Hooper Bay Elder passes on in Seattle

by Trim Nick on October 11, 2012

NEVA RIVERS Photo courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution

One of the southwest coast’s beloved and respected elders was laid to rest Sunday afternoon in Hooper Bay after passing unexpectedly in Seattle. Neva Rivers worked tirelessly for her community throughout the years.

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Neva (Hunter) Rivers of Hooper Bay died at the University Hospital in Seattle, Washington while awaiting a heart valve transplant on September 28th.

Paniyaraq, as she was known by Yup’ik name or affectionately as Auna, Neva was born in 1920 and worked as a traditional counselor for the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation until her retirement. She is one of the last surviving elders from the Hooper Bay area, who recalled life in sod houses and the arrival of the first outsiders into her home region.

Neva was has a long history of public service for her community. She served on the local school board in Hooper Bay and was secretary for the village council. She was one of a few bilingual elders from her age group, as she attended the first school in Hooper Bay up to the 8th grade. Neva was also an adult basic education teacher and was a Board member of SWANA.

She served as a Community Health Representative for YKHC and often traveled and Anchorage and Juneau for meetings. She was also a VISTA volunteer, and traveled to the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. with other elders from the region, to identify and assist the museum in understanding the collection of Yup’ik artifacts and relics they hold there.

Neva was very active as a classroom resource person for children and young adults in Hooper Bay, for whom she cared very deeply. She understood the importance of passing on traditional knowledge to Yup’ik children. Neva was selected as 2011 “Yukegtaar” or Person of the Year by the Tundra Women’s Coalition. She was 92 years old.

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