Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program

Ellen Demit

Ellen Demit

Ellen Demit was born on May 13, 1913 to Eva and Julius John in the old village of Chena, Alaska, which is now encompassed by the city of Fairbanks. At three months of age, Ellen was adopted by Chief Luke and his wife, Anne, from Goodpaster, Alaska. This type of adoption was a common cultural practice. Following the death of his wife, Chief Luke allowed then three year old Ellen to be adopted again, this time by Selene and Old Blind Jimmy of Healy Lake. Ellen married Frank Felix of Ketchumstuk/Tanacross and had eight children. They lived in Healy Lake until the influenza epidemic of the mid-1940's and moved to Big Gerstle to save their remaining three children. After Frank's death, Ellen moved to Dot Lake. She lived a hunting and trapping lifestyle and developed deep knowledge of the middle and upper Tanana country. She later married Herbie Demit of Northway, and eventually settled in Tok. Ellen was committed to the transfer of cultural knowledge and worked tirelessly to help preserve the Tanacross language. She worked with linguist Gary Holton at the Alaska Native Language Center, University of Alaska Fairbanks, and was interviewed many times, always telling her stories of her incredible childhood, her strength in being a single woman raising children within a subsistence lifestyle, and the importance of retaining cultural practices. Until her death in 2009, Ellen was a highly respected matriarch of Healy Lake and her legacy is cherished and emulated by her children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. Ellen Demit's stories appear in: Mendees Cheeg Naltsiin Keey': An Oral History of the People of Healy Lake Village (annotated and edited by Donald G. Callaway and Constance A. Friend, Revised June 2007), and The Adventures of Yaabaa Teeshaay: First Man Stories from Healy Lake (as told by Ellen Demit and David Joe, edited by Constance Ann Friend, Athabascan transcribed and translated by Irene Arnold and Richard Thoman, Alaska Native Knowledge Network, 2010). In 2008, Ellen was interviewed for the Alaska Highway Project Jukebox. For more about Ellen Demit, see her obituary in the Fairbanks Daily News Miner newspaper.

Date of Birth:
May 13, 1913
Date of Death:
Feb 8, 2009
Ellen Demit appears in the following new Jukebox projects: