Alaska Native culture

Lessons from Beading 100 Pairs of Moccasins

I did it. Since late 2016, I beaded 100 pairs of hard bottom slippers/moccasins. It has been a great learning experience, healing, connection to culture, and more. I’ve written about it a few times, but wanted to mark this occasion with a few lessons I’ve learned along the way and some interesting places it has led me to.

Here’s an album where I’ve shared some of my beadwork on the Athabascan Woman Blog Facebook page.

It’s rewarding to work on beadwork, giving them to people and to teach people how to bead/sew. I love giving the slippers and teaching others. It almost feels better giving rather than receiving. I’m sharing a gift learned from my grandma, mom and aunties.

Over the past few months, people have mentioned how they learned a certain beading or sewing technique by watching my beading tutorial videos (playlist below). A lot of people may not have had an opportunity to learn when they were younger, or they are just getting interested in learning. It is great to be a resource to people.

Seattle Seahawks is the most wanted beaded design. I’ve made 12 pairs of moccasins. This is actually the design of the 100th pair!

Moccasins are the common name, but from where I’m from we call them slippers.

I appreciate a challenge of a new design requested, but I also love having free artistic reign on a design.

I’ve taught about five beading classes. It feels so good to teach someone learning for the first time. One Elder said she was scolded as a teenager by her mom when beading. As a result, she stopped beading. It touched my heart to share with her and give her the boost she needed to try again.

I’ve made a lot of mistakes. I keep going and keep learning. I’ve learned a lot along the way, and I’m still learning. I appreciate being able to call upon my mom, Eleanor, or my aunt, Dorothy, with any questions. My aunt Dorothy gives advice, like using a glover size 10 needle for sewing on hide. That makes a big difference! I wish I used those from the beginning. The more I learn, the more I realize what I don’t know. I look forward to the continued learning.

Beading is healing. It helps to do something with my hands if I’m not feeling well. It helps me to be grounded and centered. Everything else in my life may be chaotic, but I find peace and quiet in when I’m beading. I also feel connected to my culture and family.

Colors make a difference. I’m thankful for my daughter, Ermelina, for giving me advice on colors on most of my slippers. She has an eye for color, and that helps to make them stand out. Here’s a pair of slippers with blue colors, outlined by black and glow in the dark beads (at right).

Ergonomics is key. Using pliers helps save my wrist, fingers and hands from being poked or repetition injuries. Working Hands hand cream repairs my dry and cracked fingers.

Beading hacks have helped carve down my beading and sewing time. On average, it takes about 6-10 hours for each pair of slippers. I must have spent about 800 hours beading and sewing over the past three years.

One of my favorite places to bead is near the Koyukuk River. I also enjoy beading with family and friends.

I’ve started collecting beads (hoarding)! LOL!

When I’m beading, I watch movies and TV shows, listen to audio books, listen to music playlists on my phone and on YouTube. I also watch YouTube and Facebook videos. I contemplate the day and think about life.

I enjoy beading humor, and have collected and reshared many memes. 🙂

I enjoy and appreciate the indigenous beading community. I am thankful to host @IndigenousBeads on Twitter occasionally. It’s great to share techniques, talk shop and connect with others. They are also a wealth of information.

I am grateful to family and friends who support my beading addiction in one way or another. I give mad props to the pro beaders who are skilled master artists. There are too many amazing artists to name, but I love following and supporting other indigenous beaders! I also want to give a shout out to the artists who use all traditional materials when making slippers.


  • “When Gonzalez beads, she feels connection to her grandmother, who taught her how to bead. It was a gift that her grandmother gave her — which inspires Gonzalez to pay it forward. She calls it ‘beading bliss’.” Tune into a story by CBC Radio’s Unreserved show.
  • “I love the healing nature of beading. It connects me to my family, ancestors and culture.” Read Kindred Post’s Artist of the Week feature.
  • Making Beaded Slippers on the Athabascan Woman Blog.
  • How to Bead Moose Skin Slippers Tops on the Athabascan Woman Blog.
  • I share a lot of my process and beadwork on Instagram: @ayatlin. I also share some of my other kinds of beadwork.

Enaa baasee’ for reading about my beading journey! I would like to do a magnet giveaway drawing for two lucky people. The 4”x5.5” magnet features a photo of “Beadwork Supplies to Get Started”. Follow the instructions below for a chance to win it.

