It was inspiring to see the young Native American people at the Circumpolar World Music Festival at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Other dance groups and musicians performed earlier in the evening. However, I caught the tail end of the performances.
Frank Waln (Lakota) talked about how his music is from his ancestors. When he was in college, someone asked who he was and he said he was Lakota/Native American. That college-educated person told him he didn’t know Native Americans still existed. Can you imagine? That wasn’t that long ago. He talked about how Native people survived hundreds of years of oppression and we are still here. Frank says his songs and cultural practices were outlawed until 1978. He also talked about the young people today being the seventh generation since contact. Frank said, “We are the answers to our ancestors prayers.”
Tanaya Winder (Southern Ute, Pyramid Lake Paiute, Navajo) greeted our ancestors by singing a welcome song. She told a story about how a white man purposely spilled beer on some young Native girls at a ball game, and told them to go back to the reservation. That person was not charged with a crime. Then, around the same time, a Native man sneezed and accidentally spilled beer on a little white girl. He was charged with a crime. She talked about how Native girls learn about how they are not valued by society even at that young age. She stressed the importance of being proud of who you are and where your from. She also shared facts about missing and murdered indigenous women. I bought Tanaya’s book of poetry called, Why Storms are Named After People and Bullets Remain Nameless. She singed the book with a special message for me.
Tall Paul (Leech Lake Ojibwe) sang a tribute to Jim Thorpe. In the song, he mentioned how Jim Thorpe is his Muhammad Ali. Paul also shared a story and song about meeting Dave Chappelle. He applauded the young people who were dancing in the Alaska Native dance groups earlier in the evening, and mentioned how it gave him hope.
Enaa baasee’ to the Alaska Native Heritage Center and sponsors who made the Circumpolar World Music Festival possible! People of all ages attended. They even had Alaska Native people selling arts and crafts. It’s a great way to spend a cold winter evening in Alaska. Baasee’ to Frank, Tanaya and Paul for sharing powerful messages with Alaska Native and indigenous people.
Amy Modig recently attended a sobriety celebration in Nikolai and has generously agreed to share her experience on the Athabascan Woman Blog.
Nikolai – Sobriety for the New Year – A Community Wide Celebration
In this small Athabascan village of 100, Sobriety Week was celebrated from January 10 to 15, which included Russian Orthodox New Year on the 14th in Nikolai. Beverly Gregory, Tribal Administrator and her Assistant, Shalmarie Nikolai, organized and coordinated the activities for the week which included music for the school students, a suicide prevention workshop, sobriety work, dances every night and a spectacular fireworks display on Russian Orthodox New Year’s Eve. The community was able to use donated funds, as well as local organizations, to house, feed and provide transportation for the guest speakers and musicians.
In the last local election, the residents voted to change Nikolai’s local option law from dry to damp and the community has seen an increase in alcohol-related trauma. Local planners hoped to support sobriety and attract strugglers and inspire active users to choose healthier lifestyles. Many times it is the youth who suffer from chaotic homes.
With the youth as a priority, Dancing with the Spirit was invited to teach the students in school to play music. Its mission is to connect youth and elders through school music programs and it promotes spiritual, physical and mental wellness with music. Josephine Malemute (Nulato/Galena) and Mike Mickelson (Cordova) were the two instructors. Mike Mickelson, son of founder and Executive Director, Belle Mickelson, said Nikolai was the 30th village the program has visited in the last 20 years.
Josephine, who is also the Assistant Director of Dancing with the Spirit, said they bring guitars, fiddles, mandolins and ukuleles and even though they mostly go to Athabascan villages, they have been all over the state as far north as Pt. Hope and even into Canada. The week of music culminated in a concert for the community by the younger grades.
Top of the Kuskokwim School provided housing for most presenters and opened the library for music classes. Principal Tara Wiggins and Teacher Matt Willette were generous in their sharing of space and participating whole-heartedly in all events, while John Runkle, Maintenance, and Martha Stearns, Cook/Custodian, gave all possible support to create a clean and comfortable site while doing all of their regular duties. Matt Willette had just arrived as a new teacher that week! They were all very appreciated.
As part of the festivities, each night Mike and Josephine played so the community could dance. Several youth, adults and elders were encouraged to try their talents with the two. In a special treat, they were joined by Stanley Peters of Holy Cross who delighted Nikolai with his guitar, fiddle and voice. On New Year’s Day, he and Josephine demonstrated the Jitter Bug dance to everyone’s delight.
Russian New Year’s Eve was on the 13th and the community organized a fireworks display that would rival Anchorage or Fairbanks.
