Potlatch held to honor incoming Doyon president

Posted: Sunday, February 10, 2002

NENANA (AP) -- A potlatch held to honor the incoming president of Doyon was a chance for the people of Nenana to rejoice.

It also helped the community of Northway to heal after the death of Rosemarie Maher, Orie Williams' predecessor who died unexpectedly last July. Ten people from Northway traveled to Nenana for the potlach.

''Generally these occasions have been more solemn,'' said Jack Irwin, first chief of Nenana Native Council. ''This is a chance for celebration.''

Williams, who grew up in Nenana and is finishing up his job as executive vice president of the Bethel-based Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation, was named Doyon's president in January. He'll report to work in Fairbanks on Feb. 19.

''Not a day too soon,'' said Mike Irwin, Doyon's chairman of the board. ''We have our annual meeting coming in five weeks. He has to jump right in on that.''

Williams said he planned to meet with each department in Doyon, the heads of Doyon's six subsidiaries and business partners.

Williams appeared humbled and overwhelmed by the attention he received at Saturday's potlatch. About 350 people attended, many of them from the state's Alaska Native leadership. One after another presented him with chief's necklaces, symbols of honor made with dentalium shells, glass beads and bits of moosehide. Soon they were heaped around his neck.

A half a dozen women from the Alaska Highway village of Northway near the Canadian border drove to Nenana to present Williams with a chief's coat they made. The coat was made of navy blue cloth and was trimmed in black beaver fur, beads and shells.

''We just have a lot of respect for him,'' said Lorraine Titus, one of the seamstresses.

Williams said he wants to strengthen ties between Tanana Chiefs Conference and Doyon.

''He brings a unique experience to the position,'' said TCC president Steve Ginnis. ''I told him, 'Welcome back to Indian country.''' Bethel and surrounding communities are largely populated by Yupik people. The Alaska Natives of the Interior are Athabascan.

Williams will be sorely missed after he moves to Fairbanks, said Katherine Gottlieb, Southcentral Foundation president.

''You guys chose well,'' Gottlieb said. ''He's going to be great.''

After empty plates were cleared from the feast of salmon, moose and salads, the Fairbanks Native Association singers and dancers performed.

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