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.

Alaska life, Alaska Native culture, Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Slippery Pete’s Gambit by Colin Tass’aq McDonald

Colin Tass'aq McDonald's selfie at the 2019 Iditarod start in Willow.
Colin Tass’aq McDonald’s selfie at the 2019 Iditarod start in Willow.

My friend and colleague, Colin Tass’aq McDonald (Yup’ik), loves following the Iditarod. Each year, he shares his fun and humorous analysis with his personal network. His friends and family relied on his updates and often tagged and begged him for his daily updates. He had a lot of fun with nicknames and memes for the mushers. Tass’aq’s grew up dog mushing in Bethel, Alaska. He graciously agreed to share an update on Pete Kaiser’s win of the 2019 Iditarod. Pete is the first Yup’ik musher to win the Iditarod. Quyana for sharing, Tass’aq!

***

I just boarded the plane on my first leg on my journey to Egypt less than 24 hours after flying to Nome to watch Slippery Pete cross under the famed burled arch to become the first Yu’pik champion of the Iditarod. I wanted to share this post (below) from a few days back, because it was my favorite point of an amazing race!

In my opinion, ‘Pete’s Gambit’ out of Grayling is when he put himself into position to grab the belt as the ‘greatest musher in the world’! He put the pressure on the front runners Nic Le Lapin and Joar of The Hill people, and made them make decisions that compromised the speed of their teams down the trail. He eventually did what Slippery Pete does and slipped past both and into immortality.

The atmosphere in the chute last night was indescribable. I have been to about a dozen Iditarod finishes and I have never witnessed that kind of energy. John Baker’s finish came closest. Of course, I am being extremely biased, but it was distant in comparison. Nobody brings the energy like #KuskoNation!

I was so happy to be able to share the moment with my little cousin Ari (Pete’s son and my ticket into the chute…Quyana Ari!) as he got the ‘best seat in the house’ sitting on my shoulders as we soaked it all in. So many friends and family were there in the same state of awe as me. I was teary-eyed during the entire experience. I have grown up around and have participated in sports my entire life and have witnessed many moments that have left me floored, but I have never experienced an athletic feat that had such a personal and emotional effect on me and I’ll venture to guess that Pete’s first championship will never be bested in that regards.

In 2008, when Pete won the Bogus Creek 150, my Dad, John McDonald, said “Pete is going to win the Iditarod someday.” At the time, it seemed unfathomable, but to be there first hand to watch Pete achieve all his goals and dreams is something I will never forget.

This accomplishment has brought so much pride to his family, friends, community, region, state, and to the Yup’ik people and I am just so proud of my friend! I’m also proud of all the other Kusko Mushers this year. Richiero Su zuki, 2 quicklas Niklas Wikstrand, Jessica JR GRowling’ Klejka, and Victoria ‘The Frozen Candle’ Hardwick, ran and are continuing to run amazing races.

I also wanted to give a big Quyana for all the thank yous and encouragement on my posts throughout the race. I loved the people reaching out to tell me they had never really followed the race, but really got into it and excited reading my somewhat silly and irreverent ‘coverage’ this year.

Growing up with a dog team really gave me a great appreciation, love, and respect for all these mushers and dogs do. It really made me smile to get texts and posts from ‘racing legend’ Myron Angstman and the son of an Iditarod Champ, Isa Fredricks to “Update Us!” As I hope you can tell, I truly enjoyed posting them and I am so happy to play my small part in this amazing piece of our Alaskan Culture. Once again, Quyana, and we will see all you race fans next year!! Now off to the pyramids!! What an amazing week!

Tass’aq’s March 9th Analysis of the Point When He Believes Pete Kaiser Set Himself Up for Success

Slippery Pete’s Gambit – When Slippery Pete left Grayling in 3rd, I was sitting at my sister’s house with my parents, Beverly and John. I got the word on the Iditajunkie text thread and we all said, ‘Holy Shit’!! Everybody assumed he was there for his 8 hours [layover], since he had already been there for 6 hours.

But then after thinking about it, it became pretty clear that it’s the perfect move to make if you want to win a race like this. He is putting pressure on Joar of the Hill People and Nic Le Lapin now. He is going to take his 8 hours, but they are going to have to rest too and all that time is time he is catching up. And with the weather still coming in, the teams behind may have a tough trail to make up time. We will see if it works, but Ole’ Slippery is out there playing chess right now and has put himself in pretty good posish to make a run at this thing!

