Morris Thompson buried during week-long tribute

Posted: Monday, July 03, 2000

TANANA - Alaska Native leader Morris Thompson was laid to final rest Saturday afternoon on a high riverbank overlooking the confluence of the Tanana and Yukon rivers, three miles upriver from his boyhood home of Tanana.

Gospel singing rang out over the waters after a handmade birchwood casket was lowered into the ground. A crowd of mourners who had walked a deep woods trail to the secluded site sang hymns as the grave was filled, mounded and raked smooth, and a hand-hewn wooden cross erected at one end.

The marker, hand carved and decorated with purple wild irises and red hearts, commemorates Thompson, his wife and daughter, who all perished together Jan. 31 with 85 others in the crash of Alaska Airlines Flight 261 off the California coast.

The 61-year-old former Doyon Native corporation executive, his wife of 37 years, Thelma Mayo Thompson, and 33-year-old daughter Sheryl were returning from a vacation to Mexico celebrating Morris' retirement two months earlier.

The bodies of Thelma and Sheryl Thompson were not recovered from the crash site.

Tanana is where Morris Thompson grew up, returned to visit, and where he and Thelma planned to build their retirement home. The family also lived in Juneau, when Thompson headed up the state office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Hundreds of people arrived in this small Athabascan village of 300 for a week of potlatches and dancing leading up to the weekend service.

Saturday's Episcopal service was followed by the burial, another potlatch meal and more Indian dancing.

Villagers had been planning and preparing for the event for the past two months.

``Last week, five grandmas went up to fish camp at the rapids for two days and cut 100 king salmon,'' said Julie Roberts, who with Donna Folger headed up the food committee.

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