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Howard Luke


1923 - 2019
Howard Luke Obituary
Howard Luke passed away Sept. 21, 2019, at Denali Care Center, Fairbanks.
He had a long, active life. He did just about whatever he wanted to do, living a mixture of subsistence and modern lifestyle.
Howard was born downstream at Nenana at Linder Lakes on Oct. 9, 1923. Howard's real name was Howard Jimmie. Howard's Father, Luke Jimmie, died in a drowning accident when Howard was very young. Howard's mother, Susie Silas, raised Howard alone at Linder Lakes. They moved to Nenana so Howard could get some schooling. When Howard was signed up for first grade at St. Marks Mission School. They got confused with Howard's father's name, being Luke Jimmie, and signed Howard up as Howard Luke! Howard and his mother were both just learning English at this time, so it never got corrected. Howard spent grades one through four at the Mission School. He never missed a chance to "skip" and help an elder or blind person cut wood or pack water. Thus when he was about 9 and in the fourth grade, Susie allowed him to quit school, but only with the condition that he learn to read and write from a catalog they had. Also, an auntie helped teach him with the picture method. Show a picture of a moose, then write the word "moose." If they were going to cook or cut wood, pictures were drawn and the words written. Now Howard was free to help his mother trap and hunt so they had a little more money to survive on.
Howard remembers in 1933-34, watching the Sternwheeler "Nenana" being assembled on the riverbank in Nenana, Alaska. When Howard was about 13, Susie moved the two of them upriver to Fairbanks in 1936. A year later, they moved across the Tanana River to the Indian village of Chena. Even though Susie raised Howard alone, he had three brothers, one half-brother, and two sisters. They all passed when Howard was very young or before, and lived different situations.
The village of Chena was nearly completely eradicated from epidemics before Susie and Howard moved there, and this area evolved into their "camp" or home. Three cabins were built over the years and it later became their Native allotment.
Susie married William Silas, and Howard now had a stepfather. He learned to trap, hunt, fish with nets and build fishwheels. He learned how to pick the best birch trees to make sleds and snowshoes. He learned how to "read" the river and knew all the shallows and shortcuts. In the 1940s, Howard got dogs and was a successful dog racer. He won and placed in a lot of races statewide. In the 1950s and 60s, Howard took up boat racing. Howard was "captain" of Johnny Anderson's "Blue Goose" when they won the 1965 Yukon 800 boat race. Whether dog racing, boat racing, snowmachining or running his own riverboat, Howard knew only one speed, wide open.
During these years, Howard and his mother would try to help people that needed it, by bringing them home, give them a roof, feeding and, if needed, drying them out. When Howard's mother passed, he continued doing this.
During the 1950s, Capt. Jim Binkley and his wife, Mary, started visiting Howard's camp in their little boat, Godspeed. This evolved into the Discovery tourist boats that Fairbanks knows today.
Howard had his own problems with alcohol and when he whipped that, he started volunteering at local schools, teaching kids to make baskets, dogsleds, snowshoes and telling them to use common sense. This effort grew into groups of kids coming to "camp" and learning life values. Some trapping, making things, cooking, camping and cutting wood. Even cutting salmon during summers. Howard wanted the young people to learn to survive the next depression.
Soon, Howard was doing language and crafts at the high schools and the university. The Fairbanks North Star Borough School District built an alternative school and named it "Howard Luke Academy" after him. This later evolved into the Howard Luke Campus. In 1991, Howard, with only a fourth-grade education, received an honorary high school diploma from his own school. In 1996, the University of Alaska Fairbanks presented Howard with an honorary degree of Doctorate of Humane Letters.
Howard was able to travel culturally to Australia, New Zealand, Russia, Canada and the Lower 48 states.
Howard was not a religious man in the sense of church or book. He had his own religion when he knew that animals used to be human at one time. If you treat them right it helps you hold onto your "luck." Respect, integrity, and Gaa Lee 'ya and luck all the same thing. Howard talked and listened to the owls and the porcupines. He watched the wind, the river, the weather. He knew where the best spruce poles were for fishwheel. He knew the best birch trees for bending into snowshoes and sleds. He knew where the fish traveled.
Howard Luke is a man on his own trail. Howard and his dog "Schatzi" are on their own trail watching over "camp."
Howard Luke was pre-deceased by his father, Luke Jimmie, mother Susie Silas, and stepfather William Silas. Howard had no children, but one adopted daughter Maureen MacCracken. He had numerous nephews, nieces and cousins and his nephew Howard Maillard and grandchildren and great-grandchildren
Howard and Gaa Lee 'ya Spirit Camps was supported by many organizations, a select group of individuals, hundreds of students and everybody called him "Uncle Howard."
A service and potlatch will be held at the David Salmon Tribal Hall on Wednesday at 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Also, a gathering will be announced later for Howard's burial in Nenana.
Published in Daily News-Miner on Sept. 24, 2019
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