He has passed Nic and is 4 miles behind Joar at this moment. Rawhide Richie had a great run after taking his 8 hours. Pulled into Grayling in 7th at 7:15. I bet he gets back on the trail to start chasing down those leaders pretty soon. JK GRowling left Iditarod just a few minutes ago and Niklas Sixx pulled in there at 10:31. I was asked why I’m not posting about Victoria Hardwick…don’t really know her. 🤷🏼‍♂️ But she is grinding it out like a true Kuskokwim musher and deserves to get in these posts. ‘The Frozen Candle’ (Hardwick…get it?) is out of Ophir at 6:33 pm. Jessica and Vic still both have 14 dogs!! Word on the trail is that Hardwick’s dogs have amazing breath. Going to be up late tracking. May have some updates. Boy that was a long one!!

***

Enaa baasee’ Colin Tass’aq McDonald for the fun and exciting updates! Here are a couple other updates from Kaiser Racing Kennels and Indian Country Today.

Update from Kaiser Racing Kennels:

Check out the update from Indian Country Today – Yup’ik musher wins Iditarod! Pete Kaiser is first Yup’ik, fifth Alaska Native to win 998-mile race.

Indian Country Today provided a list of Alaska Native winners of the Iditarod:
2019: Peter Kaiser, Yup’ik, 9 days, 12 hours, 39 minutes, 6 seconds.
2011: John Baker, Iñupiaq, 8 days 18 hours 46 minutes 39 seconds.
1976: Gerald Riley, Athabascan, 18 days 22 hours 58 minutes 17 seconds.
1975: Emmitt Peters, Athabascan, 14 days 14 hours 43 minutes 45 seconds.
1974: Carl Huntington, Athabascan, 20 days 15 hours 2 minutes 7 seconds.

Link:  https://newsmaven.io/indiancountrytoday/news/yup-ik-musher-wins-iditarod-pete-kaiser-is-first-yup-ik-fifth-alaska-native-to-win-998-mile-race-LS9w67kz5kKFzesSEZKXXg/

 

Alaska life, Alaska Native culture, Athabascan in the Spotlight

Athabascan Mushers in the 2019 Fur Rondy OWC Race

There were four Athabascan dog mushers from interior Alaska in the Fur Rondy Open World Championship Race this year! Marvin Kokrine, Ricky Taylor, John Erhart and Courtney Agnes are all from interior Alaska. Overall, they were in the top 12. Check out the overall results on the Alaskan Sled Dog & Racing Association site. Congratulations to the mushers and their teams! Kudos to the families and friends who support dog mushing!

John Erhart on day 2 of the Fur Rondy Open World Championship Race. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
John Erhart on day 2 of the Fur Rondy Open World Championship Race. John was second place overall. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Here are some daily recap videos below. Enaa baasee’ to Marie Kokrine and Monica Moore for sharing on the Athabascan Woman Blog on the last day. It was an exciting three days watching the teams! Thanks for tuning in.

This year, the race was dedicated to late Lester Erhart of Tanana. It was great to see his son, John Erhart, place second. I heard one announcer say, he must be receiving some help from up above.

This year, the Fur Rondy race was dedicated to late Lester Erhart. Courtesy of the Fur Rondy OWC program guide

I love watching Fur Rondy, because my dad, Al Yatlin, Sr., loves it so much. He was a dog musher. When he was in Anchorage during Fur Rondy, we would watch the teams take off from downtown Anchorage, then run over to Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to watch them cross over the Tudor Road bridge. Then, we would head back downtown to watch them come back in. In the meantime, the radio would be on in the car announcing checkpoint times. He would be marking all of the checkpoint times down. I loved those times!

Dog mushing is a part of Alaska Native life in many villages. I am happy to see this tradition continuing today. I know it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to raise and train dogs. Good luck to all of the mushers in the spring mushing season!

Alaska life

November 30 Earthquake

Scott Waterman's clock fell and stopped when the earthquake hit at 8:29 am on November 30th.
Scott Waterman’s clock fell and stopped when the earthquake hit at 8:29 am on November 30th. Photo by Scott Waterman

The 7.0 earthquake on November 30 near Anchorage was terrifying. I took the day off, so I was beading when it hit. Our dog, Danny Boy, ran downstairs right away. It kept going and was shaking hard, so walked over to the balcony door. I put my hands on the door to hold myself up and prayed. It kept going and going and I heard the house shaking and things falling.

It finally stopped. I was shaking and started sending messages to check on my husband and girls. I went outside when the aftershock hit. Danny Boy and I just waited outside. I saw the neighbors outside too and asked if they were okay. One neighbor’s dog ran away when the earthquake hit, so I tried helping to them to catch her. I went back in the house and surveyed the damage. It was dark, scary and surreal.

