Alaska Native Tribe Health Official Gives Jill Biden Yup'ik Tribal Name During Visit

First Lady Jill Biden made a stop in Alaska during her first international trip alone to lead a U.S. delegation to the Olympic Games in Tokyo, where COVID-19 rates continue to spike.

In Alaska, the first lady acknowledged efforts to vaccinate residents in the remote state, but added that the work is not over. She was joined by the state's chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, and Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium leader Valerie Davidson.

The tribal health system has been lauded for helping Alaska kick off its vaccine rollout with a strong start, allowing tribal health organizations to share vaccines with the greater community and decide how to best distribute their allocations

Davidson, who is a member of the Yup'ik tribe, honored Biden by giving her the native name Taurluq, which was her grandmother's name.

"I hope I can try and live up to the woman your grandmother was," Jill Biden said.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, continue below.

Alaska
Val Davidson, right, the president of the Alaska Native Health Tribal Health Consortium, introduces first lady Jill Biden, left, during a visit Wednesday, July 21, 2021, to the consortium office in Anchorage, Alaska. Biden stopped in Alaska's largest city as she traveled to Tokyo, her first solo international trip as first lady, leading a U.S. delegation to the Olympic Games. Mark Thiessen/AP Photo

"Even as we celebrate the progress we've made, we know that this last push is really the hardest of all," Jill Biden said while visiting the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in Anchorage. Getting more people vaccinated will mean making the case "person by person," she said.

Davidson said that with cooperation among the tribal health system and state and federal governments, "we were able to ensure that some of our last language bearers and our last culture bearers were able to be among the first people vaccinated, regardless of their age."

In a state where many communities are not connected to a main road system, vaccine was delivered in some cases by means including small planes, boats and sled dogs. The vaccine was even transported out to a whaling boat in 8-foot (2.4-meter) seas, Jill Biden was told.

About 52 percent of Alaska residents 12 or older are fully vaccinated, according to the state health department.

Zink, who has been one of the public faces of Alaska's COVID-19 response, lauded Jill Biden's visit. "We get excited when Alaska's actually on a map. We're even more excited when people come and visit our big and beautiful and absolutely wonderous state," she said.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that President Joe Biden and the first lady both felt it was important that the delegation to the Olympic Games be led "at the highest level," and that Jill Biden looked forward to the journey to help support U.S. athletes, who will be competing in some of the starkest conditions for an Olympic Games.

She has a robust agenda for roughly 48 hours on the ground in Japan's capital.

The first lady arrived in Tokyo on Thursday afternoon and was to have dinner with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and his wife, Mariko Suga, at Akasaka Palace. She is to return to the palace Friday and be hosted by Mariko Suga.

Jill Biden will hold a virtual get-together with members of Team USA before meeting Emperor Naruhito at the Imperial Palace. She attends the opening ceremony for the Games in the evening and is expected to lead a slimmed-down delegation of two that also includes Raymond Greene, who is overseeing affairs at the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo in the absence of an ambassador.

On Saturday, the first lady will dedicate a room in the residence of the U.S. chief of mission to former U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, and his wife, Irene Hirano Inouye. The senator died in 2012, and his wife died last year.

Jill Biden also will host a U.S.-vs.-Mexico softball watch party at the U.S. Embassy for staff and their families and cheer U.S. athletes competing in several events before leaving Tokyo.

The trip opened Wednesday at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson in Anchorage, where the first lady arrived around 1 p.m. local time. Waiting on the tarmac to greet her were officials from the base and staff and guests at the Alaska Fisher House, where military and veteran families can stay free of charge when a loved one is hospitalized.

Theresa Nedrow, manager of the Alaska Fisher House, called the chance to meet with Jill Biden "remarkable."

"It was an opportunity of a lifetime," she said.

On Jill Biden's way back from Tokyo, she is set to tour a Honolulu vaccination clinic before returning to Washington.

Tokyo's COVID-19 infections surged to a six-month high Wednesday with 1,832 new cases logged just two days before the Games open.

The Olympic host city is now under its fourth state of emergency, which runs through Aug. 22, spanning the duration of the Olympic Games that open Friday and end Aug. 8. Fans are banned from all venues in the Tokyo area, with limited audiences at a few outlying sites.

Suga's government has been criticized for what some say is prioritizing Olympic sport over public health, and there has been little fanfare in the run-up to the Games, which were postponed from last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Imperial Palace said last month that Naruhito is "extremely worried" that the Games could accelerate the spread of the coronavirus.

Jill Biden is fully vaccinated. Psaki, the White House press secretary, said the U.S. delegation will follow "very strict" health and safety protocols during the trip, including limiting their engagement with the public and keeping as small a footprint as possible.

President Joe Biden is not attending the Games.

Alaska Vaccines
Medical Assistant Julia Naea administers the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine at the Blood Bank of Alaska in Anchorage on March 19, 2021. - Alaska became the first state in the country last week to open vaccination access to everyone over the age of 16 and has fully vaccinated 16 percent of the state's population, the highest rate in the country. Frederic J. BROWN / AFP/Getty Images