  1. Subscribe to the Athabascan Woman Blog email. There’s place to subscribe with your email address on this page, and you will receive an email when there’s a new post. If you’re already subscribed, comment to let me know.
  2. Comment on this page – What would you add to this supply list? Or what advice do you have for new beaders?

Two winners will be drawn randomly on Saturday, December 21, 2019 at 4 pm AKST.

Enaa baasee’ for following the Athabascan Woman Blog. Good luck!

Alaska Native culture

Tell Your Story

Koyukuk River north of Huslia. Photo by Angela Łot’oydaatlno Gonzalez

Since I’ve had the Athabascan Woman Blog, people have asked me how to start a blog. I want to share some tips about how to get started and other ways to share your story.

Expressing yourself and publishing your creative work has never been easier, thanks to the blog. Blogging can be an avenue for advocacy to speak out on important issues in your community. Some sample blogging platforms include Wordress, Blogger, Tumblr and Weebly. Most are user friendly.

I share my stories, interviews with Indigenous people, photography, ‘how to’ bead videos and tips, and more. But I’ve seen blogs dedicated to photography, vlogging and podcasting. Find out the medium that interests you and try it. Ask people for advice.

Benefits of Blogging

  • Platform for your voice
  • Networking and interacting with a wider audience
  • Build a reputation
  • Become a better writer (practice, practice, practice)
  • An opening for opportunities, like freelancing

Recipe for a Great Blog Post

    Basics – Who, What, When, Where, Why and How
    Good content is key – What is the juicy bit of what you’re sharing?Photos and other visual content boost your post
    Don’t hide important stuff at the bottom
    First paragraph is important to hook people
    Write good captions
    Keyword tags
    Headline – What will hook your readers?
    Length – What is the right length for your type of blog & audience?
    Proofread the updates for grammar and clarity? I am grateful for my sister, Tanya Yatlin, for being the editor of the Athabascan Woman Blog. Ask your family and friends to help.
    Is it shareable? Make it easy for people to click on a Facebook or Twitter icon to share your posts.

How Often Should I post?

  • What works for your schedule? I do my blog on nights and weekends, and as a result don’t have as much time to post more than once a month.
  • What does your audience expect?
  • Brainstorm topics and be open for current events. Get ideas from friends & family. What are some topics, perspectives or opinions important to you? Put a star on what’s most important to you to help prioritize.
  • Drafting/revision/dealing with comments (time management/keeping on schedule)
  • Editorial calendar for consistency and planning – calendar, Google spreadsheets, Post-its

Networking tips

  • Introduce yourself to others and get to know others – connect to LinkedIn profile
  • Bloggers/People – read, comment and discuss across platforms
  • Identify champions and get to know them
  • Extend the life of your best blog posts – share it with people, bloggers and media. Ask if they are willing to republish, like Tea & Bannock. Submit your writing to calls for writing opportunities, like Yellow Medicine Review.
  • Making requests and asking questions

Resources and Blog Examples

Here are some of my tips for ways to tell your story:

The most important thing to remember is that there is no perfect time to start a blog or book, etc. You just have to do it and learn along the way. Give yourself grace and allow yourself to make mistakes. Trust that people are hungry to hear your story. We especially need more stories and perspectives from Indigenous people to be told.

The true Yukon gold – salmon strips made by Barney Attla and Ragine Pilot. I enjoyed this treat while boating along Dulbi Slough south of Huslia off the Koyukuk River. Photo by Angela Łot’oydaatlno Gonzalez
Alaska Native/Indigenous People, Athabascan in the Spotlight

Athabascan Medical Laboratory Scientist

Starr Zottola

My cousin, Starr Zottola (Koyukon Athabascan), is a medical laboratory scientist who  analyzes blood and other bodily fluids to aid in the diagnosis of medical conditions. I asked her to share about her profession and what it took to get there. Starr’s parents are Gary Attla and Maureen Mayo. Enaa baasee’, Starr, for sharing on the Athabascan Woman Blog!


Starr’s Story:

I graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science degree majoring in Medical Laboratory Science. I analyze blood and body fluids to aid in the diagnosis of medical conditions. Anytime a person goes to the doctor and gets their blood drawn or has body fluid collected, it is sent to a laboratory to be tested. I am the person who analyzes it and provides information to the doctor to help diagnose what might be causing a patient illness.


