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A respected elder and matriarch of the Athabascan people, Hannah Solomon began her work by helping to organize Fort Yukon into an incorporated city and becoming its first female mayor. Using this as a stepping stone, Solomon moved on to help form the Fairbanks Native Association and to become active in the Alaska Federation of Natives, Doyon Ltd. and Tanana Chiefs Conference. Solomon’s beadwork, a skill she learned from her mother, has been nationally recognized and collected by public and private museums and collectors.
Born in Old Rampart of an Alaska Native woman and white father, Solomon was raised by adoptive parents. After her marriage, she lived a traditional subsistence lifestyle in Fort Yukon, where she and her husband raised their 14 children and her husband’s four children. While living there, she became active in community affairs, helping to organize Fort Yukon into an incorporated city and creating a school board. She then became Fort Yukon’s first female mayor.
Solomon had only a few years of elementary school education, but was a strong advocate of education for her children and other young people, particularly Alaska Native youths moving into Fairbanks from rural villages. Solomon spoke fluent Gwich’in and made sure her children learned to speak it as well. After moving to Fairbanks in 1965, which allowed her younger children to attend Lathrop High School, Solomon helped organize and then worked for the Fairbanks Native Association as a social worker. She developed programs for the elderly that are still operation. As an activist and leader in Native affairs, Solomon attended the initial meetings of AFN, Fairbanks Native Association, Doyon Ltd. and Tanana Chiefs Conference and continued to be an active participant throughout her lifetime. In 2011 her 102nd year, she attended and spoke at Doyan’s annual meeting.
Solomon’s beadwork is considered among the finest in the Athabascan tradition and is in the collections of museums, businesses and private collectors in Alaska and elsewhere, including the Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C., University of Alaska Fairbanks Museum of the North, Doyon’s headquarters in Fairbanks, in the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center and Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage. She learned beadwork from her mother, was diligent and persistent (“she was always doing her beadwork” according to a daughter) and modest about her artistic skills. She said once: “I don’t call myself an artist at all because that’s the thing that God gave me to do and I’m doing it.” Solomon loved traditional Athabascan dancing, especially jigging. In 2000 she was awarded the Governor’s Native Arts Award, and throughout the years was invited to participate in many guest-artist and artist/apprentice programs. Solomon was selected by UAF to be an Elder in Residence and was cited for the “wisdom, understanding and friendship” she provided through the program. In recognition of her contributions to the elder program, the Fairbanks Native Association named their senior care building the “Hannah Solomon Building”. She was honored also by the North Star Borough as the Pioneer of the Month, as Doyon Shareholder of the Year as an “inspiration to shareholders” and by the church where she was a longtime parishioner.
Solomon’s long life spanned World War I through the current Iraq and Afghanistan wars. At her death, she was survived by five generations of family. Summarizing Solomon’s influence and importance in both the Alaska Native and non-Native worlds, the Fairbanks Daily News Miner stated in its editorial of Sept. 18, 2011: “At 102, Hannah Solomon has accumulated a wealth of knowledge and wisdom unmatched by but very few in Alaska.”
Induction ceremony acceptance speech https://youtu.be/aSTEPdKdy-M
Doyon, Limited E-Newsletter, October 2011
Artist File, Hannah Solomon, Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, articles on September 16, 2011, September 18, 2011 and Sept. 23, 2011, Editorial, September 18, 2011
Anchorage Daily News, article on March 26, 2000
Susan Fair. Alaska Native Art: Tradition, Innovation, Continuity. University of Alaska Press, 2007
Kate Duncan. Some Warmer Tone. University of Alaska Press, 1984
Richard Nelson. The Athabascans: People of the Boreal Forest. University of Alaska Museum, 1983
Journal of Alaska Native Arts, Jan.-Feb-March 1989