About our Tlingit Name

Yee Gu.aa Yáx X’wán – “Be of Brave Heart”


On November 30, 2004, volunteers and members of our Sitka community gathered at the Manager’s House for the official Naming Ceremony of Sitka’s Faith In Action. At this ceremony we formally received the Tlingit name: Yee Gu.aa Yax X’wan.

Tlingit Elder Jessie Johnnie had the inspiration for the name over three before. At our naming ceremony, she graced all those in attendance with the story of the name, as well as the inner meaning behind the words. In English, it means to “be of strong heart.” Traditionally, it had been used as parting words and words of encouragement by the Tlingits when someone was heading into difficult times, as when a warrior is going off to battle. Close family members also use the phrase as a prayer-like offering of solace to a loved one who is near death, and who will be making the final journey and transition. In like fashion, Yee Gu.aa Yax X’wan may also be spoken by someone who is dying, in order to comfort and support the loved ones left behind.

We feel honored and blessed to have been given this name. As intended, it reflects the mission of Sitka’s Faith In Action: to provide compassionate home-based, community-wide, volunteer care, visiting and respite support to those individuals and families in need. These services range from light housekeeping to simply sitting with someone and being present to them during what can be a very difficult time of transition – permanent or temporary.

The name also gives us a link to the Native community here in Sitka. Former board member and SFIA volunteer Henry Moy was instrumental in taking the proper steps to make this dream a reality. At the ceremony, the corners of the room were painted beginning in the eastern corner with the traditional red paint, while Noreen Otnes intoned a very beautiful and haunting Yee Gu.aa Yáx X’wán chant she composed for the occasion. Our hope is that the Native community continues to be an active voice in guiding our organization. Respect for elders, parents, and self, is an essential Native Tlingit value, and these are some of the same ideals SFIA strives for as an organization. We are very thankful to all those involved in the steps to give SFIA such a fine and fitting Tlingit name. Gunalchéesh, hó hó.

“Creating a link between the Native peoples of Sitka and Sitka’s Faith In Action is important to fulfill the program objectives, but also so that the Native community has a real voice in developing the services.

“In caring for another, a volunteer needs to show awareness, understanding, and respect of our Native ways. We can help teach these things.”

Henry Moy

In 2003, Henry participated in and represented Sitka Natives in a monthly conference call including three other communities with Native involvement who were developing volunteer visiting programs.

Henry’s quote was included in the National Faith In Action Conference Binder in 2003, viewed by hundreds of persons from all over the country.

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