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Our History & the Meaning of Our Name


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Brave Heart Volunteers was founded in 2001, as Sitka's Faith In Action. The organization was started by two nurses, Jean Frank and Auriella Hughes, along with several community members, who longed to have hospice and palliative care services available in Sitka. SFIA Board member and Native Elder, Henry Moy, wanted to bridge the Native community and SFIA, so a traditional Tlingit name was requested from Sitka Tribe of Alaska Elders. After a unique gathering between the Elders and SFIA, Elder Jessie Johnnie had the inspiration for the name: Yee gu.aa yáx x’wán, a powerful Tlingit phrase which roughly translates into English as Be of Brave Heart.


Yee gu.aa yáx x’wán are the parting words of encouragement to one who is facing a challenge, like a warrior going into battle. Close family members also use the phrase to offer prayerlike solace to a dying loved one, who in turn, repeats it to comfort those being left behind. It also expresses condolences or support, and emphasizes connections between family and friends who weather life's trials together.

Initially, the name Yee gu.aa yáx x’wán was granted to SFIA informally, like the traditional way in which a Tlingit grandmother blesses a newborn baby. But in 2004, during a profound ceremony, SFIA formally received the name. Jessie Johnnie and Henry Moy, along with SFIA Board members Jean Frank, Fr. Dave Elsensohn, and Gordon Blue, also blessed the corners of SFIA's main gathering room with traditional red paint. Noreen Otness passionately intoned and drummed a chant she composed for the ceremony.

In 2007, after thoughtful consideration, SFIA officially changed its name to Brave Heart Volunteers to more accurately reflect our mission and honor the deeper meaning it holds for volunteers and care receivers, who strive to be of brave heart.

Henry Moy eloquently captured the beauty of bridging the Native peoples of Sitka and BHV:  "In caring for one another, a volunteer needs to show awareness, understanding, and respect of our Native ways. We can help teach these things." Respect for elders, others, and self are essential Tlingit values, and together, we find strength and courage to be of brave heart.

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About Our Logo

Our new logo was introduced in Spring 2021 in celebration of our 20th Anniversary. Created by Tlingit artist and BHV Board member, Jerrod Galanin, the beautiful design features the "Lovebirds," the eagle and the raven, with BHV affectionately nestled between them. The colorful heart radiates the love between our volunteers and care receivers, as well as the love between our organization and the community of Sitka. 

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We are on Tlingít Aaní. We appreciate the Tlingit people, who have been excellent stewards and have lived out traditional Tribal values around balance, respect, and caring for the Earth that sustains us all. For taking wonderful care of this special place since time immemorial, we say thank you and Gunalchéesh.

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