The Society for the Study of the Indigenous Languages of the Americas

Richard Andrew Silas 1951-2016

Richard Andrew Silas 1951-2016

Willem de Reuse’s note:  this was one of the 7 fluent speakers of Han Athabaskan, so there are now 6 left.

Richard Andrew Silas was born Nov. 2, 1951, to Charles Silas Sr. and Nancy Malcolm Silas in Eagle. He was the second oldest child of six children born in the family. Dickey was brought up in the Han Gwich’in culture and was a fluent speaker of the Han language. He grew up in Eagle Village all his life and continued to live there a few weeks before his death.
Dickey was an avid hunter, and he was chief of his village at one point in his early years. Despite being underage, he joined the military at 17 because he loved his country and was willing to go to great lengths to keep his family and his country safe. He was deployed into the Vietnam War and served as a helicopter mechanic. He was sent on dangerous missions with no guarantee of return. Many of his comrades felt safe knowing he was aboard during their missions because he was incredibly knowledgeable in his profession. He was known to his family and friends as “Boh’ tzou” which means in the Han Gwichin language, “medicine man.”
In winter 1978, he met Fanny Williams, of Fort Yukon. He was a little bit older than Fanny but not by much, and their relationship bloomed and in fall 1979, little Samantha Renee was born. Sam was the apple of his eye. He loved and doted on her. She was nicknamed “Klonzi” which means left-handed. Together, Dickey and Fanny raised Sam as their only child. Samantha was raised in unconditional love and family values.
Dickey spent many of his early years helping his father build houses. Sadly, his mother tragically died when Dickey was 9. His grandmother, Sarah Malcolm, took him in and helped raise him while his father continued to provide for the family. Charlie Silas Sr. passed on when Dickey was an adult working in Prudhoe Bay. Grandma Sarah became “mom” and she was addressed as such in daily conversation. Dickey spent a short time in Oklahoma, going to school for small engine airplane mechanic school. He spent a few years in the military before returning to his home village of Eagle. He spent short stints of residency in places like Chicken, Tanacross and Tok. He went to high school in Tok and also in Mt. Edgecombe. In reading transcripts written by Dickie, his words to his daughter were simple:
“After November 1960, my father, your grandfather couldn’t read, write or go to movies. My mother, his wife, died and he himself went blind, still he taught Junior and I things to survive. We’d had grown up in very many different mining camps during the winter; dad trapped and we moved all the time. I think dad was about 30 and mom was three years younger. I’ve never been ashamed of our earlier life; we struggled and did things the hard way. We saw the bad, the good, and the hard way of surviving. By God’s will I’m still here and no one can tell me different. Dad wasn’t strict, but fair. Mom wasn’t there. During the time I went to boarding school somehow dad always made sure he sent me my allowance, $20. Things were hard; as of now, I know not to take things for granted. This is only a short story but I love my way of life. Someday you and Charles will see it my way if I walk away. I’d be untrue to my heritage; it’s the only way i know. Dad.”
Dickey leaves behind his daughter, Samantha Renee, and his two beloved grandchildren, Charles and Viennaetta; his loving aunt, Angela Harper; his former partner, Fanny; brothers William “Bully” and Rick, and family members from Pelly Crossing, Dawson City and Tanacross.
Funeral services in Fairbanks will begin at noon with visitation, and services at 1 p.m. Tuesday, April 19, at St. Mathews Episcopal Church. No potluck will be held as family will be transporting Dickey home to Eagle immediately afterward.
Services in Eagle will begin at noon with visitation and funeral service at 1 p.m. and gravesite service at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 20.
Please visit to sign an online guest book.

Published in Daily News-Miner on Apr. 19, 2016 – See more at:

Updated: June 17, 2016 — 9:58 am

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  1. I’m so sorry to learn of this monumental loss. May his great soul rest in peace.

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