Ilarion (Larry) Merculieff


Ilarion was born and raised on St. Paul Island in the middle of the Bering Sea. St. Paul Island is part of a five-island group called the Pribilof Islands. He is an Unangan (Unungan), Aleut, raised in a traditional way. Throughout his life, Ilarion has focused on traditional knowledge, wisdom, and spirituality gained from culture bearers around the world, acting as a bridge from the past to those alive today. He lived on St. Paul Island for half his life and now lives in Anchorage, Alaska.

“I miss community and the ocean. One day I will complete my work and live somewhere that has both,” he says. In the meantime, Ilarion continues to take what he knows to the world, wherever he is invited. “I don’t go where I am not invited,” is a refrain he frequently says.
Ilarion’s work has been broad and eclectic as his C.V. indicates. He is proficient in many areas but his passions are community wellness, the fate of the planet and elder wisdom. It is reflected in his work on climate change, the Bering Sea and its people, and the work we humans must do to re-establish harmony with ourselves, our families, our communities, and Mother Earth.


Larry Merculieff has almost four decades of experience serving his people, the Aleuts of the Pribilof Islands and other indigenous peoples in a number of capacities—locally, statewide, nationally and internationally. For his entire career, Merculieff has been a passionate advocate for indigenous rights/wisdom, and harmonious relationship with the Earth Mother. His reach has been broad and varied.
He has given keynote addresses at such forums as the National Academy of Sciences Annual Meeting, Pan-Pacific University President’s Association, the national convention of American Indian Students in Science and Engineering, White House Conference on the Oceans, and the World Congress of Ethnobiology. He also has lectured on traditional ways of knowing and indigenous elder wisdom at such places as University of Montana, Missoula, University of Colorado, Boulder, Seattle University, University of Alaska Anchorage, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and Oregon State University. Merculieff has been featured in interviews and talks on media such as Al Jazeera, BBC, Native America Call-In and National Public Radio (NPR).
Merculieff’s first opportunity to share what he learned came from an invitation to help facilitate a healing conference in Cordova in the late 1980s.  And his work has expanded since this time. He has planned and facilitated conferences locally, nationally, and internationally and given hundreds of talks in numerous forums.
With a solid background as a community, business and environmental leader, Ilarion’s later years reflect both this lifelong career path as well as the fufilment of his cultural role as Kuuyux, or traditional messenger for the Aleut people.  Recently, he completed facilitation of a strategic planning session for the Eyak Preservation Council.
A few of the positions he’s held include:

  • City Manager of St. Paul Island
  • Commissioner of the Alaska Department of Commerce and Economic Development
  • President and CEO of Tanadgusix Corporation
  • Chairman of the Board of The Aleut Corporation
  • Co-chair of the Japan-Alaska Fishery Cooperative
  • Chair of the Alaska State Bond Committee
  • Vice-chair of the Alaska Industrial Development and Export Committee
  • Deputy Director of the Alaska Native Science Commission
  • General Manager of the Central Bering Sea Fishermen’s Association (one of the six Community Development Quota groups created by Congress to receive fish allocations in Alaska)
  • Community leader on St. Paul Island, his place of origin, for almost 35 years
  • Co-founder and former chairman of the Alaska Indigenous Council on Marine Mammals
  • Former chairman of the Nature Conservancy, Alaska chapter
  • Former co-director of the Native American Fish and Wildlife Society, Alaska chapter
  • Co-founder of the International Bering Sea Forum
  • Co-founder of the Alaska Forum on the Environment
  • Co-founder of the Alaska Oceans Network
  • Served on the National Research Council Committee on the Bering Sea Ecosystem
  • presented at numerous scientific conferences
  • Chairperson for the Alaska Sanitation Taskforce
  • Co-chair of the Federal/State Taskforce on Rural Sanitation to bring support for running water and flush toilets to over one hundred Alaska Native communities
  • Served on the National Research Council Committee on the Bering Sea Ecosystem
  • Chaired the indigenous knowledge sessions—with representatives from 80 nations—at the Global Summit of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change in early 2009
  • Chaired the scientific working group for Snowchange, with representatives from eight Arctic nations focused on climate change
  • Co-chaired the North American Gathering of Indigenous Peoples for the Healing of Mother Earth and facilitated the indigenous knowledge sessions at the Global Summit of Indigenous Peoples on Climate Change

