Alaska Native/Indigenous People, Fairbanks

Feeling Fortunate

During the holidays, there are many opportunities to give. I’ve given to a variety of charities and fundraisers over the years. This year, I chose to contribute a gift to a child in need. I picked a star of a child who wanted winter clothes with a budget of $25. It was a challenge to stay under budget. I was only able to get one item that was close to $20, and even that was on sale.

It made me realize the hard choices parents have to make not only during the holidays but throughout the year. I really wanted to just buy the next item, but I had to stay under $25. It made me see the hard reality of people in need. It made me think about what it must be like to choose between things you need like food and warm clothes in Alaska during the winter. I am grateful for this eye-opening experience.

Angela Gonzalez at the Huslia Head Start in 1978
Angela Gonzalez at the Huslia Head Start in 1978.

It gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation of the struggles many of us go through on a daily basis. It also brought me back to my childhood. As the old saying goes, ‘We didn’t know we were poor.’ That’s how it really was. I have fond memories of Christmas time. We considered ourselves fortunate if we got new yarn socks for Christmas.

I’m glad I’m able to contribute a little. It also reminded me of what the holiday season is all about. When I was a young kid, we lived in Huslia. I remember the excitement of seeing Santa at the community hall. The kids received gifts from Santa. I remember eating mandarin oranges. They were so delicious. The whole community came together.

I used to sleep by the Christmas tree. We had live spruce trees in the village. On Christmas morning, people stopped by to shake our hands to wish us Merry Christmas. We also visited people all around town too. Nowadays, we mostly make those wishes on Facebook. Plus it is hard to go door to door when you live in the city.

I remember watching fireworks during New Year’s eve. Sometimes there was a violin dance. At midnight, the men shot their guns in the air. It was an exciting time.

Fairbanks Four photo courtesy of Tanana Chiefs Conference
Fairbanks Four photo courtesy of Tanana Chiefs Conference

On December 17th, the Fairbanks Four (Marvin Roberts, Eugene Vent, Kevin Pease and George Frese) celebrate their first day together as free men. It began unfolding on social media after lunch as reports of them being in a closed hearing was happening. People were on pins and needles waiting for word of the potential release. I was watching it unfold on Facebook and Twitter. Finally, Eugene Vent, Kevin Pease and George Frese walked out of the court as free men. Marvin Roberts was released earlier this year.

It took a tremendous amount of unwavering support from people around the state to set them free. Search “Fairbanks Four” online for news and information regarding their release. One staunch supporter, April Monroe, said, “These are the first Native American men to ever be exonerated, and the first Alaskans as well, but more importantly, eighteen years later these guys are home.”

Yes! They are home just in time for the holidays. Their family and friends will be able feed them and take care of them. They will be able to eat Native food and share in traditions. Freedom is not something to take for granted, and I wish all four of the guys well as they transition to normal life. It is truly amazing what can happen when the entire statewide community comes together for a cause.

Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC) set up a donation account for the Fairbanks Four. TCC President Victor Joseph “Once this chapter of their lives has come to a close, they will face a new set of challenges as they begin their re-entry into society. These men have been imprisoned for most of their adult lives.” He goes on to say, “The road ahead for the Fairbanks Four is going to be a long one and Tanana Chiefs Conference will be there to support them every step of the way. We ask that the rest of the Fairbanks community and even the nation join us in support of these men.”

I’m looking forward to spending time with family and friends and will definitely not take it for granted. It is also a time for reflection as we enter 2016. It’s a time for giving and receiving and to appreciate the people in your life.

Happy Holidays from the Athabascan Woman Blog!

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
Entertainment, Fairbanks

Going Home to Interior Alaska

View of Denali by Angela Gonzalez
View of Denali by Angela Gonzalez

Even in Fairbanks, everybody knows everybody and people are friendly. People ask me my name and where I’m from, and sometimes who my parents or grandparents  are. They may know your family or someone from your village.

You can strike up a conversation with someone while you are waiting at the airport and you may hear stories. An Elder shared a story about the 1950’s. He was driving dogs in the springtime before breakup. He fell through the ice and called his leader to come back. His dogs turned around and the leader jumped in the water and helped him get out. His dogs saved him. It was a true story of survival in Alaska. There are many more stories like this.

Huslia in the fall time
Huslia in the fall time

I love the feeling of going home. I am excited to disconnect from the digital world and go out boating, camping, fishing, hunting and spending time with family. It feels great to be closer to family in the interior. I look forward to seeing family and friends.

I’m going to a place where there are sand or gravel trails, with no paved roads. The main transportation is by ATVs, like four-wheelers or snow machines.

View of a camp along the Koyukuk River
View of a camp along the Koyukuk River

I love the smell of the campfire and seeing wildlife. If I close my eyes, I can imagine hearing loons in the background, an occasional fish jumping, a beaver tail slapping the water, or an airplane or boat near the camp. It is very peaceful. You have to respect the land to survive on it.

It is expensive to travel within Alaska, especially if you have a family. I will continue to plan and save for the trip each year. Each time, I treat it like an experience of a lifetime. I love the Alaska and the interior! There is truly no place like home.

Here is a short presentation my trip to Huslia.