It is one of those unexpected passings; our cousin Pat Mills passed away a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been thinking of his free spirit, a kind of happiness that I call “happy boy” that showed up especially in his Native dancing or while fishing on the Mary Joanne. I got to thinking about the vessel with a lifetime of history quietly incubating at the dock in Hoonah. I remembered the first and last time I was on the boat: August 1979 on the West side of Glacier Bay called Dundas Bay. My Aunt Katherine Mills, Aunt Sue Belarde, mother Irene Lampe and all the cousins went aboard three vessels from Hoonah to Dundas Bay – it was a rare and glorious sunny day.
Dundas Bay is a part of Glacier Bay National Park which still legally belongs to the four clans in Hoonah who have claimed Glacier Bay as part of their homeland. The four clans are the Wooshkeetaan (Shark), the Kaagwaantaan (Wolf), the Chookaneidee (Bear) and the T’akdeintaan (Black-legged Kittywake; that’s our clan). Auntie Katherine Mills, who was the eldest of my aunts and uncles with my mother as the youngest of her siblings, said that every year her mom and dad, aunts, uncles, brothers, sisters and cousins would set up camp and gather subsistence foods of the land and sea in Dundas Bay. (Of course, this included gathering wild strawberries and the unique nagoon berry!) She reminded us that Grandma Sarabia’s maiden name was Wilson who had several brothers including Shorty and Mike Wilson. All grandma’s brothers were avid hunters and fisherman. (Mike Wilson also enjoyed gardening. My father and I too!)
As Pat anchored the Mary JoAnne in the bay, Aunt Katherine pointed to two peaks of the Eastern mountain range and explained they were the landmarks for the right place for the nagoon berry patch and where the family used to camp. She said we will go through the trees in the direction between the two peaks and when we come out of the trees there would be a big meadow in a big valley. We took small skiffs to the steep shoreline. I remember how quickly the water moved past even while waiting on board the MaryJoanne; it just proved how swift and strong the river was flowing into the sea even though we could not see the mouth of the river. The place smelled clean and fresh and there was a feeling of true wilderness; the land was brand new.
Surrounded by dark-gray mountains, we indeed came out of the treeline to the berry patch in a valley about 3 to 5 miles long and a mile wide. Imagine a berry patch being THAT big! We spent the entire late morning into the late afternoon picking the best nagoon berries ever! At the end of the day, most of us had picked two 5-gallon buckets – and these berries were about as far away from mankind as you could get so the plants were not just the 8″-high plant we find around the Juneau area; they were 18″ high, like up to my knee, I kid you not! The berries were as big as a man’s thumb! I have thought about that berry patch every year since. If digital cameras were invented then, there’d be lots of photos smeared all over Facebook. Alas, this was almost 32 years ago; we didn’t even have an inkling of digital stuff back then!
Anyway, let’s get back to Pat. What about the Chilkat robe image?
A couple of days ago, as I was thinking about Pat, his wife Karen, the FV Mary Joanne, the berry-picking trip, my aunties and all those from our family who have passed away, I suddenly got this image in my mind: A Chilkat robe in honor of Pat Mills. I want to design a robe that incorporates our T’akDeinTaan clan emblem the Black-legged Kittywake flying around the FV Mary Joanne. When am I going to weave the robe? I don’t know. I am just in the stages of designing and sketching it. Maybe I’ll do a painting of the robe?
Who’s Pat Mills? Here’s his obituary – written by several nieces and nephews with the assistance of his wife, Karen:
“Patrick Gilbert Mills was born May 6, 1947 at the Mill’s home (“down the house’) in Hoonah, Alaska to Gilbert and Katherine Mills. He was a life-long resident of Hoonah. He died January 24 at the Alaska native Medical Center in Anchorage with Karen, his wife of 34 years at his side and surrounded by family and friends.
Pat was a devoted member of the Russian Orthodox Church along with the rest of his siblings. All being competitive, the boys were always challenging each other to be the best alter boy. Needless to say, Pat usually won.
