Donald Bergman as a young man in Allakaket. Photo courtesy of Don Bergman
Alaska Native/Indigenous People

A Letter from an Athabascan Elder

Photo courtesy of Don Bergman
Photo courtesy of Don Bergman

Every year, I send Christmas cards out to family and friends. I enjoy receiving cards with pictures and letters. It is a great time to catch up with people. Each year, I get a card back from Donald Bergman, an Athabascan Elder from Allakaket. Don is 75 years old. He can no longer write with his right hand after a stroke, so the sentences are a little shaky from writing with his left hand.

This year, Don sent me pictures along with his letter. It truly warms my heart to receive a wonderful letter like this from uncle Don. Don is my mom’s first cousin. Don’s late wife, Carrie Bergman, was a special lady. She was the nicest lady who always had a shy smile on her face.

Don is a trapper, hunter and fisherman. He and late Carrie lived a subsistence lifestyle. They spent a lot of time in their camp, which is about six miles below Allakaket on the Koyukuk River. When we were small kids, my parents brought us to visit them in camp. They went back and forth between camp and Allakaket by dog sled. Late Carrie was an excellent skin sewer and knew how to tan moose skin. She made rabbit skin and beaver skin mittens and caribou leggings. My mom, Eleanor Yatlin, said late Carrie was a great storyteller and told some wonderful and funny stories of living in camp.

Don’s letter was addressed to me and my husband:

**************

2-7-14

Photo and caption courtesy of Don Bergman
Photo and caption courtesy of Don Bergman

Dear Friends,

You guys send me nice picture every year, so I send old pictures. One is 4th of July races. They have it down here in old airport. They pay $400-$500 for men’s and woman’s race. First place that is.

I’m doing okay. Stay alone in my old house. I sure like to get out camping and get beaver. No one trap anymore. Prices are good. I like to eat beaver meat, easy to catch.

There’s more moose again. They had wolf control last year. There was no moose for couple years. Wolf kill them all.

I hope you like these pictures. I got lots of old pictures.

Thank you

Uncle Don

**************

Donald Bergman as a young man in Allakaket. Photo courtesy of Don Bergman
Donald Bergman as a young man in Allakaket. Photo courtesy of Don Bergman

Don said he doesn’t have any pictures of himself anymore and that is why he sent me some of his old pictures. The next time I see him, I’ll definitely take some pictures so he can share it with his family and friends. I loved hearing about what is happening in Allakaket.

One Athabascan tradition is to respect your elders. Elders have worked hard to raise families and teach traditions. I can’t wait to go to Allakaket and other villages along the Koyukuk River to spend time with and learn from elders. They have a lot to contribute and share. Treasure your elders wherever you may be. They appreciate the simplest gestures of kindness and being connected.

Ana basee’ uncle Don Bergman of Allakaket!

"Looking north back from New Town. Those kids were sliding down the hill. You can see Alatna Hills and the old village." Photo and caption courtesy of Don Bergman
“Looking north back from New Town. Those kids were sliding down the hill. You can see Alatna Hills and the old village.” Photo and caption courtesy of Don Bergman

 

Angela Gonzalez and Donald Bergman in Allakaket in the summer of 2014
Angela Gonzalez and Donald Bergman in Allakaket in the summer of 2014

8 thoughts on “A Letter from an Athabascan Elder”

  1. Respecting and listening to the wise words of elders is the key to a healthy society….I hate to see how us modern city folks isolate our elders from the others.

  2. What a true marvel you have in your ‘Uncle Don’; you are indeed lucky to have his wisdom and experience! I cannot agree more with your observations of the real need to respect our elders and to value their wisdom. Sure, as someone rapidly approaching that ‘elder’ status I suppose you could say I’m biased – and I probably am – but my parents raised me to respect my elders and this respect was founded upon recognizing the worrth of their wisdom and experience. As ‘Janice’ mentioned its sad to see how so many in the lower 48 view the elderly as a burden and a ‘cost center’. Our culture will continue to decline if we do not learn to value our older members and learn from their wisdom and experience. While still living in SE Michigan I volunteered at an assisted living facility and asked to work in that portion of the community dedicated to caring for residents struggling with dementia. I was initially encouraged to do so as I watched my dear mother succumb to the horrendous effects of Alzheimer’s but very soon I learned these folks were truly amazing in their breadth of experience and the depth of the wisdom. It was my pleasure to serve them and my only regret in moving to Talkeetna is that there is no such facility close by as I would gladly volunteer once again in a heartbeat. As it is I do volunteer at the local NPR station (KTNA) and at the Sunshine Food Pantry which supports so many needy families in the Upper Susitna River Valley. One thing I truly love about so many Alaskans I’ve come to know is their understanding of the value of the elderly and their respect for their wisdom and experience. There are 49 other states that could really take a lesson from ‘The Last Frontier’ in this respect..! Thank you for being willing to share just a bit of your ‘Uncle Don’ with us; I hope he can grace your life for many years to come.

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