Persis Gruben, beloved Tuktoyaktuk elder, dies at age 101

A day after a belated birthday celebration, a 101-year-old elder in Tuktoyaktuk, N.W.T., has died.

Persis Gruben died on Sunday, one day after relatives and friends gathered for a big dinner party at her home. 

"We were all noisy, we were all laughing, and that's what she wanted to hear," said her youngest of eleven children, Chuck Gruben. "That's what made her the happiest." 

Chuck said Persis waited for the right moment, and died at home in her sleep on Dec. 1. 

"December was always a happy and a sad time for her because she missed [my father] so much," he said.

"So I think that's the reason she waited so long — she waited until the first day of December. She went quietly."

Mackenzie Scott/CBC

Persis was born as the eldest of several children on the Peel River in Fort McPherson, N.W.T., on Oct. 20, 1918, according to Chuck. Her family later moved to Tuktoyaktuk. 

More than a hundred people in the community celebrated at Persis's 100th birthday party last October — which gathered visitors from across the N.W.T., Yukon, Alberta, B.C., and even the U.S. At the time, her family members said she was the oldest person living in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, and she was the last Shingle Point residential school survivor to be alive.

Whether you were young or old, she treated you all the same — like you were all her kids. - Chuck Gruben, son of Persis Gruben

Persis was a fearless, calm, faithful woman, said her son.

"She was very religious, you know, she just instilled that in us. She taught us what's right and what's wrong," said Chuck.

She read the bible more than 50 times — "from front to back," he said. She also spoke Inuvialuktun and Gwich'in, her native tongue, he said. She acted as an interpreter for her parents who each spoke one of the two languages.

Chuck said as a young boy, he spent a lot of time out on the land with Persis and his father.

"Me and my mother used to drive 13 dogs [on a sled]," recalled Chuck. He said sometimes, the duo would encounter bears, but his mother remained calm.

"She was not scared of anything." 

Submitted by Chuck Gruben

Persis always had great respect for her own mother, Chuck said. 

"She told me, always respect women ... And always say a prayer every night."

Above all, her main message to her children was the importance of family, he said.

"She just always wanted us to be happy together as a family," said Chuck. "Whether you were young or old, she treated you all the same — like you were all her kids."

A funeral for Persis will be held on Dec. 11 at 2 p.m., at Kitti Hall in Tuktoyaktuk.