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Juneaus reunite

Juneau International Family Reunion celebrates Alaska's capital city namesake, 50th anniversary

Posted: Saturday, June 20, 2009

Fittingly enough, descendants of both our city's namesake and of the forefather of all North American Juneaus chose Alaska's capital city as the site for its seventh international reunion.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire File

In addition to celebrating Joe Juneau, a Canadian prospector who made Alaska's first major gold discovery with Richard Harris in 1880, the international Juneau clan will help celebrate Alaska's 50th anniversary of statehood during the Juneau International Family Reunion being held June 27 to July 5.

"It's the namesake of our little community," said local reunion organizer Connie Munro. "It's very important to honor that name and to honor the relatives."

Founded by Virginia Juneau, wife of Joe Juneau's fifth cousin, Alcide Joseph "Frenchie" Juneau (deceased), the Juneau International Family Reunion started in 1991 to honor descendants of Clement Jouineau, a 16th century Frenchman known as the forefather of all North American Juneaus. Since then, the international reunion has been held in the United States, France and Canada.

"They had such a good time meeting cousins that they didn't know they had, so they voted to have (a reunion) every three years," said Virginia Juneau, of Shreveport, La. "This year's reunion will be the biggest and best of all. We will be celebrating the city being named for one of our cousins. We are proud to have Alaska as the 49th state and that one of our cousins had an influence in its development."

In all, about 140 Juneaus from the United States, France and Canada will attend the reunion.

"At the Baranof alone there'll be about 90 people sleeping," Munro said. "And 38 rooms are already taken."

And because all visiting Juneaus and Coronells - descendants of Chief Kowee, the Tlingit man who guided Juneau and Harris from the Cassiar Region of British Columbia to Alaska - will wear name tags with blue ribbons during the reunion, Munro advises all locals to stop and say hello.

"We're asking the community to please welcome them and start a conversation," she said.

Beside enjoying wildlife tours, special family activities and flavorful dining, visiting Juneaus will attend a flag-raising ceremony at the Juneau-Douglas City Museum and they will participate in the Fourth of July parade, as they did 10 years ago for the Kissing Cousins Reunion.

Robert Sam, of Sitka, a direct descendant of Chief Kowee, will wear one of Kowee's ceremonial robes at the flag-raising ceremony and in the parade.

Local Sue Ann Lindoff, Joe Juneau's great-granddaughter and the matriarch of the Tlingit Kiksadi clan, also will join the festivities. She said she is excited to see Virginia Juneau again.

"Knowing she's coming back is a real blessing," Lindoff said. "She's had surgery, and she's getting on in her years."

Juneau's great-granddaughter

Sue Ann Lindoff's great-grandmother, Susie Andrews, was Joe Juneau's wife. Her grandmother, Mary Andrews Marks, who she called mom and who lived to be 102, was Joe Juneau's daughter and only child.

Marks started preparing Lindoff to be the family's matriarch at an early age, with some resistance.

"I said, 'Mom, no. I'm a woman. I'm a girl. I'm not going to do that,'" she said. "And she said, 'You will, you're going to have to. You're going to step forward. Your mom is sick all of the time. Your aunts, they married dleit kaa (white man). They're not going to follow and pay attention to our culture and our ways."

As the oldest surviving descendant of Joe Juneau still in Juneau and matriarch of the Tlingit Kiksadi clan, Lindoff said she carries a great weight on her shoulders.

"It was hard for me being the oldest in the family. I didn't feel like I was ready for that role," she said. "It's sad. I was the oldest of 13 of us, and the saddest part is my grandma's gone, my mom's gone, my two aunts are gone, my only uncle is gone. So I am the oldest of the family."

Lindoff, 61, was born in Juneau and raised here for the first five years of her life. She was also raised in Sitka, where she learned traditional Tlingit ways from her grandmother, as well as in Hoonah. Her great-grandmother died when she was 6.

"I always said I had the best of both worlds," she said. "I grew up in the village and I educated myself to survive and live here in Juneau. I was living the medium, so I could survive here in Juneau and still go home to Hoonah and know when to pick berries, when to go fishing, when to go seal hunting. Where do we find that in the book? That's all taught to us."

In fact, Lindoff learned much of her subsistence lifestyle from her father, Michael Williams, who was the only Tlingit Russian Orthodox priest at the time.

"I walked side-by-side with my dad, and my mom used to laugh," Lindoff explained. "She said, 'Here's my oldest daughter, fishing and hunting with her dad. She has eight brothers, and guess who goes hunting and fishing?'

"But I learned from him. And while we were sitting on the boats for hours at a time, I was talking, always talking. I had an inquisitive mind. Why did I have that? How did I know it was going to prepare me for the history of my family?"

Now 50 years later, it's Lindoff's turn to uphold and respect her family's story.

"Traditionally, we were groomed from the beginning, and we knew the roles we were going to play in our lives," she said.

In all, Lindoff has raised 10 children - her five children and her sister's five children - and has 17 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She said in her family alone, there are close to 100 Juneau decedents living in Alaska.

"And if you review a little bit of the history, you're going to find out there's more than 20,000 of us all over the country - the clan Juneau," Lindoff said.

Oral tradition: Setting the record straight

Because there was some misinformation in past Juneau Empire (June 28, 1998) and Sitka Sentinel articles - not to mention in Eugene Connerton's 1964 "Genealogy of the Juneau Family" - Lindoff feels it is her ongoing duty to set the record straight.

"You're talking about my family history, and I want it to be documented and corrected," Lindoff said. "Tlingit history is an oral history, and our people have lived for thousands of years in Alaska. We're a matriarchal society, and because we are a matriarchal society, we're taught from the beginning that we have the responsibility of being the female in the family."

To help pass on the oral traditions of her people, and after recently retiring from 30 years of family case work for Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Lindoff now gives cross-cultural training to nurses and doctors on a volunteer basis.

"I tell them, 'You need to understand we've been here for thousands of years. Don't penalize us because we don't have it in black and white,'" Lindoff said.

In her effort to set the record straight, Lindoff met Virginia Juneau, who was preparing for the 1999 Kissing Cousins Reunion at the time.

"That is when the family came to the paper and said they were descendants," Virginia Juneau said. "That was a happy day for the Williams and Juneau families to be together after all of these years."

In further research, Virginia Juneau and her granddaughter, Kryssy, found the obituary for Susie Andrews who died in Sitka Feb. 13, 1937, at 80 years old.

"There are statements that (Susie Andrews) lived with Joe until he died, but that is not true," Virginia said. "When her Chief father found she had married Joe Juneau, who liked wine and women, he then came and got her and took her home and arranged a marriage with Jim Andrews, who he approved of. She was pregnant with Joe's baby, but Andrews raised the baby girl (Mary) as his own. That is why we knew nothing of any descendants."

Thankfully, the record was corrected in a July 6, 1998, Empire article.

"We feel that the family is a very important institution that has been strong in the past but is weakening today," Virginia Juneau said. "And if our children are raised with feelings of love and acceptance and the resolve to pull together and be strong, then I think they will raise their families in the same way as they grow up."

• Contact Neighbors editor Kim Andree at 523-2272 or kim.andree@juneauempire.com.



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