Denali View South is located at mile 135.2 of the Parks Highway. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Reclaim Denali Name

On a clear day, you can see Denali from many surrounding communities, like Willow, Alaska. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
On a clear day, you can see Denali from many surrounding communities, like Willow, Alaska. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

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? 

Here is Denali from the north, on the Parks Highway, south of Cantwell, Alaska. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Here is Denali from the north, on the Parks Highway, south of Cantwell, Alaska. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

“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 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

Here is a view from Denali South View (about mile 137 on the Parks Highway). Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Here is a view from Denali South View (about mile 137 on the Parks Highway). Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Thank you to my friends who shared their opinions. Join in the conversation and add your opinion in the comment. 


Deep Snow

Sunset in Hughes. Photo by Maggie Ambrose
Sunset in Hughes. Photo by Maggie Ambrose

My relative, Maggie Ambrose, from Hughes was reminiscing about her late dad, Lige Ambrose. I love reading her stories and photos. Maggie gave me permission to share her story on the Athabascan Woman Blog. 

Trail on the Koyukuk River in front of Hughes. Photo by Maggie Ambrose
Trail on the Koyukuk River in front of Hughes. Photo by Maggie Ambrose

One year, I followed my dad to his beaver sets down river after I bought my sled from UD. Dad had my old sled I bought from my brother, Jimmie. We were driving down and when we got to the flats where the lakes are, I got stuck. Lucky he kept looking back checking on me. He got me out.

We kept going and stopped at the beaver house. Nice weather…not even cold. I watched him and he work. Then, he looks around and tells me to go over and chop down the birch tree and bring it over to him. The birch trees were the bait for beavers. I looked where he pointed and there was no trail or nothing!! I was thinking, ‘Awe s***, I’m gonna go get stuck.’ So I took off and man there was so much snow. So I’m sailing over to the birch trees and stopped got off the snow go and sunk to below my waist. I chopped down the tree (a small one). I don’t remember how I pulled it to him, but I did it.

Maggie's snow machine is in front. Snow machines are the main form of transportation in the winter in many rural Alaskan communities. Photo by Maggie Ambrose
Maggie’s snow machine is in front. Snow machines are the main form of transportation in the winter in many rural Alaskan communities. Photo by Maggie Ambrose

I drove off the trail and didn’t get stuck. If he didn’t ask me to do that I would have never had the guts to go off the trail. I got stuck once outside of Hughes with the sled he was driving…back on hill side lake. It took me forever to dig to the ground and try get traction. I had my dog with me and I was pissed because he wouldn’t dig for me. Lol! He was more in the way making the snow fall back to where I was digging. Anyway, I remembered what my late brother Frank taught me, to put willows under the front and so I did that and I got out!!! Never did I try driving off the trail until dad told me too.

I remember getting stuck a few times with a snow machine in Bettles when I was a teenager. It is hard to get out when you get stuck in deep snow. Kudos to Maggie for being brave enough to drive through deep snow. Sometimes you’ve got no choice, but to get things done, especially when you are relying on trapping or getting wood. Thank you to Maggie for sharing her story!

Entertainment, Fairbanks

Top 15 Things to Change for Alaska Native People in 2015

Here is my list of the top 15 changes I would like to see for Alaska Native people in 2015. I’m dreaming big!

  1. Decreasing the high rate of cancer for Alaska Native people
  2. Full exoneration of the Fairbanks Four
  3. Language and cultural revitalization. Learn one Alaska Native word, dance, song or art. The resources are there, including people who are willing to share and teach
  4. Less Alaska Native children in foster care. More Alaska Native foster care parents
  5. Less alcohol and drug abuse
  6. Less negativity. See the good in each other
  7. Less racism, more understanding
  8. Lower the high rate of domestic violence and sexual abuse against Alaska Native people
  9. Lowering statistics of Alaska Natives using tobacco
  10. Lowering the disproportionate rate of Alaska Natives incarcerated
  11. More action. Less laziness and excuses
  12. More Alaska Natives at the decision-making table of policy-making affecting them
  13. More respect for subsistence hunting and fishing rights
  14. Reducing the suicide rate among Alaska Native people
  15. Stronger connect to the land. Get out there and explore, wherever you might be

I am grateful for people and organizations whose mission it is to focus on these issues. One of the reasons I have this blog is to focus on the many great things people are doing in our world, and I will continue to do that. I do not like to dwell on the negative, but I think we need to put the issues out there and have a dialogue about them. We can’t ignore the issues. We have the power to make change and there are solutions.

What changes and solutions would you like to see? Which one(s) resonate with you?