As part of developing sobriety skills, a four-hour safeTALK session was held for over 20 community members, high school youth included. Val Pingayak and Constance Reiner-Ely co-trained and it was very well received. They both work for Tanana Chiefs Conference Suicide Prevention.
Samuel Johns of the Forget-Me-Not movement for helping people to reunite homeless people to their families or communities, delighted the young people with his humor and his inspirational message. The Forget-Me-Not Facebook group started in June and already has over 21,000 members. He has received numerous awards; just the latest is the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award which he will receive in April in Washington, D.C. Samuel performed some of his rap messages and spoke on his commitment to sobriety and health.
Doug and Amy Modig, early leaders in the Alaska Native Sobriety Movement, held circle talks each day on different aspects of living sober. They also had individual sobriety talks with community members. They thoroughly enjoyed local steam baths and the music and dances.
All the guests were fed three meals a day by a professional quality chef, Ed Ticknor of Nikolai, who is also the father of Tatiana Ticknor (who got to speak with President Obama last November on Alaska Native youth concerns). Joricha Thomas was also a great cook and they had creative recipes for moose and fish. They cooked large items, such as moose stews, baked king salmon and turkeys for the potluck dinners held each night in the school gymnasium.
Breakfast and lunch was provided at the tribal office where a kitchen was set up. Each of these meals, were enlivened by the storytelling skills of the visitors and the local staff. The final lunch on Friday caused so much hilarity that people were wiping their eyes and holding their sides. Many agreed that these were the most healing of all the activities, except for the steam baths so generously provided by the Petruska family, Nick and Oline.
Another local activity was provided by John Runkle, longtime dog musher, who gave a sled ride to Mike Mickelson for 27 miles! There were several birthdays during the week. People requested prayers for the Tribal Chief Sammy John, who was under medical care at a hospital. On New Year’s Day, gifts were presented to the Elders and to the children.
It was a very wonderful sobriety celebration and reminded Doug and Amy of the early Rural Providers’ Conferences. They both received, as well as everyone who had participated, a Certificate of Appreciation “for choosing to LIVE a SOBER lifestyle.” All of us want to thank Nikolai for its generosity for sharing its vision of sobriety with the rest of us. May all their hopes and dreams be realized in the New Year!
Thank you Amy Modig for sharing her experience and beautiful photos. What an inspirational start to the New Year in Nikolai!
The salmon are in! Alaskans are going fishing for salmon and putting it away for the winter. Many of my friends and relatives are smoking and canning their salmon. I will be putting mine away in the freezer. We rely and enjoy the salmon over the winter.
Here is a recipe on making wild salmon caviar from Alaska Knit Nat. Thank you to Natasha for allowing me to share her recipe with Athabascan Woman Blog readers!
Rhoda Stertzer is Koyukon Athabascan originally from Huslia. Her parents were the late Richard and Angeline Derendoff of Huslia. Rhoda lives in Ohio, and she often shares stories her mother told her.
Here is a story Rhoda as told to her by her late mother, Angeline Derendoff:
This is the story our Momma used to tell us. I’m just trying my best to tell this story as I forgot some of it. Our Great Grandma used to go over to Eskimo country via Hot Springs trail. Her husband was hit with polio and it left him without the use of his legs. So Grandma had to carry him out to the sled and back inside. She used to bring back seal pokes full of seal oil.
I was told she used to make this trip a lot in her life along with Grandpa. The last time Grandma went over, she was in the pass on her way home and a snow storm was brewing. She hunkered down by the creek. As you know, when the wind comes through the pass it’s very strong. Grandma must have been alone when this happen, because Momma never mentioned Grandpa. The wind was so strong and Grandma was losing her leader. As she was struggling to hang on to her leader, the wind took her and blew her out of the pass.
Later on that spring they found her 14 miles out of the pass. That’s how far the wind took. I’ll burn some sage now. This is a story from way back in the day late 1800 or early 1900.
The area Rhoda’s mom referred to is west of Huslia around toward the coast. There is a hot springs in the middle of those areas where people visit each year. They walked, kayaked or travelled by dog team in those days. They had to move around with the seasons, plus they relied on trading from different regions for food, clothing and materials. Alaska has a rich history of dog mushing because they relied on them to travel. Western Alaskans (Yup’ik and Inupiaq) usedseal poke bagsto carry seal blubber and oil.
Rhoda Stertzer was recently featured in a video about the Native American Indian Center of Central Ohio (NAICCO) where she shares how she stays connected to culture.
Thank you to Rhoda for sharing her mother’s story. There are so many stories like this that need to be preserved for future generations.