My husband is a driver and was making deliveries. His big work truck moves a lot already, so he didn’t feel the earthquake. However, he saw trees swaying and a street light shaking hard. He also saw a flash of light toward the airport. It must have been when the electricity went out. When he went to make a delivery, he noticed lots of people evacuated from the building. That’s when he figured out something happened. When he got to a transportation company to do a pick up, the people there told him they were glad he was alive. People were scared and panicked when the aftershock hit. That time, he felt his truck moving side to side, which was scary. Then, it took him about two hours (usually 10-minute drive) to get home. Traffic was slow due to more people on the roads and traffic lights being out.

My oldest daughter works at a daycare. They had all of the kids go under tables. There were about 15 kids there. One child was really scared and clinging to her. In her scared voice, the girl asked, “What’s happening?!” And kept crying. Many parents came to pick up the kids right away, then they closed the center. It also took her a while to drive home because of the traffic.

My youngest daughter was at school. After the main earthquake, the alarm started going off. They evacuated the school. There was a lot of damage. Many of the long fluorescent lights were broken and hanging for the ceilings. It was really dusty in the school. Lots of kids were crying.

The streetlights were out and the traffic was slow near East High School after the 7.0 earthquake hit in Anchorage on November 30. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
The streetlights were out and the traffic was slow near East High School after the 7.0 earthquake hit in Anchorage on November 30. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

She said, “The main earthquake was during passing period, so people were still coming into class and people were in the bathrooms. At first, no one was taking it serious until the teacher yelled at us to get under the desks. There were people yelling and screaming in the hallways when the power went out. The power came back on and the alarm turned on. The teacher yelled at us to leave the school. There was dust everywhere in the classroom and the parts of the ceiling fell. I noticed that some of the lights had been hanging from the ceiling and everyone was rushing out of the building. Then, everyone was moved to the commons shortly after waiting outside for a little while. We were only able to go in from two doors and they had all the hallway doors closed. They were trying to shush everyone and had us all sit down. One of the principals was talking into a bullhorn, but no one could really hear. An aftershock happened, and many people stood up. Many people were talking and over the announcements they said the same message every couple of minutes that parents could pick their kids up on the northern lights side.”

Broken bathtub tiles in my home. Thankfully, we did not sustain major damage. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Broken bathtub tiles in my home. Thankfully, we did not sustain major damage. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

The power was out, and my car was in the garage. I had to walk over to pick her up, which thankfully is just down the street. Not having a car worked out though, because it would have taken longer if I drove. The street lights were out, and the traffic was really slow. The line to pick up kids was long and slow.

I was so thankful my family was okay and am grateful for the bonding with my neighbors, friends and family since then. A few things broke when they fell off shelves. Our house has some cracks in the drywall and bathtub tile but is thankfully okay overall. Some friends had much more extensive damage.

My friend, Ayyu Qassataq’s home, received much more damage and was recently declared a total loss. People have asked how they can help, and there are many ways to help with local non-profit agencies who are helping in the earthquake recovery. A Go Fund Me page has been set up to support Ayyu and her family.

Organizer Lena Jacobs, said “Our dear friend Ayyu and her children’s home was severely damaged during the 7.0 earthquake in Anchorage, Alaska on November 30, and was recently declared a total loss – the cost to tear down and rebuild is less than repairs would be. She is continuing to work with her home insurance company, but it will be quite a process – with deductibles of $45k for damage repairs and $9k for living expenses, donated funds will be used to help with immediate and long-term costs associated with moving and rebuilding.”

Ayyu’s friends are hosting a fundraiser dinner, dance and silent auction on Sunday, December 15 – “Ayyu Qassataq + Family Earthquake Relief Fundraiser Dinner/Dance“. They are seeking monetary, food and silent auction donations and volunteers. Check out the Facebook event page to get all of the latest details.

A fundraiser will be held for Ayyu Qassataq and her family on Sunday, December 16.
A fundraiser will be held for Ayyu Qassataq and her family on Sunday, December 16.

I asked my friends to share their reflections of the earthquake. My cousin, Rhonda Pitka, was at the 11th floor of the Hilton Hotel. She decided she’s not staying at anything higher than 3rd floor from now on.

