Remembering our Elders

Lillian Garnett
Gwich'in Elder Lillian Garnett was a language warrior

Former faculty with UAF's Alaska Native Language Center, Lillian Garnett (Gwich'in) from Arctic Village passed away recently. Walkie Charles, director of ANLC, with the permission of Lillian's family, shares her obituary for all the language families in Alaska to know.

Lillian Martha (James) Garnett, 80, went to be with the Lord on Sunday, September 26, 2021, in Fairbanks, Alaska, surrounded by family. 

Lillian, who was Neets’aii Gwich’in, was born on January 31, 1941, in Fort Yukon to Ezias James & Martha (Tritt) James. Her real name was Martha Lillian and only her dad would call her that. As a young girl, she was the apple of his eye. He spoiled her and they used to call her cry baby. She grew up in a traditional Gwich’in way of life, with her parents and siblings moving from trap line by Sheenjik, to Fort Yukon, and to Arctic Village, living off the land. They were taught hard work, the importance of family and to always remember where they come from. 

Gwich’in was Lillian’s first language, she began learning English at the age of 8 going to BIA school in Arctic Village. She then attended Mt. Edgecumb in Sitka and graduated in 1961. She entered the BIA Relocation program and chose to go to Cleveland, Ohio. She lived there for 10 years and worked as a beautician doing hair. She was a popular hairdresser with a good following of clients. She met her husband, Jerry Garnett, while there. Lillian’s parents told their children to go learn the western ways then come back home to help our people. After her dad, Ezias, passed away in 1971, she came back to Alaska for his funeral. Shortly after, Jerry followed. They married, and together had Ezias Mike, Brandon, and Tonya. Lillian and Jerry shared 50 years together. She was the stepmother to Ronnie, Jeannie, and Bobby. She also helped raise many of her nieces and nephews. 

When Lillian returned home to Alaska, she became a Gwich’in language warrior. She helped record, transcribe, and teach the Gwich’in language. She taught Gwich’in at UAF for over 10 years; she also taught in some Fairbanks high schools, Arctic Village school and other Yukon Flats schools using long-distance video technology. She has taught hundreds of students the Gwich’in language. She took pride in the curriculum she developed and the work she did with other language warriors. 

Lillian was a strong matriarchal Gwich’in Elder, and her words were respected by many. She also loved humor and to plan parties. She showed her love to people through the food she made. During holidays, she would make cookies and other baked goods to hand out to loved ones. Her dinner parties were always large and everyone was invited. She would also invite musicians and have a dance even in the small trailer they lived in. She will be remembered by her love, strength, cultural values, beadwork, her famous dishes and fry bread, and especially being a loving mother and Grandma. 

She always called her son “my special baby” Brandon, and he was a caregiver for his parents for over seven years. Through her dementia in the final years, she kept her humor and love for her family. She was a gift to us all. 

Lillian leaves behind children Mike (Michelle), Brandon, Tonya; stepchildren Ronnie, Jeannie, and Bobby; grandchildren Raeann, Anthony (Alejandra), Ashton Philip; great-grandson Sean Wolf; many grandchildren in Ohio; sister Sarah James; brother Gideon James; and sisters-in-law Christine (Sue) Garnett and Bertha Ross. Lillian and Jerry helped raise others such as Douglas "Strong Head" Felix, Nina John, and too many others to name. Her nieces and nephews are too many to list. 

Lillian was preceded in death by her parents, Ezias and Martha James; and siblings Nena Russell, Dorothy (Abraham) John, Albert James, Marion James, Edward James and Jonathon James.


On behalf of the faculty and staff of the Alaska Native Language Center at the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF), I extend my deepest condolences to you and your family.

Your mother was one of the pioneers for the rest of us in bringing our heart languages to the forefront. It was not an easy task, but your mother endured, and placed the Gwich’in language on the UAF map.

May this short note reflect the honor and respect we have for Ms. Lillian Garnett: a mother, leader, scholar, role model, and pioneer in more ways than one.

My thoughts and prayers during your most difficult time. 


Micheal Krauss teaches language class at UAF in 1961.
In Memoriam: Michael Krauss

Michael E. Krauss (August  15, 1934 –  August 11, 2019)  was an  American linguist, professor emeritus, founder, and long-time head of the Alaska Native Language Center. The Alaska Native Language Archive is named after him.

 A public memorial honoring Dr. Krauss' professional life and career was held in the Davis Concert Hall at the University of Alaska Fairbanks on September 22,  with a potluck immediately afterward in the Great Hall. A memorial service for friends and family was held at the University Community Presbyterian Church on September 23.
Krauss is known foremost as a specialist in Athabascan and the Eyak language, which became extinct in January 2008. However, he worked on all of the 20 Native languages of Alaska, 18 of which belong to the Na-Dene and Inuit-Aleut language families.

Throughout his career, and most notably with his 1991 address to the Linguistic Society of America, Krauss focused on awareness of the global problem of endangered languages. He worked to encourage the documentation and revitalization of endangered languages across the world.

Krauss joined the faculty of the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 1960 and served as director of the Alaska Native Language Center from its inception in 1972 until his retirement in June 2000.  (Wikipedia)

Obituary in the Daily News-Miner (Fairbanks, Alaska):

Michael Edward Krauss, a 56-year resident of Fairbanks, and professor at the University of Alaska Fairbanks since 1960, died at his current home in Needham, Massachusetts, on Aug. 11. He was 84 years old. He was an internationally renowned scholar in linguistics and endangered languages who devoted his career to documenting the 20 languages of Alaska's native people. He is survived by his wife, Molly Lee; brother, Richard Krauss; six children; 15 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild. 

Celebrated linguist of Alaska Native Languages Michael Krauss dies, KTUU Anchorage, August 14, 2019