Denaakk'e language class attendees in Fairbanks. Photo by Marjorie Kunaq Tahbone
Alaska Native culture

Learning Denaakk’e – Koyukon Athabascan

Denaakk'e language class attendees in Anchorage at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Denaakk’e language class attendees in Anchorage at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

I am learning my language, Denaakk’e (Koyukon Athabascan), by attending classes this spring. There were some workshops held in Anchorage, and one in Fairbanks. The Alaska Native Studies Conference held four language workshops as pre-conference sessions. Dewey Kk’ołeyo Hoffman and Lorraine David were instructors at the Denaakk’e workshop. Kk’ołeyo and Lorraine taught us a basic Denaakk’e introduction.

There are many ways to do an introduction in Denaakk’e, but it was great to get a basic one to practice. I need to work on pronunciation. When Alaska Native people introduce themselves, they share who their parents and grandparents are and where they are from. We also share our siblings, spouse and children (if any). It is a great process to go through just to put it on paper. I have been writing down Denaakk’e names of my family members. I have also been talking with my family about how to say words/names and it has sparked a renewed sense of my identity.

Dewey Kk’ołeyo Hoffman leads a game to learn Denaakk'e words. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Dewey Kk’ołeyo Hoffman leads a game to learn Denaakk’e words. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Dewey Kk’ołeyo Hoffman has been leading a Denaakk’e class in Anchorage for the past month. There three more days of ‘class’ on April 22 at 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and April 29-30 at 9:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m. It is a co-class with Denaakk’e and Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa (Gwich’in). Rochelle Adams is leading the Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa class. We start together, go to separate instruction, then come back together at the end.

It has been fun to hang out with other participants and to learn together. It is a safe place to learn and okay to make mistakes as we are learning and practicing. There are people of all ages who attend. It’s fun getting to know people.

It has been a fluid process too where people have come when their schedule allowed. Kk’ołeyo says, “So far, we have practiced introductions, weather terms, animals, some demonstratives, and some commands.” They are all lessons you can learn anytime. Kk’ołeyo brings resources like videos, dictionaries, storybooks, and workbooks to the class. We reference the dictionary when needed. We have also learned a few songs where we learn words, like body parts and weather. At the Fairbanks training, we sang the airplane song.

One challenge to bringing teaching the Denaakk’e language is the number of dialects. I would say we are mostly learning the Central Koyukon Athabascan dialect. We learn from each other.

“I feel more motivated and disciplined to make learning my language a priority for me and for my kids. Taking this class has helped move me from apathy and inaction into action!” – Helena Hoffman (Koyukon Athabascan)

Denaakk'e language class attendees in Fairbanks. Photo by Marjorie Kunaq Tahbone
Denaakk’e language class attendees in Fairbanks. Photo by Marjorie Kunaq Tahbone

Thank you to organizations, like the Alaska Native Heritage Center and University of Alaska (UAF) College of Rural & Community Development for offering opportunities to learn Alaska Native languages. There are some great language revitalization efforts going on around the state. While I was at the Alaska Native Studies Conference, I heard about some great efforts for Denaakk’e and Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa languages. The Fairbanks Native Association is working to create a Denaakk’e immersion school for young children. A group of Gwich’in people have created a Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa language nest. They have been meeting on their own for the past two years.

It is a process to learn your language. I have taken Denaakk’e classes before and carry those lessons forward, and will continue to learn more. Learning the language and songs brings me closer to my family, friends and ancestors. I always get warm fuzzies when Alaska Native people speak in their languages and always feel empowered. It must make our ancestors dance for us to learn our language.

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There is still time to attend the language workshops in Anchorage. The workshops are free. There will be on April 22 at 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and April 29-30 at 9:30 a.m.-4:00 p.m. The April 22 class will be held at the Alaska Native Heritage Center’s Athabascan Ceremonial House. The workshops on April 29 and 30 will be held at a location yet to be determined. For more information, contact Shyanne Beatty at 907-330-8071 or sbeatty@alaskanative.net.

