My friend Allan Hayton recently wrote about the Takudh Holy Communion. It is a service that took place at the St. Matthews Episcopal Church in Fairbanks. Allan Hayton is Gwich’in Athabascan originally from Arctic Village. Thank you Allan for sharing your writing and photo on the Athabascan Woman Blog!
The 2014 Holy Communion Service in Takudh was a great success! Attendees came from the communities of Beaver, Fort Yukon, Eagle, Stevens Village, Birch Creek, Chalkyitsik, Circle, Arctic Village, Venetie, Fort McPherson, Dawson, Whitehorse, and Old Crow. The purpose of this Takudh service is community building, reconnecting with friends and family, revitalizing Athabascan language and culture, and most importantly to celebrate and worship together. The response to the service has been positive, and many would like to see another Takudh Holy Communion service again soon. K’eegwaadhat k’iighe’, it will not be long before we see that happen.
The road to this midsummer evening’s service was long, and made possible by the many who have gone before us. Takudh is the liturgical language used in Episcopal and Anglican churches in Gwich’in communities of Alaska and Canada. Archdeacon Robert McDonald, along with first language Gwich’in speakers, spent over 40 years from the 1860s to the early 1900s translating the Old and New Testaments, Book of Common Prayer, Psalms, 170 hymns, and the Doxologies into Gwich’in language. When Fairbanks was still just a tent city, Gwich’in people in Alaska and Canada were already conducting services in traditional Athabascan language.
McDonald’s work meant greater autonomy for Gwich’in people by being able to worship in our own language, and his Takudh translations were quickly adopted among our people. Because of the church policy of developing leadership from within the community, many Gwich’in people have been ordained over the years. Here in Alaska, we have had William Loola, Albert Tritt, Isaac Tritt Sr., Paul Tritt Sr., James Gilbert, Philip Peter, Titus Peter, David Salmon, Trimble Gilbert, Mary Nathaniel, Mardow Solomon, and Bella Jean Savino in Alaska, and Ellen Bruce, John Martin, Richard Martin, William Nijootli , Amos Njootli, Big Joe Kyikavichik, Edward Sittichinli, Lazarus Sittichinli, Percy Henry, Hannah Alexie, and Marian Schafer in Canada. It is because the clergy were all Gwich’in themselves, that Gwich’in people identified with and adopted this new religion McDonald definitely wanted to Christianize Gwich’in people, but not necessarily “civilize”, he saw Gwich’in people as already being civilized. This is in contrast to other denominations’ and government policies of “kill the Indian, and save the man”. Gwich’in language and culture was strengthened in many ways by the respect McDonald showed.
The new skill of literacy was put to use by people to communicate by mail between villages, and people such as Albert Tritt maintained extensive journals in Takudh language. This tradition of literacy is a long and proud historical legacy that Gwich’in people are hoping to carry on for future generations. Today, there is a Facebook group dedicated to study of Takudh language and liturgy; a YouTube channel features videos of hymns and prayers in Takudh; and a Takudh singing group in Fairbanks has been growing and they are regularly invited to sing at church services, and public events. The Yukon Native Language Centre is a great support for the study of Takudh, with an extensive library of recordings & materials, and holds a regular session in November for those seeking to learn. Their support of this service was invaluable.
This service was originally to be held late summer 2013 to mark the tenth anniversary since the last one held at Saint Matthew’s in 2003, but travel and schedule issues forced the planning group to move the service to June 2014. “It was all in God’s plan”, as it is said, and things came together in due time.
The plan for the 2013 service was to include a 2-credit class at UAF, and two weeks to prepare, much as it was in 2003. Instead, the preparation was divided into a Whitehorse session in November, followed by a gathering in Fairbanks just prior to the service.
People began arriving Sunday June 8th. Joanne Snowshoe and William Firth traveled from Fort McPherson via Edmonton and Seattle to be with us. Shortly after their arrival, there was news of a tragedy in their hometown, and there was a possibility they would need to return home to assist the community. The same day we also lost a community member from Old Crow who lived locally. After prayer, it was decided that the only way was to proceed with the service. These losses to our community added an extra sense of purpose to God’s work before us.
We gathered Tuesday morning in the Parish Hall, we had two days to prepare before the service. Despite the time limitation, we were able to get the parts of the service divided and assigned, and everyone did their best to practice and study their parts.
After two full days of practice and study in the Parish Hall, we moved into the Sanctuary itself on Thursday morning for a walk through of the service. We needed to get a feel of how we will be moving as the service progressed, to work out the “choreography”. Some who had not been able to join us the previous days, were added at this point.
Finally the service began and with the blessing of the Holy Spirit, everyone did their part beautifully. The church that evening was filled with a joyous celebration of song, prayer, and laughter.
The perseverance and faith of all those worked diligently toward this evening were paid off with a glorious service. One parishioner remarked “that was more Athabascan language than I’ve heard in my whole life, thank you!” It was a blessing indeed.
All in attendance that evening were inspired by God’s love, and the Holy Spirit. We hope it will not be another 11 years before we see another Takudh Holy Communion. Mahsi’ K’eegwaadhat!
Dinero, S. (2003). “‘The Lord Will Provide’: The History and Role of Episcopalian Christianity in Nets’aii Gwich’in Social Development – Arctic Village, Alaska,”, Indigenous Nations Studies Journal, vol. 4(1): 3-28
Moore, P. (2007). Archdeacon Robert McDonald and Gwich’in Literacy, Anthropological Linguistics, 49(1), pp. 27-53
A Gwich’in communion
Visitors expected from eight villages, Canada to attend Holy Communion Service spoken in Gwich’in
Fairbanks Church Plans Service in Gwich’in Dialect
Alaska church plans Holy Communion service in Gwich’in dialect for US, Canada speakers
All-Gwich’in Communion Service planned
Written by Allan Hayton and published with permission.