Ms. Lois Fields Native Americans have been an integral part of the Customs Service for more than a hundred years. Customs Native American trackers, known as “Shadow Wolf,” are instrumental in tracking and apprehending smugglers and criminals in parts of the American Southwest that no one else can penetrate.
Native Americans work in all fields of endeavor, including a variety of occupations within the Customs Service. Ms. Lois A. Fields is the highest-ranking Native Alaskan employee of the U.S. Customs Service. She is the Director of Field Operations for the North Pacific Customs Management Center in Portland, Oreg. She began her 33-year career with the Customs Service as an Import Specialist in Los Angeles, Calif. She subsequently became a Supervisory Import Specialist, Assistant District Director, and District Director.
For many generations, Ms. Fields’ ancestors lived on Afognak Island in the Kodiak Archipelago. In 1867, the United States “purchased” the inhabitants of Afognak along with the Alaska Territory. The natives referred to themselves by the Russian term “Aleut,” but technically they are Alutiiq Eskimo. Ms. Fields’ maternal grandmother was a native who spoke Alutiiq and Russian, but little English. Her maternal grandfather was a seaman from Alesund, Norway. At home in Afognak, Ms. Fields was taught to read from old newspapers, write and do math by her maternal uncle Louis, after whom she was named. She later attended the Bureau of Indian Affairs School in Afognak. In 1964 a major earthquake and subsequent tsunami wiped out the community of Afognak. The villagers relocated to higher ground on Kodiak Island. With the help of the Lions Club, they established the village of Port Lions as a continuation of the Afognak village.
When Ms. Fields’ immediate family moved to Seattle, Wash., her mother had many concerns including the family’s village origins and lack of exposure to the outside world, and her children’s education. The family adjusted well and Ms. Fields graduated from the Arlington High School as the Salutatorian of her class. She received a full four-year scholarship to attend the University of Washington in Seattle and graduated magna cum laude with a degree in Russian. Ms. Fields also holds graduate degrees from the University of Texas and the University of Southern California. Arts and crafts play a major role in the lives of Alaska Natives. Ms. Fields’ mother was a china painter. Her younger brother is an Alaskan scrimshaw artist. Her maternal great-grandmother was renowned for her beaded Alutiiq hats and purses. Ms. Fields remembers that as a small child in Afognak she wore beaded sealskin mukluks made by her grandmother.
Lois Fields, like many Native Americans, continues to maintain close ties to her rich cultural heritage. This past summer she returned to Afognak to participate in an archeological dig organized for descendants by the Native Village of Afognak. She is also a member of the Koniag Alaska Native Corporation. These organizations are among the many groups of American Indians and Native Alaskans we recognize during National American Indian Heritage Month.