He is a member of the TakDeinTaan Clan and represented the clan at many ceremonies throughout SE Alaska. Pat was the house leader for the Kaa Shaayi hit, head house and is also from Tax’Hit, Snail House. His Tlingit name is Yiskeiwdusa. He loved to dance and was a lively participant at memorial parties and Celebration. Pat is Wooshkeetaan Yadi and Kaagwaantaan dachxan.
Pat was a member of the second graduating class in Hoonah in 1965. He was voted the Most Outstanding Player of the first Hoonah Braves basketball team in 1964. His love of basketball extended to many Gold Medal Tournaments. He was a strong supporter of many Hoonah City Schools sports events. He served in the U.S. Army from 1966-68. As a member of the Signal Corps, he was stationed in Germany. After his discharge, Pat returned to college, earning his Associates from the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
He married the love of his life, Karen Singleton, in a beautiful ceremony outside his grandparent’s cabin in Excursion Inlet on July 31, 1976. A wonderful time was had by all. Each year Pat and Karen always made time for each other to celebrate their wedding anniversary even though it was in the middle of fishing season. Pat and Karen, Karen and Pat — the names just go together after all these years.
Pat lived the fisherman’s dream from birth. He first fished with his father and then progressed through the ranks starting as bull cook up to Captain. He fished everything before everything went limited entry. Pat fished for other Captains including Jacob Pratt Sr., Richard Bean Sr., Warren Sheakley Sr., Dan Sharclane, Sr., Richard McKinley, and Bobby Duncan. Later, he operated the F/V Alberta before buying the F/V Mary Joanne. Pat seine fished, crabbed, long-lined, and trolled. In the past few years he and Karen enjoyed their new skiff and took many family members for rides and fishing trips.
He strongly believed in the traditional and cultural values of the Tlingit Nation, from the gathering and harvesting foods from our land to the roles played by uncles and elders. He took the time to teach and share with others our culture and history. He had such interesting stories about what Grandma Mary Sarabia and Grandpa Juan Sarabia said and did in daily interactions with others. He said, “We could tell who was an important visitor by which snacks we had to set out.” He and Karen have been very proud supporters of the annual “School Ku.eex.” They donated time and foods harvested by their hands. Pat spent a lot of his time fishing and hunting and was generous, sharing his bounty with elders and other family members. He loved kahaakw and often made jars of it to share with others.
He was intensely interested in preserving the family’s Tlingit history. He worked to preserve old tapes and videos of songs, stories and dances and shared them with other family members. Pat was concerned about Tlingit land rights. He wrote many letters to his legislators, Sealaska, Huna Totem and the Juneau Empire. He was not shy about letting people know what he thought and why.
Along with his grandparents, parents, siblings and many cousins, Pat spent his summers, and some winters in Excursion Inlet. Later, he and Karen built a cabin on their land at Excursion Inlet. They called it ‘the nest’ because you had to climb 56 steps to reach it.
Pat is survived by his wife, Karen S. Mills, sisters, Eleanor Moritz, Rosemary (Tom) Jimboy, Judy Mills, Kathy (John Marvin, first cousins, considered and raised as sisters due to the loss of their father when they were very young, Linda Belarde, Edna (Sam) Lamebull, and Daphne (Frank) Wright, brothers, Tony, George, tom, Mike, Chris, Stuart, and Jeff, adopted daughters, Margaret and Carol Haube, numerous nieces nephews cousins, and many others who called him “Uncle Pat” and “Grandpa”, aunts Irene Lampe, Helen Sarabia, Marie Shodda, and Theresa Howard and uncle John Howard. He was preceded in death by his grandparents, Mary Wilson Brown Sarabia, Paul Brown and Juan Sarabia, Albert and Emma Mills, his parents, Katherine (Brown) and Gilbert Mills, brother Gilbert “Butch” Mills, sister Phyllis Mills Bean, aunts Sue Belarde and Margaret McKinley and uncles Ed and Bobby Sarabia, Bill Lampe and James McKinley, and his beloved Salt and Pepper.
Services were held at the Tlingit and Haida Community Center in Juneau on Friday, January 28th and a service in Hoonah at the school on Saturday, January 29.”
Young relatives created a Facebook page in honor of Pat, click here to view continuing contributions of photo images and read: “We Love Pat Mills”