Elder stories

Yesterday afternoon, I visited the United Indians of All Tribes Elder’s Program. It being Thursday, I arrived during a weekly Bingo game.  I was lucky enough to talk with some of the elders, and here are some of the stories.

Alexandra Tu playing Bingo.


Alexandra Tu, 87, and Fevronia McGillivray, 77, both Unganga (Aleut), are from the small village of Saint Paul on Saint Paul Island, Alaska. Saint Paul Island is part of the Pribilof Islands, located far from other land in the middle of the Bering Sea. The largest of these islands, it still only measures 7.5 miles by 13.5 miles, or about 40 square miles. It is desolate and home to not only the Unganga, but also to millions of seabirds and half a million sea lions. Being surrounded by one of the world’s richest fishing grounds, the economy is largely based on fishing.

Alexandra came to Seattle in 1965 and has been in education and youth services ever since. In the ’70’s, she taught at Seattle School District’s Indian Heritage High School, and more recently at the Head Start at Daybreak Star. She still meets with kids at the United Indians Youth Home once a week for a talking circle, giving the youths an outlet for discussion. And she tutors children at The Native Circle‘s Clear Sky program. Pretty busy for an 87-year-old.

Alexandra meets up with Fevronia once a week for the Elder’s Program where they share a nutritious meal provided by the program. There, they have fun playing Bingo and doing handcrafts. It gives them an opportunity to meet with the other elders, give and get support and encouragement, and talk in their native language. In the summer, the program takes them to nearby reservations for social and cultural visits.

Fevronia says the Elder Program is a very important part of her life. Being elderly urban Indians is a challenge without the support of their tribes, and they get a part of what they are missing at the Elder Program. When they are sick, the others check on them and pray for them. When someone passes, the others support the ones left behind.

Fevronia and Alexandra are shown here wearing tribal regalia they wore for our meeting.


Currently, United Indians is running an IndieGoGo campaign to finance programs like this. You can participate by going to their campaign page: http://ow.ly/tavqj

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