Top 15 Things to Change for Alaska Native People in 2015
Top 15 Things to Change for Alaska Native People in 2015
Alaska Native/Indigenous People, Entertainment

Joe Frank – Native Actor

Joe Frank. Courtesy photo
Joe Frank. Courtesy photo

I have known Joe Frank for a few years now. He is Athabascan from Holy Cross, and now lives in Anchorage. I would see Joe and his daughter at events. I was mistaken for one of their relatives, and was their cousin for a bit. We laughed about that. Joe is a single father and works in Anchorage. He is the president of a village corporation, and has worked as a purchaser for many years. Joe is a former pilot holding a commercial, instrument and float ratings.

Although, you may not know Joe’s name, you might recognize his face in some commercials and educational videos in the Alaska Native medical facilities. Joe dreamed about acting for a long time, but kept telling himself that he couldn’t do it. He said, “One day, I thought, now is the time to do things I always wanted to do.” Joe’s role models include actor Clint Eastwood and comedians David Letterman and Johnny Carson.

Joe played Isaac, a lead role, in the “What’s the Big Deal” film focusing on colorectal cancer. He also played a couple small parts in the Everybody Loves Whales movie. You might also recognize his voice-over in “To the Arctic” film.

Joe Frank played a lead role in the "What's the Big Deal?" film. Courtesy photo
Joe Frank played a lead role in the “What’s the Big Deal?” film. Courtesy photo

Joe enjoys acting in short films focusing on disease prevention and education. He feels like he is making a difference in the lives of others by playing those roles. Joe plans to continue to pursue acting, but is also interested in music, motivational speaking and learning to play the keyboard. Joe would like to do motivational speaking with those who are struggling with alcohol and drug addictions.

Joe grew up on Holy Cross, where they didn’t have televisions or telephones. They didn’t have running water and used wood burning stoves. They got their water by dog sled. Joe worked hard in the village on multiple chores, including chopping wood, feeding dogs and getting water.

Joe recently acted in a film, called Safe in the Village. The film was produced by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, and it will be aired throughout rural Alaska. Safe in the Village is a current research project by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in effort to create effective and culturally sensitive sexual health and healthy relationships curricula. You can hear Joe’s voice-over in the trailer below.

I admire Joe for reaching for his dreams of becoming an actor. He serves as a role model for others, especially Alaska Native men. Best wishes Joe!


Be a Champion for ATTLA: A New Documentary Film

George Attla. Courtesy photo by Stacia Backensto
George Attla. Courtesy photo by Stacia Backensto

Catharine Axley is seeking funding for new documentary film on legendary dog musher, George Attla II. Catharine is a film student at Stanford University working on her masters in documentary film. She traveled to Alaska last summer and fell in love with the state, and with George’s dog mushing program for youth.

Learn about the project on Catharine’s Kickstarter fundraising campaign page site.

Catharine says, “I found it so fascinating and inspiring.” She met George and found him to be a very dynamic person. He was ‘larger than life’ and Catharine was impressed to see that he started the youth dog mushing program. Catharine says, “He is pioneering something really remarkable.” She looked through archival and current footage and saw the potential for a great documentary.

As of Sunday, November 9th, Catharine has raised $12,181, and her stretch goal is $14,500 by November 12th. She is only $2,319 away from her overall goal! The funding will allow her to make three trips to Huslia to film George, his mushing protege and the program.

Catherine is confident in the project and says, “We know we were going to make this happen.” George is 81 years old and not getting any younger, and he is also training a new musher. Huslia is my hometown and George is my dad’s uncle. He is family and I’m glad to see someone taking the initiative to capture the rich dog mushing history in Huslia.

Frank Attla Youth and Sled Dog Care Program. Courtesy photo by Stacia Backensto
Frank Attla Youth and Sled Dog Care Program. Courtesy photo by Stacia Backensto

Catharine has been surprised and grateful for the support she has received so far. The goal was $5,500 to cover one trip with an extended goal of raising enough for one-two more follow-up trips. Catharine says people from all over the world have been reaching out to her via the campaign page to support her and to share their own “George Attla” stories. There was a Swedish man who said his dogs are descendants of George’s dog, Lingo.

Why should people support the Kickstarter campaign to make this documentary? Catharine says, “It’s a great way to be a part of it, and people will gain insight into how the film is being made.” People who donate will receive project updates, and can get benefits based on their level of giving. Catharine sees the Kickstarter donors as the team behind the project, no matter the size of their contribution. I donated $35.00 for the project.

Kickstarter Page
George Attla – Making of A Campaign website
ATTLA documentary film on Facebook

Catharine is looking for home movies and photos of George Attla and his mushing history. She plans to add some archival footage in the documentary. Catharine offered to transfer any VHF tape footage of George for free. If you have some archival video footage or photos, please get in touch with Catharine at

Be a part of this great documentary film about the Huslia Husler, George Attla. Make your contribution by November 12th. You have the opportunity to be a champion of the project and be a part of the team to push Catherine over the edge and then some!