I have been seeing news about having Mt. McKinley renamed back to its original name, Denali. U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan have introduced a bill to give Mount McKinley its historical Alaska Native name. I asked my Facebook friends to sound off on it. Most people agree to change it back to its original name. Most people I know already call it Denali, it’s original Athabascan name.
Do you think Mt. McKinley should be officially renamed Denali? If so, why?
“Denali is the true name.” -Paul N Alberta John
“I once heard before we are suppose to call things by their right name. That everything has a name, we can take time to learn them or not.” -Leslie Jones
“Denali, because that was the original name. It also sounds more “Alaskan”.” –Sharon Carey
“I have always called it by its original name~Denali so It should be made official.” -Marlene Adams
“Its an Alaskan internal affair, not Lower 48 issue.” – Will Yaska
“Yes. Place names should reflect the indigenous cultures and languages inherent to the area.” – Julie Biddle
“As a symbolic gesture, given the right audience and speaker(s), it could be a means to support a greater cause. Also, Denali is just a cool name!” – Richard Perry
“Yes!! In my mind Denali doesn’t have to be ‘renamed’ as its official name IS and has always been Denali. But in order to decolonize the name we have to go through the Western government channels to ‘rename’ it as they say. And the next mountain name we have to decolonize is ‘Mt. Edgecumbe’ in Sitka.” -Vivian Faith Prescott
“It sounds better and more Alaskan too! And know of a pretty lil’ girl named, Denalee!” – Gina McCarty
“Denali should remain that. That’s the real name. The people who came and changed every name didn’t know each place had a name. The people who wrote about Alaska said it was ‘vast wastelands.’ It wasn’t because people were already living here and everything had a name. Every hill, knoll, river bends, slough had a native name according to where they lived and what language they spoke. They thought they were the first people here. It’s very interesting if you the time and read Alaska Native names on a map.” -Velma Schafer
“Denali was the original name. When outsiders first came to Alaska they renamed lots of people. They all had their native name and missionaries and miners rename them. I even heard of them giving people names of states, like Kentucky, Missouri, etc. Another story I heard was there were two brothers who were at different places when the along the Koyukuk River and they were given different last names.” – Dorothy Yatlin
“There are more pressing issues than to rename Deenaalee the tall one – n no it’s not the great one. Ask any elder in Hughes they all will say so. Murkowski and Sullivan have to work towards more important stuffs. This makes us all look like idiots. Ohio should worry about Ohio quit telling the Last Frontier what to do.” -Margaret I. Williams
“My told me story about Denali. It was how a medicine man escape up Denali. when he got to the top it was so cold he peed on himself to keep warm, but he ended up freezing up there. There was a conflict and the one escaped to the top. Yes, It would be a blessing to ‘Get the name back to Denali’.” -Rhoda Stertzer
“Yes the name. Should be Denali. That was the name from the beginning of time.” – Anna Frank
“There is a word for everything on earth and beyond in Dinjii zhuh ginjik.” (Native people language) – Darlene Reena Herbert
“It should never have been changed to McKinley. It’s name is Denali.” -Nathan Shafer
“Denali was the mountain’s first name. Renaming Denali with the name “Mount McKinley” is a form of cultural imperialism (see https://www.nytimes.com/books/first/l/loewen-lies.html). It’s somewhat akin to what happened with Native people when non-native people decided they wanted to stay, and in order to stay, they had to dissolve the connection that Native people had with their culture and their land. Non-native people gave Native people new names that had nothing to do with who they were. Denali had a name already, and that fact should be recognized, but even better, it should be honored.” -Jennifer Aposuk McCarty
“It’s respectful to the people of the land in which it lies.” – Eva Sheldon
“In Nikolai we call it Denazii similar to the koyukon could understand the lingo a little bit!!! Koyukon that is.” -Daniel Esai
“It’s been called that longer than anything else by people from Alaska. And it sounds better than saying “McKinley” too.” – Lynn Lovegreen
“Yes Denali!! It would be nice if people would pronounce it right though.” -Gabriel Vent
“I like both names for it.” – Barbara Roddy
“This mountain reminds me of the original people that was here for many, many years ago. We all cannot go back in our minds even about 1,000 years but our ancestors were here. Back then they all spoke their language and I’m sure they had a name for it. Denali represents THE GREAT ONE. It sounds like what they would say.” – Joe Frank
“That was the original name. Denali. That means huge I think. I thought they did make Denali official.” – Catherine Williams
“Denali is its original name. So odd that Ohio congressmen have the power to force on that mountain the name of an Ohio-born president who never visited our state.” -Tracy Kalytiak
Thank you to my friends who shared their opinions. Join in the conversation and add your opinion in the comment.