In our own Backyard

Story last updated at 6:42 PM on Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Ninilchik tribal elders served by outreach program

By McKibben Jackinsky
For the Homer News


Photo provided

Ninilchik tribal elders gather for lunch every Wednesday as part of Ninilchik Traditional Council's Elders Outreach Program.

Early spring sunshine pouring through windows warms the inside of Ninilchik Traditional Council's subsistence building, but it's the people loosely gathered around tables, enjoying a meal and visiting with one another, that are the real heart of the weekly Wednesday luncheon.

This is a gathering of elders, tribal members who are 55 and older and reside within tribal boundaries stretching from Kasilof River to Kachemak Bay. Many of them are descendants of Ninilchik's founding families, giving them a shared heritage. Some still have accents tinged with Russian, the first language of villagers until the early 1900s.

The Wednesday activity is part of NTC's Elders Outreach Program, coordinated by Tiffany Stonecipher and developed around a mission to "enhance quality of life, integrity of heritage and emblematic of respect and dignity, continuously promoting independent living while simultaneously capturing the history and traditions of our culture."

Ninilchik Traditional Council's Elders Outreach Program

Tiffany Stonecipher, coordinator

Ninilchik Community Clinic Annex

9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday through Friday

(907) 567-3370

Bi-monthly newsletter

Scheduled activities:• Luncheon, noon, Wednesdays, NTC Subsistence Building, directly across from Ninilchik School

• Elders Activity Night, first and last Thursday of every month, beginning in May.

• Elders Fishery, beginning June 4; call for information and to sign up.

Small wonder that NTC should have a program for its elder enrollees. After all, Ninilchik was originally founded in the 1800s by the Russian American Company as a community for pensioners, their Native or Creole wives and families.

And small wonder that Stonecipher should be coordinating the program. Born in Homer, she is from a multi-generational Ninilchik family. She was raised in and graduated from high school in Ninilchik. After graduation, Stonecipher attended the Art Institute of Seattle, earning a degree in culinary arts. For the next 11 years, she continued to work in the Pacific Northwest, cooking in different venues.

In December, Stonecipher received news of her grandmother, Edna Matson Steik's failing health and returned to Ninilchik.

"I thought it was very important to get as much personal time with her and family as possible," said Stonecipher.

She stayed near her grandmother's side, administering medicine, preparing meals and carefully scheduling visits from the many relatives and acquaintances so as not to exhaust Steik.

After Steik's death in January, Stonecipher was presented with the opportunity to become the coordinator of the Elders Outreach Program. Feeling it was the right decision, she is using the weekly luncheons as a starting point and as an opportunity for continuing to cook.

"I get to cook four times a month and we are planning other programs like summer barbecues, beach picnics, activities to get the youth and elders together, and those in the middle, too, the parents, aunties and uncles so we don't lose any of our culture and traditions," said Stonecipher.

Her enthusiasm comes from her own childhood memories of learning to wrap fish in seaweed and cook it in the coals of a fire, of being shown how to make baleek, smoked salmon, of learning a smattering of Russian words, "the things that continue to bring our traditions together," she said.

Attendance at the luncheons has been on the rise, proving to Stonecipher there's an interest in its purpose.

"We're getting anywhere from 14-20 people every Wednesday," she said. "And I'm encouraging people to bring friends and family and other tribal members in other tribes as well. We've got local people enrolled in the Kenaitze tribe that helped establish Ninilchik, so this lets them know they're important, too."

The luncheons also are a way for Stonecipher to become familiar with the needs of the tribal elders and discover how the program can meet those needs.

For some it might be assistance hauling away trash. For others, it's picking up prescriptions at a pharmacy in Soldotna or Homer or going grocery shopping. Stonecipher is available to help with all of that, thanks to a van the program owns.

She also is coordinating a weekly activities night beginning in May, and scheduling participation in NTC's educational fishery program to ensure fresh fish for now and next winter. That program begins in June.

Also being planned is a boat trip to the clam beds at Polly Creek, where many elders dug clams commercially in years past.

"This program is a little bit more than just a weekly luncheon," said Stonecipher. "It's meant to serve the elders in the community."

It also is Stonecipher's connection to her grandmother.

"I really feel like this opportunity came at the right time, in the right place, and I could hear her say, 'this is what you should do,'" said Stonecipher. "It makes me feel good to give back to the people who raised me."

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at