My friend, Freddie R. Olin IV, said “What at first sounded like a steamroller going down Ambassador Drive on ANMC campus turned into a bit of a shaker – I coolly and calmly stooped under my desk, coffee in hand. I was not letting that mofo go. Nope. No can do.” Lol! I saw some memes about Alaskans and their coffee. Check out the social media images and memes are being collected by the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson. My friend, Beka, noticed how many people went home to check on their jarred fish. Alaskans have their priorities. 🙂

“It was beautiful to pray with my children and dog on our front lawn and reflect that Mother Earth was in charge that day. I think we all thanked Her for a week off of school and were spared any larger devastation like so many others have encountered. I was especially thankful our dog didn’t run away and to actually feel the earth move under my feet and witness nearby lamp posts and trees swish around for that brief time. I’m glad we all got to hug and enjoy the moment together prior to going to school and I’m kind of glad I didn’t have my phone nearby, so I could fully appreciate the experience.” – Donna Bach (Yup’ik)

“Angela, this is an event I will never want to repeat.” – Lina Mariscal

“A lady in Wasilla said ‘now that every shelf is cleared, it’s a good time to clean the house’.” – Linda Demientieff (Koyukon Athabascan)

“I was on the 12th floor of Westmark with Tina and Ernest. Bro and I were out on the balcony when it started. I screamed so hard and long that my voice is still not back to 100%. Thank God for my sister, she pulled me in and made me leave the building, running down all 12 flights of stairs. It’s been three days since my last nightmare. I am trying my best to get over it and not let it keep me from going back to Anchorage, but I must say-it will be awhile until then.” – Vanessa Edwards (Koyukon Athabascan)

“Many things broke in our house, and I don’t plan to replace any of it. I cut my hands cleaning up all the glass, from items fallen off of shelves, flying out of cupboards, and picture frames from walls. It was very loud from the noise of everything breaking, the dogs hid under the snow machine trailer for an hour. We heard the transformers behind our house blow, I’ve never heard electricity, but I immediately knew what it was. Then the noise of ambulance sirens. I will remember the sounds from that day above everything else. Although it was scary, it also made me feel really alive, made me reflect on life, and the earth… and all these crazy tectonic plates we live on. I didn’t have my glasses or contacts on that morning. I’m blind as a bat (-7.00), so it makes sense that the sounds are what stood out the most!!” – Jamie Kleas

“Extremely lucky today. I’m so glad I was not at home which really took a hit and I probably would have been screaming: couldn’t get in the front door, actual shelves flew off, glass shattered all over the living room, kitchen, and bath; drawers flew open and are filled with shattered glass from glasses falling out of cabinets. And my babies…..my books….all over the place! The lion my son brought back from Afghanistan lost his leg. It’s amazing the items unharmed….jar of salmon on top of fridge landed in the living room….on the other side of a bookshelf, intact!…. my pic of Grandma Holden in a Waterford frame flew off the entertainment center….not a scratch on her. A glass ornament I blew at a glass factory in Corning, NY right after 911 took a dive off the top shelf and only the top hook part broke off. Mother and Child that Grandma Marilyn Moody gave me dove off a shelf and landed underneath one….without a scratch on them. All those bookshelves had things all over the top of them, and look at them now. 🙁 going to be a long weekend.” – Marie Jeno

Books fell in Marie Jeno's home during the November 30th earthquake. Photo by Marie Jeno
Books fell in Marie Jeno’s home during the November 30th earthquake. Photo by Marie Jeno

My friend,, said, “Reflecting back: so glad I picked up my Bipsy Boo from school and brought her to her mom yesterday morning. Regret: drove across town (O’Malley to Muldoon) to check on my house and belongings instead of staying put with my sis and niece. My nerves were so shook that I barely did anything except stay still, and stay alert, lol. After putting a backpack and back up in the car together I basically cleaned up a small mess and just sat on my couch with my coat and purse on. So thankful for today. So thankful everyone is OK. So much love to everyone who experienced this earthquake. This is all the more reason why we must always respect our lands and waters. Recycle if you can, use less if you can, consume less if you can, and utilize water and food wisely (no wasting). #PartLandPartWater #AlwaysNative” – Ella Sassuuk Tonuchuk (Yup’ik)

Enaa baasee’ to my friends and family who have shared their stories and to those assisting with the fundraiser for Ayyu Qassataq and her family. The Alaska Department of Health and Social Services has a list of resources available. Don’t be afraid to seek help as you are coping after the natural disaster. Doing things I love, like beading, has helped me to stay calm since the earthquake. I’m relieved the aftershocks seem to be subsiding.

Wigi Tozzi shared this photo of earthquake damage near Jewel Lake and Raspberry. The land there subsided about four feet. Photo by Wigi Tozzi
Wigi Tozzi shared this photo of earthquake damage near Jewel Lake and Raspberry. The land there subsided about four feet. Photo by Wigi Tozzi