Kiana Elder imparted a legacy of love
The untimely passing of Kiana Elder Ruth Sandvik shocked and saddened the region last week. Sandvik, 85 was struck by vehicle on April 29 and declared deceased at the clinic in her home village.
Sandvik touched the lives of all who met her and for that, an entire region is grateful. On the morning of her passing, Sandvik was getting ready to send some baked goods to a grieving family of a close friend in Noorvik, said longtime family friend Lorry Schuerch.
That's the kind of person she was, he said. Always giving.
Sandvik's parents owned the Blankenship Trading Post in Kiana, which Sandvik eventually took over with her cousin.
Schuerch's parents also owned a store back then, which caused a little bit of a rivalry, but as they grew up, Schuerch and Sandvik bonded and became close friends.
She was always seeking knowledge and passing it on, Schuerch said.
"When we lost Ruth, we lost a walking encyclopedia," Schuerch said last week. "She had so much knowledge of the Kobuk Valley, the village of Kiana, who was related to who, who's cousin was who; it goes way, way back."
Sandvik's remains were taken to Anchorage for an autopsy after the incident last Tuesday. She will be buried on a family plot upriver from Kiana where her husband is buried, Schuerch said.
"She was such a knowledgeable woman," Schuerch said. "She treated people nice. It didn't matter who it was. And she was always there to help."
Schuerch recalled occasions where Sandvik would close up shop to go along on various archeological projects to help fulfill her quest for more knowledge on the region.
"She just wanted to know what was going on; she was always seeking more knowledge," he said.
Sandvik lived in many places over her 85 years but always considered Kiana home.
"Ruth truly lived both worlds and epitomized how successful a family can be," said family friend Dean Westlake. "Kiana has always been home for her and her family."
Memorial services were held earlier this week in Kiana with a service slated for Friday in Anchorage.
"Whenever I was in Kiana, a stop to Ruth's store was necessary for me," Westlake said. "She had a pulse on everything (happening in) Kiana in particular and regional issues in general."
In 2002, the National Park Service and the Kiana Traditional Council partnered up to create the Kiana Village History Project, of which Sandvik was a part. She and several other community members shared stories and knowledge of the village in recorded interviews that are now available online.
In one section of the interview, Sandvik, the mother of seven children, was asked what she wanted to share with young people that might be listening.
"Well, I'd like — I'd like a miracle," she said in 2002. "I would like them to — I'd like more structure in families here. ... I'd like more parenting done. I think ... there's a big lack of that, which has resulted in a lot of vandalism and break-ins. And I think everything begins in the home."
In the interview, Sandvik also talked about growing up in the region, yearly subsistence cycles and her parents.
"Everything and everyone mattered to her and she had an opinion on most things," offered Westlake. "Whether you wanted to hear it or not, she was going to share it with you if she thought it would help people. It wasn't about Ruth, and it wasn't about me. It was about us, all of us as a people who live in the region."
Sandvik expected a lot of herself and therefore expected a lot from others, and for that she made no apologies because she could see potential in every person, he added.
"Our community has grown a little dimmer without her sage advice and guiding light."
According to the trooper report, Sandvik was struck by a vehicle while trying to help guide it while it was backing up. The investigation is ongoing.
See related obituary on page 10.