Arctic Village's traditional chief dies at 89

Leader was firefighter, locksmith, tribal officer, fisherman and school builder

Posted: Friday, November 16, 2001

FAIRBANKS -- The longtime traditional chief of Arctic Village has died at 89.

Moses Sam Sr., an outspoken leader, was in Fairbanks visiting relatives when he died of natural causes Wednesday.

In keeping with Arctic Village traditions, Sam had chosen his successor before his death. The new chief will be named at a later date.

"He was a good traditional chief," Arctic Village resident Marion Swaney said. "I learned a lot from him. He taught a lot of youngsters our traditional way of life."

An accomplished storyteller, Sam loved sharing tales of his upbringing in Tsuk'oo, about 50 miles from Venetie. He promoted the Native traditions of letting the seasons dictate activities: hunting fowl in the spring, fishing in the summer and getting meat in the fall. He taught generations of Arctic Village and Venetie children how to make and use snowshoes, fish wheels, sleds and traps.

Sam, the son of Samuel and Lucy Kah, grew up trapping, fishing and hunting and from a young age helped raise his younger siblings. He married Jenny Simon in 1933, and the couple had nine children and numerous grandchildren. His wife preceded him in death.

Sam was a firefighter, locksmith, tribal officer and fisherman. He also worked on the railroad and did maintenance at a hospital in Fort Yukon. He helped build the Arctic Village school.

Isaac Tritt, when he was traditional chief, chose Sam as his replacement in 1987. The position is one of high honor, and such leaders are chosen for their example, wisdom and experience, said Pete Peter, a grandson-in-law of Sam.

One of Sam's big pushes was to keep Arctic Village alcohol-free, Peter said. "He wanted to make sure alcohol laws were enforced on the reservation," Peter told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. "He was worried about the new generation."

A memorial service will be held Saturday in Fairbanks and a funeral Monday in Arctic Village.

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