Interior Native organizations are mourning the loss of a pillar in the community following the death of respected Athabascan elder Howard Luke, who died Saturday at age 95.
Fairbanks Native Association published a statement on the group's Facebook page, offering condolences from Executive Director Steve Ginnis, the board of directors and staff.
"Our elder Howard Luke offered a place to heal for those who struggled with alcohol at his Tanana River camp Gaalee'ya. He shared stories, culture and traditions about the indigenous people of the Fairbanks area. He was an advocate for education and knowledge, teaching scores of children at his camp," the statement reads. "He encouraged respect for elders, each other and our children. He will be missed and while we mourn his passing, we are heartened to know he is traveling a brighter trail."
Tanana Chiefs Conference, which represents nearly four dozen Interior Alaska communities, issued a statement saying those in the organization "are deeply saddened" by Luke's death.
"Howard has left behind a beautiful legacy for future generations. We are honored that Howard chose to share his story with us to part of our Legacy of Our Elders series so that we could share it with all of you," the statement reads. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and loved ones during this difficult time."
Local environmental and indigenous rights group Native Movement also issued a public statement on its Facebook page.
"Elder Howard Luke has passed and we cannot express enough the gratitude for all that he has given to us and so many. Howard was a visionary leader and his humble words imparted great gifts. We have hosted an annual camp at Howard's Gaalee'ya Spirit Camp for a few years now and everyone who has come to Howard's camp has felt the healing and motivating power of his camp. That was his vision — a place to come together, share and learn together, work together on a healing path — and that will live on in the hearts of many," the statement reads.
"Often when visiting with Howard before and after camp he would tell us stories, stories that encouraged us to keep working for the people and for Mother Earth. The Earth's air has shifted with his passing; we will keep his stories close, and remember the healing path. Our condolences to Howard's family and all those who Howard mentored and helped. Our continued gratitude for his vision, wisdom, and the many gifts he leaves us with."
Doyon, Limited, the Fairbanks-based Alaska Native corporation, remembered Luke as a legacy in Native culture and heritage.
"He was an honored Elder and culture bearer who generously gave to the community in many ways– including through his storytelling, teachings, and welcoming many to his Galee’ya Camp on the Chena River," reads a statement emailed to the Daily News-Miner. "His legacy will live on through those he taught, and he will be remembered for his tremendous love for our culture and our youth."
A service to pay tribute to Luke’s life and work will be held at 1 p.m. Wednesday at the Chief David Salmon Tribal Hall, and a commemorative potlatch will be held at 5:30 p.m. at the hall. Both are open to the public. Community members are encouraged to bring a dish to share with the potlatch.
Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.