Tribe contributes to Russian Orthodox cemetery cleanup
Over the summer, members of the Tribe’s Facilities and Maintenance crew put in some extra work to help clean up the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Cemetery in Old Town Kenai.
The cemetery is a significant place for the Kenaitze Indian Tribe. The Russian Orthodox Church in Kenai was founded in 1846, and over the years, many Tribal Members have been interred in the cemetery.
Mary Ann Mills, Tribal Council Vice Chair and Chair of the Tribe’s Elders Committee, said a number of people had noticed that the cemetery had gotten to be overgrown.
Trevor Smagge, a Tribal Member and Maintenance Technician, said that after his grandmother, Rita Smagge, passed away over the summer, he wanted to visit the cemetery to see other relatives who have been interred there. He found waist-high grass and brush obscuring much of the site, and was moved to do something about it.
“Our Tribal values include honoring our past, and our past Tribal Members,” Smagge said, adding that the work to clean up the cemetery is about “honoring our Tribe’s past and present.”
Smagge said the Tribe was an important part of his upbringing, and he has attended burials at the cemetery for family members who belonged to the church.
The Elders Committee asked Elders staff to reach out to the church to see if assistance was needed. Maintenance staff were asked to help out, and Smagge took the lead on the project.
Brandi Bell, Elders and Transportation Manager, said the Tribe’s maintenance crew has a well-earned reputation for getting things done – and doing them well.
When they had down time from their other job duties, maintenance staff stopped by the cemetery to clear brush and do some landscaping work.
The crew hauled away six truckloads of brush. Uneven ground made the work a challenge and required the use of a brush hog to do the work, rather than a regular lawnmower.
The intent is that all the work will make the cemetery easier to maintain going forward.
“Almost all – if not all – of the people in the cemetery are our people,” Mills said. “It was really important. To honor our relatives, we wanted to get it cleaned up.”
Mills said she is grateful to all of those who helped with the work. Those pitching in included Andy Ellestad, George LaRoque, Quintin Kimball and Victor Evan Jr.
“It really is an honorable thing,” Mills said.
Father Peter, who is Rector at the church, said the church appreciates the help.
“We’re really grateful for the incredible job the work crew did,” Father Peter said.
Father Peter said the church has a long-term beautification plan for the cemetery that includes walking paths and seating.
“We’re grateful to God for the partnership we have with the Kenaitze Tribe,” Father Peter said.
Smagge said he is happy to have been able to help.
“It’s very important to remember where we came from,” Smagge said. “I’m glad we got to do that.”