Denaakk’e and Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa Workshops
Denaakk’e and Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa Workshops
Huslia community members welcome a 2017 Iditarod musher. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Alaska Native culture

Iditarod Halfway Checkpoint – Huslia

2017 Iditarod Musher Dee Dee Jonrowe arrives in Huslia. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
2017 Iditarod Musher Dee Dee Jonrowe arrives in Huslia. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Huslia was the halfway checkpoint for the 2017 Iditarod. It was fun to be in Huslia as the Iditarod musher passed through. People of all ages enjoyed seeing the mushers and their dogs. The first musher arrived on the evening of Thursday, March 9. My daughter and I went to Huslia on March 10 and stayed until March 13. Each day, we made short videos of interviews with community members and mushers.

On the first day, Ermelina Gonzalez interviewed Barbie Sam, Jefferson Sam, Jessie Henry, Hugh Bifelt, Warner Vent, Sr. (former Iditarod musher), and Katherine Keith (2017 Iditarod musher). On the second day, Ermelina interviewed Warren Vent (grandson of late Bobby Vent, former Iditarod musher), Bill Derendoff, Kristy and Anna Barrington (2017 Iditarod mushers), and Nicolas Vanier (2017 Iditarod rookie musher). On the third day, Ermelina interviewed Agnes Dayton and Rosie Edwin, and we shared some video footage of racers leaving Huslia.

On the last day we were in Huslia, we shared footage the last musher arriving in Huslia. The Huslia Tribal Council gifted Ellen Halverson (2017 Iditarod musher) with a pair of beaver skin mitts made by Colleen Weter. Iditarod volunteers thanked the community of Huslia for all of their efforts for making it a successful checkpoint.

Playlist of all videos:

I was impressed with the community of Huslia and how they came together to welcome mushers, dogs and visitors. For about four days, volunteers worked around the clocks. Volunteer vets, dog handlers and officials came to Huslia too. The community hall was a place to gather for information, meetings and to eat. The community made sure there was plenty of food for everyone.

The weather was fairly warm in the teens and it was sunny. It was awesome to see the dogs when they arrived in Huslia. They had to pull a sled 478 miles from Fairbanks to reach Huslia. They are true athletes. I could see how much they enjoyed resting in the sun. The field in front of the community hall was filled with mushers throughout the weekend.

I am so glad I took a break from city life and went home to see the mushers going through Huslia. Watching mushers at the ceremonial start in Anchorage is always exciting, but it is thrilling to watch them on the trail. You gain a deeper understanding the strength, strategy and will it takes to complete the nearly 1,000 mile race to Nome.

Here are some photos I took in Huslia (click photo to see album on Flickr). Enjoy!

Iditarod in Huslia

This is what fully-smoked salmon looks like. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Alaska Native culture

Half-Dried Fish

K’eyoge’ is half-dried fish in Denaakk’e (Koyukon Athabascan). Photo by Angela Gonzalez
K’eyoge’ is half-dried fish in Denaakk’e (Koyukon Athabascan). Photo by Angela Gonzalez

I challenged readers of the Athabascan Woman Blog to help me come up with some one-word writing prompts. The prompts will help inspire me throughout the year. My goal is to do one blog post a week. Worpdress’ daily one-word prompts is originally what inspired me. I thought it would be great to make the words more related to Alaska or Alaska Native people, culture and more. I hosted a giveaway for you all to help me. Thank you to all who participated!

The first word is k’eyoge’. Thank you to Margaret David for suggesting the word. K’eyoge’ means half-dried fish in Denaakk’e (Koyukon Athabascan). I spent my summers in fish camp along the Koyukuk River near Huslia, and we were fortunate to catch, cut and smoke a lot of fish. We would smoke the eating fish in a smoke-house. Half-dried fish is exactly has it sounds. We smoke it until it is half-way dried, and bake it or put it in the freezer.