I graduated from UAA in 2017 and the process was incredibly difficult. I am married with three children. We moved from Fairbanks to Anchorage in 2013, so it was a sacrifice for all of us. Attending university took time away from my family and I spent a lot of nights awake studying. Learning a technical subject was intense and there were times of self-doubt and wanting to quit.

Quitting would have been easy, but I’m glad I didn’t. I was determined to finish, because I was ready for the next part of my life to start. I learned a lot in school, but I also learned a lot about myself from working in the field. I learned self-confidence and self-acceptance, which wasn’t easy. What I have learned about self-confidence is that without it I do not trust myself or my decisions and it causes self-doubt, which causes confusion and errors. In my profession, there is no room for mistakes.
There comes a time when I have to trust myself and my education and follow what I feel is right.

Unfortunately, mistakes do happen, because I’m a human and by nature mistakes will be made. That is where I learn self-acceptance, I have to accept the mistakes that I make and learn from them. It easy to be hard on myself for making an error and replaying it in my mind. But it is not good for a person to be that way to themselves. It is better for the soul to be accepting; being flawed is being human. I am not perfect and cannot hold myself to those standards or I will always let myself down. The most I can do is think about a better way to navigate the situation if it arises again.

My advice for anybody who has a goal is to be fierce and defend it. There will be non-believers, people who think they know more about you and your situation and do not think you can achieve your aim. Do not surround yourself with those people. Find support in people who believe in you. There will be stumbling and falling; reaching a goal is not easy. Just get up, brush yourself off and walk with your back straight and head held high. Don’t give up. I couldn’t give up. The thought of going through life and not finishing was too much too much of a burden. For anyone who has a goal, be brave and follow it and have faith in your intuition. Forget self-doubt, be passionate about what you’re learning and be ready to spend a lot of time on it.


I’m an indigenous woman of science and what I love about my profession is that I am able to help my community through healing. I work at Alaska Native Medical Center and I have probably released hundreds of medical results that have come to the lab. I feel good about that, but what is also important is that I represent the Native community in my profession. I want to be a role model for other Native people in the sciences.

Starr Zottola

I think science is awesome, because it supports ideas and helps people understand how things work. 

When I was a kid, in fish camp my Uncle Randy Mayo told me that Natives would suck on willow branches for pain relief. I took a chemistry class at UAF and learned that willows and aspirin have the same chemical compound. I thought that was the coolest thing and to this day I get excited about that story.
I’ve also learned that science can explain a lot, but so can Elders. Who can argue with thousands of years of knowledge that is inherited through storytelling. History is important.

I love science, but I have recently gotten into photography. I am a beginner and I am having so much fun learning. I think I am driving my family crazy with all the pictures, but I do not care. I cannot wait until I am good at it. Someone told me the first year I will be taking crappy picture, so I am being patient with myself.

What an inspirational story of an Athascan woman in science. I’m proud of my cousin. Baasee’ Starr!

Alaska life, Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Harvesting Old Man’s Beard with Pat Frank

Pat Frank (Deg Hit’an Athabascan). Photo by Angela Gonzalez

I got a chance to tag along with Pat Frank (Deg Hit’an Athabascan) from Holy Cross and Anchorage as he harvested Old Man’s Beard for the first time. People in Alaska have harvested from the lands and waters for thousands of years. More and more people are relearning harvesting plants for medicinal purposes.

Pat has been learning about traditional plants medicines and healing for quite a few years. I was fortunate to spend an afternoon with him, his wife, Linda, and a couple family friends north of Anchorage on the Park’s Highway. He was harvesting usnea, also known as Old Man’s Beard. It’s a lichen that grows on trees and shrubs. We saw them growing on spruce trees and some other trees. It really looks like an old man’s beard.

Pat believes it has similar medicinal properties to spruce pitch. He makes spruce pitch salve and uses it to heal cuts on himself and it has even helped with cuts on dogs. He learned about spruce pitch medicine from friends in Fort Yukon.

Pat shared stories and advice about how to approach harvesting with respect. Every area has gatekeepers and spirit keepers of the land. Before he goes into the land he always asks permission, and also asks the animals to enter their domain. When he harvests any plants, he always offers something like rock sage as a form of respect to the land. When he offers it, he says, “This is for the healing for our people. Thank you for giving up your medicine for our people.”

