchorage earlier this year due to health concerns unrelated to COVID-19. He died earlier this month. He was 66 years old. Minista is survived by his two sisters, and his nieces and nephews. 

Contact the author at brian@kdlg.org or 907-842-2200.

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