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Revered Alaska Native elder Howard Luke dies

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Highly respected Athabascan elder Howard Luke has died at age 95. A pillar of the Interior Alaska Native community, Luke was born in 1923 in Nenana, later moving to Fairbanks with his mother at age 13.

He died at about 11:30 p.m. Saturday at the Denali Center in Fairbanks, according to his daughter, Mo MacCracken.

Luke dedicated his life to lifting up Alaska indigenous heritage and working to ensure the younger generation has the chance to learn the ways of their ancestors. He started a camp where young people can stay and learn skills, including Native art and language and how to live off the land.

“He was a giver of knowledge and of life, and supporter of youth and education,” MacCracken said of her father Sunday. “For a man who only went to school through third grade, he encouraged everyone to seek knowledge.”

MacCracken noted her father approached every interaction with a sense of friendship and care.

“What was so good about my dad was that there was never any color,” she said. “He had friends of every race, every gender, every nationality. He never looked at people as any different. He was just a friend to everyone. He always said, ‘Talk from your heart.”

MacCracken noted her father’s youth camp, the Gaalee’ya Spirit Camp, on the banks of the Tanana River near Fairbanks, will remain open to community building, youth empowerment and education opportunities.

“It’s was a spiritual place and it will remain so,” she said.

Luke was incredibly respected in the Interior Native community, eventually having a building at the Effie Kokrine Charter School named after him in honor of his contributions to inspiring and educating Native young people throughout the years.

In addition to lending his wisdom and heart to Interior Natives, Luke enjoyed dog mushing, beginning training and dog racing in the 1940s. He participated in his first Open North American dog race in Fairbanks in 1947, coming in second place. He also raced boats, winning the 1965 Yukon 800.

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. Members of the community are encouraged to bring a dish to share with the potlatch.

Luke would have been 96 on Oct. 9. Hundreds attended his 90th and 94th birthday celebrations.

“The school was planning to host another birthday event, but they have now offered to help us with the potlatch,” MacCracken said.

Luke leaves behind his daughter; nephew Howard Maillard; five grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; his niece, Lillian “Babes” Coleman; great-niece, Beverly Price; cousin, Winnie Atwood; and many more family and friends.

Contact staff writer Erin McGroarty at 459-7544. Follow her on Twitter:@FDNMPolitics.