Recollections of Sidney Huntington (1915-2015)
By Anne Hanley
On Dec. 11, 2015, Koyukon Athabascan leader Sidney Charles Huntington was laid to rest on a bluff overlooking the Yukon River. The spot was near where he used to run a trap line and not far from the site of his fish wheel. He was 100 years old.
When an elder dies, a bridge between the past and the future is washed away. Sidney’s death leaves a huge, gaping chasm. He knew the chiefs and the medicine men. He knew the animals and the rules for how to show them respect. He knew old ones who hunted bears with nothing but spears and who spoke the old Koyukon high language. He knew missionaries and traders and miners. They’re all gone and now he’s gone too, but, lucky for us, he left a book.
If you haven’t read his biography Shadows on the Koyukuk, written with Jim Rearden in 1993 and still in print, treat yourself to a good yarn about a good man whose life encompasses a huge swath of Alaska history.
Sidney was born in 1915 around the time when the first non-Native settlers were moving into the Country. His mother was a traditional Athabascan woman; his father was a trader and a gold-seeker. “Half Indian,” as he called himself, and half white, he faced discrimination from both sides.
I once spent a morning at the Sidney C. Huntington School in Galena interviewing students about Sidney. They were shy and not as vocal as I’d hoped. As I was leaving, a resource teacher chased after me. “I have something to say about Sidney,” she said. “I moved to Galena two years ago and Sidney was one of the first people I met. He told me, ‘Don’t ever let anyone tell you that you don’t belong here. If you live here, you’re one of us.” That was Sidney. He would not tolerate discrimination, perhaps because he endured so much of it growing up.