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Far from Anchorage, where Cassandra Tinker was killed, her family cuts fish and grieves

  • Author: Anna Rose MacArthur, KYUK
  • Updated: July 10
  • Published July 9

Cassandra Tinker on her 23rd birthday in 2018. (Minnie White)

Two families in Kasigluk lost loved ones last month and the deaths stopped many from going fishing for the food they need for winter. In response, state and federal fishery managers teamed up to deliver salmon to the two families in mid-June.

KYUK's Anna Rose MacArthur was with one of the families during the wake of 23-year-old Cassandra Tinker after the fish arrived in Kasigluk during the second salmon fishing opening on the Kuskokwim River in a year of tight restrictions. Mary Alice Tinker is Cassandra Tinker's mother. Here's a transcript from MacArthur's radio story:

Mary Alice Tinker: We were looking forward for Saturday to cut more fish, and that's the day that we heard about Cassandra, Cassandra's passing.

KYUK: It's customary for Yupiit not to fish when there is a body in the community.

Balasia Tinker, Cassandra's aunt: No time to watch their fish. …People that respect what other families are going through, they'll stay behind themselves.

KYUK: Cassandra was 23 years old. On the day she died, there had been another young person's funeral in Kasigluk, Misha Charles'.

Baslasia Tinker: Losing the young generation at such an early age, it hurts.

KYUK: In the house they begin to cut the fish. The salmon was harvested by the state and delivered by the feds. Xenia Nicori is Mary Alice's mother and Cassandra's grandmother. She looks on as another one of her daughters slices the fish.

Xenia Nicori: Four kings and four chums.

Mary Alice Tinker: Me and my family love eating fish, especially king salmon.

KYUK: While Mary Alice's sister and neighbor put the fish away, Xenia Tinker talks about Cassandra, the grandchild who is laid on the floor in the living room. She's dressed in Russian Orthodox ritual garb. A cloth lies across her forehead; a white shroud with an image of the crucified Christ covers her from the neck down

Xenia Nicori: When God wants to take our loved ones, he takes them. Even if they're small. Everyone has time to live and time to die.

Balasia Tinker: Right now we're waiting. They started working on her casket yesterday, so hopefully it'll be done by tonight.

Xenia Nicori: She was an awesome granddaughter. She was a comedian to everybody. She will be greatly missed.

KYUK: The house fills with more people; almost everyone is related. People go to Cassandra and kiss her bruised cheeks. At her feet lies a wreath of purple and white flowers, at her head is another wreath. On her chest sits a cross and an icon that people also kneel and kiss.

Balasia Tinker: Are you going to have something to eat?

KYUK: Yeah, I will. I'd love to.

KYUK: A mother walks in holding a four-day-old baby girl. Twyla George is Cassandra's cousin. She chose Cassandra's Yup'ik name for the baby.

Twyla George: Ket'eq. We don't pick out names, only after they're born, and she was born exactly 27 hours after Cassandra's death.

KYUK: The house holds that mixture of grief and fellowship particular to a wake. Grief for the life lost, and joy in the reunion of family and friends, some who've flown in. Many bring food. Grandma Xenia gives them each a hug, and they set down their dish.

Xenia Nicori: Mmmm, the best food ever. Fish, moose, seal soup, rice.

KYUK: As the wake progresses, some turn their thoughts to the driver of the truck hundreds of miles away, who took the life of this 23-year-old woman just as the salmon began swimming up the Kuskokwim River.

Balasia Tinker: I wish that whoever bumped her can just turn him or herself in and just get it over with, I guess, and admit they did this.

KYUK: Police have posted a picture of the pickup and continue their investigation. In Kasigluk, Cassandra's body was laid to rest the day after the wake.

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