The cycle of life continues

Henry Makarka and Chewbacca. (Photo courtesy of Chugach Heritage Foundation and Chugach Alaska Corporation)

By John F. C. Johnson

For The Cordova Times

Henry Makarka; a good friend, relative and man of many talents passed away on May 19, at the age of 87.

On July 26, at the Nuuciq Spirit Camp in Prince William Sound, we had a very special day to honor and celebrate Henry’s life.  His ashes were spread in the graveyard, next to his relatives, behind the church at the old village of Nuchek on Hinchinbrook Island. At the end of the memorial service, “Oh Henry” candy bars were passed out to honor Henry’s good spirit and sense of humor.

Henry’s younger brother Stanley and his wife Helen took a boat on a rainy day from Cordova to Nuchek to attend the funeral service that was held in the Church of the Transfiguration. This church was rebuilt on the ruins of the old one and was re-consecrated in 2000. In the late 1790s, the Russians built a fort and trading post at Nuchek which was called Fort Saint Constantine and Helen.

Henry Makarka, left, Mary Kompkoff, center, and Eleanor Johnson, right, enjoy a sea lion barbecue during Nuuciq Spirit Camp in 2003. (Photo courtesy of Chugach Heritage Foundation and Chugach Alaska Corporation)

Henry had special ties to Nuchek. His great-grandfather Makari Makarka Fedorovich Chimovitski was of noble descent and belonged to the chief’s family at Nuchek. Makari’s Suqpiaq name was Alingun Nupatkertlugoq Anagakhuna. Makari had three brothers; Paul Eliah, Peter and Fred. His older brother Peter was the last traditional chief at Nuchek. In the 1930s, Makari was the main Native informant for the archaeologist Frederica de Laguna who preserved numerous old stories of his. This oral history was reproduced in the 1985 publication called “Chugach Legends.”

The Nuuciq Spirit Camp has been going strong for the last 24 years. Henry was a regular participant who was eager to share his cultural knowledge and his skill in making kayaks and paddles. During camp, we would have talent shows and Henry was not shy about telling jokes and playing his harmonica which he carried in his pocket all the time.

When he would get restless, usually by being stuck in a city on a nice summer day, his wife Jackie would tell him “go to Nuchek and be with your people and eat your Native food.” He did just that. We often enjoyed a good seal munyuq (BBQ) and savored the taste of seal fat dripping on meat over an open fire.

There are not many places that are dedicated to the Native people, both young and old. Now, with Henry’s help, the younger generation is taking over and running the camp that his great-grandfather once lived in.

Henry would make a point of telling the kids, “Help take care of this place. We are rebuilding this village and doing all this work just for you so that you can be proud of who you are and where you are from.”

A painting of Henry Makarka by Sandra Poling. (Photo courtesy of Chugach Heritage Foundation and Chugach Alaska Corporation)

John F. C. Johnson is the vice president of cultural resources at Chugach Alaska Corporation.