In Memory Of

Ellen Demit

When you think your having a rough day, think of this strong and determined woman, Ellen Demit. Remember her name and be is INSPIRED! She did what she had to do to feed her children and provide for her family. We all need to learn from our pass Grandmothers who did what they had to do. We need to be there for our children. Whether our children need food, clothing, a safe home, good education, any physical or mental help, WE NEED TO BE THERE! Look where we are today? We aren’t providing the healthy life our children need. We’ve stopped being a family and doing what we need to do, like Ellen. I hope this story inspires many to look back and remember the old ways, everyone had to work together for their family and did what they had to do. We easily walk away and let others raise our children, it’s about ME not WE! Our Grandmothers were TOUGH!!! We come from this and we can be this, it has to go back to the love of our family and survival mode!!! We are honored to have Ellen on our journey who will lead us and empower our youth to become strong, healthy leaders for our communities!! We are doing our healing journey for our Grandmothers. We shall make them smile from the heavens and bless the little children. 

Ellen Demit, 1913-2009, Chena, Goodpaster River and Healy Lake

Ellen Demit, mother of Agnes Henry and Daisy Northway, was an overcomer to the nth degree. She had nothing easy and became a mother and a grandmother who did whatever was needed to take care of her little ones.

Ellen was born in the old village of Chena about 1913 to Julius and Eva John. Old Luke, a medicine man, and his wife Anne, originally of Chena, had just lost a baby. Old Luke made several trips to Chena asking to adopt the Johns’ new baby, Ellen. At three months of age, Ellen was adopted by Anne Luke and Old Luke (parents of nine-year-old Abraham and his brother Frank Luke). The Lukes migrated to Wood River and then, to the mouth of the Goodpaster River. When Ellen was only three years old, her adopted mother Anne got sick. Old Luke ran to Healy Lake for help. While he was gone, Anne died. Her stepbrother Abraham tried to take care of her at the mouth of the Goodpaster but he was too young. When Old Luke married Chief Healy’s daughter, Mary, it was proposed that Saline and her husband, “Blind Jimmy,” who’d just lost their only daughter, adopt Ellen. Chief Healy approved and Ellen then had a good home with her new father Jimmy who, despite being blind, taught her to hunt and trap, skills she relied on all her life in rearing her own children.

Ellen married Frank Felix of Ketchumstuk/Tanacross and they had eight children. However during the 1946 epidemic that devastated Healy Lake, Frank and Ellen lost three of their children. The Alcan Highway had just been built. To try and save the others, Chief John Healy and the survivors moved to the Gerstle river to an encampment on the new military road, the Alcan. Frank and Ellen finished burying their children and her parents in the mass Healy Lake grave, and were the last to leave the lake.

At the Gerstle River, when Ellen’s husband got sick and was dying, she got him and their two very young children (eight-year-old Agnes and ten-month-old Daisy) on a military bus to Dot Lake, where he might get some help. The military bus driver wouldn’t let Ellen’s dogs on the bus so she walked the twenty-three miles with her animals to Dot Lake. After Ellen’s husband died, she took her children and dogs back toward the Gerstle. With the skills she’d learned from her blind father, she did all she could to keep her family going: setting rabbit snares, digging a fire pit and cooking meat with heated rocks. She later said, “I’m a woman. I go through this lot of pain. But I made it. I always think I get up, ‘I can’t do it.’ I always think, ‘Yeah, I could do.’ I go out see my trap line, my rabbit snare. I do anything for my kids to eat. Not for my kids be hungry. I don’t have welfare check, I don’t have food stamp. Like other people does. I have hard life. I raise up my kids with trap line. Out there on the land. I raise my children with fish and ducks, moose, caribou, everything what’s in my way, I get it for my children to eat. Back days we don’t have a ‘frigerator. You attention, you listen to grandmother and grandfather, you goin’ learn.”

Ellen later moved to Tok and worked as a maid and cook in a restaurant to support her family. She did marry once more and suffered abuse but even from that, she was an overcomer. Ellen was a teacher of her traditional ways and language and made sure her grandchildren knew the art of being able to survive out in the woods. She taught them to reach their own potential through hard work. Her daughters Agnes Henry and Daisy Northway and are a testament to Ellen’s dedicated motherhood and refusal to give up even in the most dire of circumstances. Ellen said, “Every time I come home, this village (Healy Lake) just peaceful life for me. I done so many thing woman can’t do.” When she passed in 2009, Ellen had thirteen grandchildren and twenty-nine great-grandchildren. She was the mother to Healy Lake.


 By Judy Ferguson, Daisy Northway and


Photo poster and text by John Rusyniak.


Family is welcome to add to the Ellen Demit basket to be auctioned at the June 7th event to raise funds for caravan from Fairbanks to Northway and Nenana, June 7-11. Before June 4th, please contact Cynthia Erickson or Deanna Houlton with your donation to honor Ellen Demit.