How Indigenous Alaskans Await the Resurrection

August 04, 2020 | Church | Jim Kincaid

The diversity of traditions among indigenous people groups regarding care of the deceased and interment are an interesting study. In Alaska, great care is taken with funeral preparations, casket making, grave digging and after-care of the gravesite. 

Due to the high cost of shipping, few ready-made coffins are sold to the villages of rural Alaska. When an individual dies, immediately a standing committee of casket makers goes to work. Each village has a casket blueprint written on paper or lodged in the minds of the elder casket makers and passed down generation to generation. 

Of course, the casket-making tradition utilizing plywood we observe today is only as old as the contacts with outsiders in the late 19th century. Although plywood was reportedly used in ancient Egypt, it didn’t make its way to the U.S. until the first third of the 19th century. Now it has become the building material of choice for many, many applications, including the making of caskets in rural Alaska.

A native Alaskan graveyard can be a symphony of color and scenic beauty. The widespread use of colorful plastic flowers and wood crosses make an impressive contribution to the landscape. Across Alaska, associated with each of the some 230-plus villages, is to be found a graveyard. In some places the ground is so frozen or so rocky that caskets are placed on top of the ground and rocks are piled on top and around each casket. In many other places, the use of motorized augers supplements the challenges of grave-digging in permanently frozen ground.

The Bible foretells the coming kingdom of Jesus Christ in the clouds with great glory and with myriads of angels. It says that Jesus is worthy of worship because “You slain and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” (Rev. 5:9–10).

The day is soon coming when from under millions of headstones and crosses and from the depths of the sea the resurrected representatives of Christ’s kingdom will rise in newness of life to meet their Redeemer, for whom they have waited. Then all the sacrifices people have made to preach the gospel in the far-flung corners of the earth will meet their fruition. Until then, we carry on. One day at a time, one person at a time, with prayer and sacrifice the blessing of God will see the journey completed.

From Alaska, we thank those who support the endeavors with prayer and finances. As the earth seems to totter into chaos, we can’t quit, we must not stop, until the day of deliverance.