Salmon, David: Athabascan leader

Chalkyitsik, Alaska (AP) 10-07

The Rev. David Salmon, first traditional chief of the Athabascan people and a widely respected spiritual leader, was buried during October near his home in Chalkyitsik.

Salmon died recently after being diagnosed with cancer. He was 95 years old.

His grave, beneath tall spruce trees, is in a small hilltop cemetery next to the burial site of his wife, Sarah.

Hundreds of mourners flew to the small Interior community from villages and towns around the state to pay their respects to Salmon. A dozen white-gowned Episcopal ministers gave final blessings after Salmon’s handmade wooden coffin was lowered into the ground. Salmon was an ordained Episcopal minister and had been the Interior’s first traditional chief since 2003. The position is an honorary, nonpolitical office and is held in high esteem.

“We’ve seen some great times in Chalkyitsik because of this man,” his grandson, state Rep. Woodie Salmon, said. “His spirit lifted up a lot of people. He was the rock of this town.”

The Gwich’in elder was well-known for his work ethic and traditional toolmaking skills, and he was renown for his ministering and counsel.

Granddaughter Patricia Salmon told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that more than 200 telephone calls have come in from around the state and the Lower 48 following Salmon’s death at his home.

Salmon died 10 days before the opening of the 2007 Alaska Federation of Natives Convention, where he was scheduled to address delegates.

“He was a very humble, humble individual. He was a very giving man,” said Steve Ginnis, former Tanana Chiefs president. “He wanted no fanfare, recognition or praise but to have us praise the Lord.”

Doyon President Orie Williams said Salmon was one of the most spiritual men he ever met and was never critical.

“He never brought negativity with him. He was always positive. You could never go to school enough years to know what this man knew,” Williams said. “He was truly an Indian chief long before people called him one.”

Salmon was dressed in a beaded and fringed moosehide vest over a white shirt with a soft, white wool Hudson Bay blanket tucked around him.

A chief’s necklace of dentalium and beads as well as a beaded cross covered his chest. His hands were crossed and sheathed in bead and fur-trimmed moosehide gloves and held another beaded cross. His glasses were tucked in a small beaded pouch at his side.