This is what fully-smoked salmon looks like. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
This is what fully-smoked salmon looks like. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

K’eyoge’ is a little softer in consistency than fully-dried white fish or salmon. It also is half-smoked, so you get that delicious smoked flavor. We used dead cottonwood to smoke fish. It’s making me hungry thinking about it. 🙂

Have you eaten k’eyoge’? I am very grateful when I get to eat some. Sometimes potlatches are the only place to get it. Check out Susan Paskvan’s Athabascan word of the week article on cutting fish on the Fairbanks Daily Newsminer.

One-word prompts suggestion jar. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
One-word prompts suggestion jar. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Do you have a word you would like to me to add to my suggestion jar? Comment below or send me a message on my Facebook, Instagram or Twitter pages. Be sure to like the Athabascan Woman Blog on Facebook for future giveaways.

Alaska Native culture

Making Beaded Slippers

Beaded slippers by Angela Gonzalez

I’ve been at it again. I have been beading and sewing like a madwoman for the past month! I don’t sell my slippers, but do make them as gifts for family and friends. I have enjoyed designing them, picking out colors.

I buy the slippers and sew the beadwork and fur trim. I went shopping on Black Friday specifically for slippers. It takes me approximately 2-7 days to finish a pair. I work full-time, so I  bead and sew in the evenings and weekends.

Beaded slippers by Angela Gonzalez

I donated a pair for an Alaska Native art auction, but have mostly been sewing for my nieces and friends. It is my new hobby and maybe an obsession. 🙂 I will likely slow down and after the holidays. It feels great to be making handmade gifts.

Beaded slippers by Angela Gonzalez

I usually ask what are people’s favorite colors to make it specifically for that person. My niece is a basketball player, so I made a basketball themed pair of slippers. Another person loves picking blueberries, so I made him a pair with that theme. Check out the latest slippers I have been beading in this Facebook album:  beaded slippers.

Over the years, my family has gifted me with moose skin hide, beaver fur, beads, thread and wax. I shop at local craft stores in Anchorage to get the supplies I need.

I have learned a lot about beading, sewing and working with hides and furs. I have made mistakes along the way, but learned how to fix them. I have learned fixing your mistakes and problem solving is a part of the process.

I shared some instructions and a video a couple years ago. How to Bead Moose Skin Slipper Tops:  http://athabascanwoman.com/?p=2348.

Overall, I’ve learned a lot and it has been fun! I may make glove tops to sew onto gloves for my nephews. That will be my next project. Happy Holidays!

Alaska Native culture

Giving Thanks Dance Festival & Potluck

The Giving Thanks Dance Festival & Potluck was held at UAA on November 18.
The Giving Thanks Dance Festival & Potluck was held at UAA on November 18.

November is Native American/Alaska Native Heritage Month, and a number of events are held in Alaska. I have gone to a few events and spoke at a local school to share stories about growing up in fish camp and about Athabascan life. On November 18, the University of Alaska-Anchorage (UAA) Native Student Council held their 3rd annual Giving Thanks Dance Festival & Potluck.

UAA Native Student Council member, Kyle Worl, says, “Three years ago we were trying to think of an event to celebrate Alaska Native Heritage Month on campus and also provide a Thanksgiving gathering/feast for students that couldn’t go home for the holiday.”

They started out the event with a potluck. People from the community attended. Dance groups performed, including Yurapik, Tlingit & Haide Dancers of Anchorage, Anchorage Unangax Dancers, Anchorage Inupiaq Northern Lights Dancers, Piiyuuk Shields and Byron Nicholai and Yukon Knik Athabaskan Fiddlers. Ariel “Bisco” Taylor painted during the event. I caught the last half of the event.

The event was crowded with an estimated 550 people who attended throughout the event. Organizers say it looks like they have outgrown the UAA Cuddy Hall, and will likely have to find a larger venue next year.

I love hearing the drum beat and people enjoying and celebrating Alaska Native culture. I also enjoy seeing friends and relatives. The Native Student Council awarded Sheila Randazzo with the Student Advocacy & Support Award. Kudos to the motivated students, faculty and sponsors who helped to make the event a success!

Native Student Council and awardee, Sheila Randazzo. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Native Student Council and awardee, Sheila Randazzo. Photo by Angela Gonzalez