Tanya Birkeland, Former Sitkan, Dies at Fairbanks

Category: Obituaries
Created on Friday, 03 May 2019 16:04
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Tanya Birkeland

Sitka native Tanya Birkeland died at her home outside of Fairbanks on April 29, 2019, after a short battle with liver cancer.

Tanya was born in Sitka May 25, 1954, to Walter Birkeland and Natasha Calvin.

A great-granddaughter of Father Andrew Kashevaroff, a priest at St. Michael’s Cathedral and curator of the first Territorial Museum and Historical Library in Juneau, Tanya  was proud of her Russian and Tlingit ancestry. Her father Walter Birkeland was a music educator in Alaska and Washington, and her mother was well known for spearheading efforts to excavate an archaeological site on Baranof Island, and for providing a number of artifacts for the Calvin/Kashevaroff Collection of Native artifacts at the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka. 

Tanya studied at Western Washington University and earned a computer science degree from Colorado State University. She had a successful career as a software developer, working both for U.S. West in Colorado and later in her career for the Fairbanks North Star Borough.

She returned to Alaska in the late 1980s and homesteaded a 40-acre site on the Kantishna River. She became a fixture in the homestead community, and became one of the few women to pilot the Kantishna, Nenana and Tanana rivers.

In addition to being a dedicated caretaker of family members as they battled illness, she was known for being extremely literate, funny and intelligent, as well as being an outstanding gourmet cook.

Tanya’s two sisters – Mary Purvis and Sonia Birkeland – live in Sitka; her half-sister, Kirsten Birkeland, lives in Portland, Oregon.

She is survived by her longtime partner Rich Driscoll at their home in Fox, outside of Fairbanks.

In lieu of flowers, family and friends are encouraged to send donations to Sitka Hospice Care or Fairbanks Medical Hospice Service.