What Pat learned from his mentor is that you also have to have the right positive frame of mind when you are harvesting the plant, while you’re preparing it, even when you’re using it. He even prays the day before to make sure it’s going to be a good experience.
According to Pat, sometimes the plants speak to you or call to you. When you are called to a plant, he recommends doing research to learn more it. If you can’t find it in a book or online, then reach out to Elders to get the oral history. When exploring new plants, he quiets his mind and asks, “Can you show me the best medicine that’s going to heal my body?” It’s like saying a prayer.
“If you have more respect for the plants and animals they’ll in turn be more abundant to you.” – Pat Frank (Deg Hit’an Athabascan)
It was great to learn a little bit about how to approach harvesting. I enjoy learning more from Elders, because they have so much to share and teach. Elders always have great advice with multiple meanings. I learned that we should be careful, have good intentions, learn as much as you can before harvesting, and only take what you need – which is great advice that can be applied to many other things in life.
As he was researching Old Man’s Beard, he saw a video of a guy demonstrating how it really looks like a beard. We had a good laugh as he demonstrated it. Gotta love our Elders sense of humor! We joked about him being Santa Claus.
Pat Frank having fun showing his Old Man’s Beard. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Enaa baasee’ to Pat Frank for sharing his wisdom and teachings about harvesting plants from the land!

Alaska life, Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Boating Stories by Sterling DeWilde

Yamaha motor repaired on boat. Photo by Sterling Dewilde

My friends, cousins and other relatives often share awesome stories on social media. Here’s a story from my cousin, Sterling DeWilde (Koyukon Athabascan) of Huslia and Fairbanks. He grew up mostly in camp outside of Huslia with his late parents, Lloyd and Amelia DeWilde. I always loved listening to my late Aunt Amelia’s stories, and I’m glad Sterling is continuing the tradition. He agreed to share his story below.

“I got my 70 hp Yamaha running and mounted on my 24’ flat-bottom Rhyancraft. It’s fully equipped with hydraulic trim and power lift. Thank you Norvin DeWilde for the lift and Ricko DeWilde for the boat 😁. This was my first motor I ever owned back when I was at home on the North Fork. It has a 60 hp cowling. It hasn’t been run in over ten years. It sat in Huslia a while then I shipped it up here and haven’t looked it over since.

Yamaha motor repaired. Photo by Sterling Dewilde

It needed some serious work on several electrical systems and the carburetors/linkages needed tuning. It fired up in just a few cranks and runs smooth now. I put it on my dad’s 24’ allweld after his Honda 30 hp broke down, during some of our last years on the homestead. His boat was rated for a 45 hp but handled the 70 like it was meant for it. I used to rip the 120 miles of the Huslia and North for rivers, between our camp and Huslia, in about three hours.

That narrow boat would handle the sharp turns of the skinny North Fork at full speed. Once, I drove from our camp to Huslia and back, then back to Huslia, all in the same day. Then I drove back to camp in the morning. Mom, Amelia, seemed to be pleased with me making the frequent trips. She actually helped me make excuses on a few occasion.

Even though mom wasn’t going along most of the time, I always brought mail, food stuffs, movies, and local news with me. She was real social and I think it made her feel that much more connected. I’d go on the journey for just about any ol’ reason at all. Pops was always like, ‘What, another trip? You just got here.’ But he knew mom was all for it, so he didn’t argue, so long as I covered gas and he didn’t have to fix anything.

The best trip I ever had on that river, I drove down from camp and ran some errands then loaded up the boat for the return that same day. I knew there was a full moon and a clear night coming, so I left Huslia late. About 2/3 the way up it was too dark to see, so I stopped at a well-used camp spot called Birch Hill and had a fire and made tea and chilled.

A couple hours later, the moon came out, then I took off again. The moon lit the water up like bright silver and I could read everything on the surface like I had magic goggles on. The channel stood out like a monochrome sonogram. The dark surroundings made it seem like I was racing through a galactic speedway; it was truly magnificent and utterly exhilarating.

I think that may have contributed to my love for boat racing; the very first time I hopped in “Jen Jen” with Bill Page, to be his bow-man, I was hooked. I will forever be grateful for the experiences he has showed me and the support he’s given. After dog racing, I think I would have been pretty glum, had I not had a fast summer sport to fill the void.”

Enaa baasee’ to my cousin, Sterling DeWilde, for sharing this story on the Athabascan Woman Blog!

Sterling Dewilde and his daughter enjoying a boat ride. Photo by Sterling DeWilde

P.S. If you would like to share a short story like this, go to the Contact page to reach me or message me on Facebook.