Kashega elder Eva Tcheripanoff dies at age 90

Eva Tcheripanoff died in Anchorage on March 22, 2018. The 90-year-old Unangan elder was born in Kashega in 1928. (Photo courtesy of Julia Dushkin)

Eva Tcheripanoff — the last person born in the traditional village of Kashega — has died.

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Tcheripanoff grew up in the small Unangan community on Unalaska Island and spent the 1930s hunting foxes, eating dry fish and playing with homemade stone dolls.

That all changed during World War II, when Kashega was evacuated and never resettled. But she came through the upheaval and lived a long life of 90 years.

Eva Tcheripanoff was in her late 70s when she sat down for this interview with historian Ray Hudson.

TCHERIPANOFF: (In Unangam Tunuu and English) “I was born in Kashega and I used to play around.”

HUDSON: “Eva, when were you born in Kashega?”

TCHERIPANOFF: “1928.”

HUDSON: “And who were your parents?”

TCHERIPANOFF: “My mother was Sophie …”

Sophie Borenin was an accomplished basket weaver from Chernofski. Her father, Alec Kudrin, was a Kashega hunter who died shortly before she was born.

“We lived with my uncle,” Tcheripanoff said in the interview with Hudson. “Nobody had running water except us.”

Eva Tcheripanoff hunted foxes with her Uncle William in the 1930s. (Photo courtesy of Julia Dushkin)

Tcheripanoff’s Uncle William fixed up the family home with a tin sink and flush toilet, but they still lived pretty traditionally. The family spoke Unangam Tunuu. They stored their fish in bags made from sea lion stomachs. And Tcheripanoff’s mom even sewed her a kamleika from seal gut. She wore the waterproof parka while paddling around in skin boats, which were just being usurped by metal skiffs.

TCHERIPANOFF: “I used to ride in the baidarkas.”

HUDSON: “Did you?”

TCHERIPANOFF: “Yeah. I tipped over one time in the lake. I was just hollering and hollering! Finally, somebody took a baidarka and picked me up.”

Tcheripanoff was the only kid in Kashega, so she had the run of the place until 1942. That’s when the Japanese attacked Dutch Harbor, some 30 miles across Unalaska Island. After the bombings, the American government evacuated Unangan people from the Aleutian and Pribilof region, including about 20 at Kashega.

“There was no time to take anything, because we can’t wait for those planes to come back. They might bomb us, you know? That was terrible,” Tcheripanoff said in the Hudson interview.

As a child, Eva Tcheripanoff rode horses at the Kashega ranch. (Photo courtesy of Julia Dushkin)

That was also the last time Tcheripanoff saw her home. The Unangax spent the rest of the war in internment camps in southeast Alaska — and after the fighting was over, Kashega was never resettled. Tcheripanoff eventually moved to Unalaska in search of a new home. It was hard to do, but it helped that she brought her new husband with her, as she explained to Kay Deffendall on “Eye on Unalaska.”

DEFFENDALL: “Hi! This is Kay Deffendall here for another segment of ‘Eye on Unalaska.’ And this week, we’re here with John and Eva Tcheripanoff. Hi, guys!”

TCHERIPANOFFS:  “Hi.”

In this interview, on their 50th wedding anniversary, Tcheripanoff explained how she met John at the Ward Lake internment camp. He was originally from Akutan.

DEFFENDALL: “You never knew each other and then you met down in Southeast?”

TCHERIPANOFF: “Yes, we did.”

DEFFENDALL: “And fell in love immediately?”

TCHERIPANOFF: “Yeah. So we got married, and then I had my kid the same month. My oldest daughter. Fast work!”

Eva and John Tcheripanoff were married on St. Paul Island while he worked in commercial sealing. They later moved to Unalaska. (Photo courtesy of Julia Dushkin)

The Tcheripanoffs had 10 children during their time together, and Eva joked that she loved her husband so much she married him three times. Once, before a judge. Again, before a priest. And finally, at a vow renewal.

DEFFENDALL: “You’ve done a lot of things in your life. You’ve seen a lot of changes out here. So are you looking forward to another 50 years?”

TCHERIPANOFF:  “Sixty years!”

When her husband died in 2000, Tcheripanoff moved from their Unalaska home to the senior center. Her daughter Julia Dushkin says it was another difficult transition.

“She missed my dad so much,” Dushkin explained.

Dushkin says Tcheripanoff made a point of being out in the community, staying active and spending time with her wide circle of friends.

“She didn’t care much to be home alone or anything like that,” Dushkin said. “She wanted to be out with friends. You know, go here and go there. Get her nails done.”

While life in modern-day Unalaska was different than Tcheripanoff’s childhood in Kashega, Dushkin says some of her favorite memories of her mother can help keep the old ways alive — at least a little bit.

“I asked her to teach me how to braid seal gut with the meat and the fat,” Dushkin said. “She took yarn and put it in my fingers. ‘Go like this. Go like that.’ It just tangled up my fingers and I couldn’t. I can’t, you know? [But] I can always remember her telling me, ‘Go this way. Go that way.’”

Eva Tcheripanoff died in Anchorage on March 22. Only a few Kashega-born Unangax are still alive today. Their home community has been uninhabited for almost 76 years.