- Associated Press - Sunday, October 12, 2014

KETCHIKAN, Alaska (AP) - Audrey Hudson recalled sitting for picture day in the third grade in Metlakatla.

Then named Audrey Wasuli, her picture was taken and her class was asked what they wanted to be when they grew up.

Boys said they wanted to be police officers or firefighters, Hudson said, while the girls in the class wanted to be nurses and teachers.

“I was reluctant to put myself out there and say what I really wanted to,” she said. “I summoned all my courage and I finally said, ‘I want to be mayor of Metlakatla.’”

Hudson, the first female mayor of the Metlakatla Indian Community, was the keynote speaker at the Ketchikan Women’s Summit earlier this month.

The summit had a number of speakers, including both of Alaska’s U.S. senators, and two panels on empowerment and education and prevention.

Hudson capped the all-day event, which attendees described as a powerful experience for the women and several men who attended, with a speech about the value of work and her rise to be Metlakatla’s first female mayor.

“At a young age I developed an appreciation for the independence that comes from having my own paycheck,” Hudson said. “I didn’t come from a well-to-do family, and my dad worked at the Louisiana-Pacific sawmill.”

Her resume started when she was 12 years old, Hudson said. But throughout her life she would take work “where I could find it - and no job was beneath me,” she said.

It started with babysitting. Hudson would start her first sitting job at 7 a.m. and finish at 4 p.m.

“I had to run across town to my next babysitting job from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.,” Hudson said, adding that her mother “was always supportive” of her jobs.

As a teenager, she worked as a cashier in Metlakatla at a minimart that also served food.

“Say what you will about retail food service, but I have found there is a certain nobility about having a smile on my face while I serve food to my customers,” Hudson said.

Into her 20s, she began working as a case worker for the state assisting workers of Metlakatla’s then-recently-closed mill find new jobs. Growing up, she hadn’t heard of unemployment benefits, she said, and learned about them for the first time as a case worker.

“I saw firsthand when families are put in a situation where their sole employment and their sole income is taken and the effects that it has on the community as a whole,” Hudson told the audience.

“The result of the mill shutting down was disastrous for Metlakatla,” she continued. “That is why it is so important to me to have a diversified economy that is not dependent on any one or two industries.”

After marriage and the birth of her son, politics came back into Hudson’s mind. It began with the Metlakatla School Board, for which she ran as a write-in candidate and unseated a 15-year male incumbent.

Her first political victory and time on the board “made me realize that I am capable of serving my people in an even larger capacity,” she said.

Hudson told the Daily News she took a pay cut to work as a receptionist in Metlakatla’s city hall, eventually becoming familiar with the inner workings island government.

She would eventually jump from running the phones at city hall to running the island. Hudson was elected just more than 11 months ago.

“In all of Metlakatla’s 126-year history, there has never been a female mayor,” she told a cheering audience. “I am the first.”

Hudson told the Ketchikan Women’s Summit about her accomplishments as mayor and her hopes for Metlakatla: Strong schools, a broad economic base and stable government.

“The point that I like to make is that when I decided to become mayor of Metlakatla, the only real barrier that I needed to overcome was this idea that girls are not as capable as boys,” she said. “We are capable. We are mothers. We are wives. We are teachers. We are nurses. And I am here to tell you today that strong women have a place in business and politics as well.”

Hudson thanked God for “examples of strong, modern women and the many opportunities He has brought before me.”

“Don’t let your doubts hold you back,” she said. “Take risks. Be engaged. Each of us can choose to step up and make a difference in this world.”

___

Information from: Ketchikan (Alaska) Daily News, https://www.ketchikandailynews.com

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