Key Accomplishments

  • One of four Native Americans to present at the White House Conference on the Oceans during the Clinton administration
  • Selected by Aleut leaders to be part of a one-hour Discovery Channel documentary about the history and spiritual aspects of Aleuts, which aired in 2001 and was viewed by an estimated 60 million people worldwide
  • While serving as the Director of the Department of Public Policy and Advocacy in the Rural Alaska Community Action Program (2000-2003)Merculieff led the largest subsistence rights march in Alaska’s history and emceed the subsistence rally after the march. The march was instrumental in protecting Alaska Native subsistence rights—which were legally contested by the State of Alaska in Katie John vs. State of Alaska—to fish for salmon along Alaska’s rivers.
  • Successfully led a four-year effort to gain federal and state recognition of Alaska Native subsistence rights
  • Merculieff gave a keynote address on indigenous perspectives on climate change at the 2009 World Wilderness Congress gathering in Merida, Mexico, and is a Senior Advisor to the Congress
  • In the Alaska Tribal Leaders Summit held May 6, 2011, Merculieff facilitated the use of traditional ways of dialogue, discourse, decision-making and consensus building throughout the conference. For the first time in memory, tribal leaders talked without conflict and reached unanimous decisions on courses of action dealing with the human rights challenges to Alaska Native traditional hunting, fishing and gathering.  It was so successful that Merculieff was invited back to subsequent Tribal Leaders Summits to facilitate discussions at the  meeting held on August 24 through 26 in 2011, the 2012 and 2013 gatherings.



Alaska Forum on the Environment, Environmental Excellence Award for lifetime achievement
Recipient, Rasmuson Foundation Award for Creative Non-fiction
Award Finalist, Buffet Award for Indigenous Leadership
Recipient, Alaska Native Writers on the Environment Award, Awarded by the Alaska Conservation Foundation

Publications (Partial List)

Co-author of a book titled:  Stop Talking:  Indigenous Ways of Teaching and Learning, University of Alaska, Anchorage
Co-author of a book titled:  Aleut Wisdom:  Stories from an Aleut Messenger, Les Intouchables Publishing, Montreal. 
Native American Men of Courage, Second Story Press, a biographical profile. 
Community Healing Starts with the Individual, First Alaskans  Magazine, Fall 2005
Birthplace of the Winds, Red Ink Magazine, Winter 2005
The Gift from the Four Directions, YES Magazine.
Who Are the Elders?, Kindred Spirit Magazine.
Chief writer/editor/emcee: The “Alaska Native Fish, Wildlife, Habitat, and Environment  Summit Report”, a Rural Alaska Community Action Program Publication.
Heart of the Halibut: Coming of Age in the Bering Sea.  Alaska Geographic. A rite of passage story about subsistence fishing.
Listening to the Elders, WisdomKeepers of the North: Vision, Healing, and Stewardship for the Bering Sea – International Summit Final Conference Report (Writer, Editor).
Lessons about Conflict from the Pribilof Aleuts. A Personal Account. Winds of Change Magazine.
The Key to Conflict Resolution:  Reconnection with the Sacred.  Cultural  Survival Magazine
Pickled Seal Flippers and Western Science, Keynote, Fifth Information Transfer Meeting, Minerals Management Service.
Chapters on contemporary Aleut History, Slaves of the Harvest, Tanadgusix Corporation Publication.
Islands of the Seals (Chapter on Aleut history), Alaska Geographic

Current Work

Currently, Merculieff is an independent consultant and is working on projects related to the resilience of rural Alaskan communities, assessing the academic needs of Alaska-based wildlife co-management organizations. Merculieff is also contracted by the College of the Menominee Nation to work with the Great Lakes tribes seeking to develop culturally based adaptation strategies to facing climate changes. Merculieff is working on his next book, focused on the wisdom he has learned locally, nationally and internationally from elders and others from different cultures through the lens of his life experiences. Having had a traditional upbringing, Merculieff has been, and continues to be, a strong voice advocating for the meaningful application of traditional knowledge and wisdom of indigenous elders in Alaska and throughout the world when dealing with modern day challenges.
He continues to speak and work where invited.

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