Sarah (Joseph) Abel Chitze
Sarah Abel was born April 10, 1896, on the Chandalar River near Fort Yukon, Alaska to Joseph and Catherine. Times were hard and the family followed the caribou, moving wherever there was food. One of those places was New Rampart House. When Sarah was around three years old, while they were visiting at New Rampart, her mother died. Unable to care for his child, Sarah’s father gave her to Peter and Myra Moses, who adopted her. It was around the time of the drawing up of the boundary between Alaska and Yukon.
In 1913, at the age of seventeen, Sarah married Abel Chitze. They lived at Whitefish Lake, 30 miles up the Porcupine River from Old Crow. Sarah had seventeen children. In 1944, her husband passed away, but Sarah remained in the area for six more years, raising her family by trapping and hunting. In 1950, Sarah moved to Old Crow. She became actively involved in the community and church. She was the first woman Council Member for the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation and for a time was president of the Women’s Auxiliary. As a well-respected spokeswoman, she endeavoured to set an example for the younger generation. Her last recorded speech was on the occasion of her 100th birthday, on April 10, 1996.
As an esteemed elder and the matriarch of the community, Sarah, with wisdom gleamed from the past, provided a source of strength and guidance, teaching the many traditions and stories of her people to native and non-native alike. She was Shitsuu (Grandma) Sarah to all who came to know her. She watched as the young country took its first steps, struggled to overcome its growing pains and the many changes to her lifestyle as it came into its own. She watched as canvas boats and dog teams gave way to Skidoos, motorboats and the airplane, from man walking on snowshoes to walking on the moon. Then in later years she watched as her nationcame of ag e and began the struggle to overcome the past and forge a new future.
On August 14, 1998, Sarah Abel Chitze passed away at her home in Old Crow, Yukon, at the age of 102 years.
Photo: VGG Archives, Dicquemare Collection, VG1999-01-15