Chilkat Valley News - Serving Haines and Klukwan, Alaska since 1966

 
 

Tlingit speaker Stevens dies at 84

 

Margaret Stevens

A service was held in Klukwan Dec. 30 for Margaret Stevens, a Tlingit speaker remembered for her infectious laugh and traditional cooking. She died in Juneau on Dec. 22 at age 84.

"She had a very jolly laugh. It made you want to laugh, too," said villager Evelyn Hotch.

Stevens was born Dec. 5, 1929 to James and Mary King. She attended school in Klukwan and at the Wrangell Institute, a boarding school. As a young woman, she worked at the Haines Packing Co. cannery and moved to Juneau after marrying George P. Stevens on Sept. 26, 1949.

Stevens bore six children and spent summers with her husband and family at a Taku River fish camp, drying and canning fish, picking berries and cooking traditional foods, including porcupine. "She had a liking for our old Native foods, which we haven't had so much in the last 10 years," Hotch said.

Raised by parents who spoke only Tlingit and knew traditional Chilkat songs, Stevens later in her life taught Tlingit in school settings. However, she was at times reluctant to do so, owing to having been punished as a child for using her Native language, said villager Lani Hotch.

"She could speak Tlingit fluently, but she had psychological barriers to doing it in different situations. When I was setting up the village dance group, I was hoping an elder would step up to help us. After one performance, Margaret told me we were singing a song wrong. But when she tried to sing it, her throat seized up. She couldn't get it out," Lani Hotch said.

"People think (punishment for speaking Tlingit) is ancient history but it still affects people. That trauma influenced how she interacted with the world," Lani Hotch said.

Stevens helped interpret into Tlingit for a song writer for the village's Healing Robe project, Hotch said, and as matriarch of the Thunderbird clan, would enthusiastically join cultural observances, including Celebration, the biennial gathering of Southeast Natives in Juneau.

"As old as she was, she'd be at Celebration dancing with all kinds of dance groups. All the energy she had, I don't know. She seemed to thrive on it," Lani Hotch said.

Son Jim Stevens said his mother was also a staunch supporter of the Alaska Native Sisterhood in Klukwan, who tried her hand at weaving baskets and Ravenstail blankets.

Lani Hotch recalled Margaret finding an old recording of village elders. "She heard voices of long-past elders on it and she was pretty excited about that... She'd call with old songs or a beading pattern she discovered."

Stevens was fond of animals and took her small dogs, Oosh and Mikey, on trips to see relatives in the Yukon Territory. "She and George traveled all over the Yukon," said Evelyn Hotch.

Stevens attended church at Klukwan Assembly of God and enjoyed fellowship with the Bahai's of Haines.

She was preceded in death by children Antoinette "Toni" Stevens, Therese Ward, George Taku "Tiger" Stevens, and husband George Stevens Sr. She is survived by sons James H. Stevens Sr ., Tom Joseph Stevens and Mark Stevens, and by seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

Stevens's Tlingit name was Yankookdugoox. She will be buried in Klukwan.