Ellen Paneok was born October 17, 1959 to an Inupiaq mother and a white father in Virginia. She had a troubled childhood after her father left her family and she and her sisters were separated and put into foster care. During this time of her life, she became obsessed with airplanes. As a teenager, she used her first native corporation dividend to pay for flying lessons at Merrill Field in Anchorage. She would skip class in order to go to flying lessons. Once that money was gone, she would sell her drawings and scrimshaw to help pay for her lessons. In 1979, at the age of twenty, she became the first licensed woman pilot of Native Alaskan ancestry. She went on to work as a bush pilot and was a member of the Alaska Ninety-Nines. She was one only of only thirty-seven women who were featured in the “Women in Flight” exhibition at the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum.
To hear an oral history of Ellen Paneok, check out: http://jukebox.uaf.edu/site7/p/2494