Beetus, Joe: Former Hughes tribal chief walks on

Fairbanks, Alaska (AP) 5-09

Joe Beetus, a former tribal chief from the Interior Alaska village of Hughes, has died at age 93.

Beetus was remembered in a memorial service in Fairbanks May 18.

His family said he passed away May 15 of stomach cancer.

Beetus, an Athabascan, became the tribal chief of the Koyukuk River village of Hughes northwest of Fairbanks when he was a young man.

He published his life story in 1980, was featured in a documentary film – “Make Prayers to the Raven” – and earned the honorary title of Traditional Chief.

Last summer he celebrated his 70th wedding anniversary with his wife, Celia.

His large family included 54 great-grandchildren.

In his lifetime, Beetus worked in trapping, fishing, mining, cooking and driving heavy equipment.

He described his work ethic in his autobiography, “Joe Beetus – Hughes,” based on hours of taped interviews.

“The foreman, they can swear at you, but you have to take that,” Beetus said. “I learn that from my father. He used to work in the steamboat and he told me that first mate is a cranky one. You might think he did wrong thing but you can take it.”

He never received formal schooling.

“When I was small, mostly I want to learn hunting, trapping and fishing,” Beetus said in his book. “Go out camp. That’s where I pick up things, from them old people. They used to tell stories them days. How to make a living. That’s the only school I get, from my old people.