I am Zelma Louie Fairchild, Gwich’in Athabascan born and raised in Fort Yukon. I was born into a large family, with 11 sibling, 7 sisters and 4 brothers. I was named after my Godmother Zelma Kelly and my grandpa Louie Fairchild.
My father is Clifton Louie Fairchild, born in Cooperstown New York, He worked himself to Alaska as a Plumber, and taught himself to fly. He became a bush pilot and started “Yukon Air Service’ back in the 50’s. My mother is Margaret Cadzow Fairchild, born and raised along the Black River. My parents also ran a lodge call Gwich’in Inn.
My paternal grandparents Louie and Edith Fairchild, migrated from Ireland. My maternal grandparents Ben and Julia Thomas, they are descendants of the Yukon flats, Black River, Salmon River and Porcupine River, Gwich’in Athabascan tribes.
I became interested in sewing, back in the early 70’s I was in Fairbanks, it was 60 below, and the airlines weren’t flying. I was stuck there for over a week and a half. My auntie Minnie Salmon was also stuck there, she is from Chalkyitsik Alaska. My aunt Minnie taught me how to sew beads then, and I have been sewing since then.
Then later my mother taught me to sew martin hats, canvas boots, slippers and beaver mitts. That was when I also learned to use the sewing machine. I enjoy sewing for my kids, grandkids, nieces, nephews and friends.
Fort Yukon is located at the confluence of the Yukon and Porcupine river. Trapping and native handicrafts still provide income. Subsistence is an important component of the local culture. Residents rely on subsistence foods, such as salmon, whitefish, moose, bear, caribou and water-fowl. At one time Fort Yukon became an important trade center for the Gwich’in Athabascan.
My favorite thing to do in Fort Yukon is to walk along the Yukon River year around and see the differences in the seasons (Winter =The most beautiful experience is the spectacular shows of the northern lights. (Spring = The Yukon River break-up. (Summer = The singing of the birds, all the pretty flowers, camping and fishing and listening to the thunder. (Fall = The beautiful colors of all the leaves changing, the start of picking berries and the experience of going moose hunting.
I like to share my time sewing with other people, and see the differences in their sewing. I believe it is very important to pass our knowledge and traditional skill to our younger generation.
Here, I am pictured with my granddaughter Carmen with the beaded baby strap and the moose skin dress, that I sewed. It used to be the traditional way of carrying our babies.