Al and Eleanor Yatlin check their fish net on the Koyukuk River in 2011. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Eenaa’e – My Athabascan Mother

Eleanor Yatlin with her quilt pieces.

Eenaa’e Eleanor Yatlin be’ooze’. My mom’s name is Eleanor Yatlin. Eenaa’e means mother in Koyukon Athabascan. She was born in late Sammy and Sophie Sam’s winter camp near Huslia, Alaska. She is Koyukon Athabascan. Her parents were the late Edwin and Lydia Simon. Her paternal grandparents were Simon and Julia Simon and maternal grandparents were Francis and Christine Olin. She was raised in Huslia and married my father, Al Yatlin, Sr., and they raised six children. She stayed home to raise her children Sharon, Angela (me), Tanya, Al Jr., Solomon and Johnnie. She and my dad celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2018.

Eleanor Yatlin scrapes a moose hide. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Eleanor Yatlin scrapes a moose hide. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Eenaa’e taught us many lessons growing up. One lesson I learned was to work hard at whatever you are doing. She taught us how to cook, do beadwork, cut fish, start a fire, keep a fire going, get prepared for a picnic, boat ride or camping. I remember how we had to wake up early to get ready to go on an outing. We had to rush around for at least a couple of hours. I remember being tired and annoyed, but was always grateful when we had a sandwich and snacks ready to eat. With so many of us, we had to work together.

Eenaa’e was like a drill sergeant and knew what needed to be done and prepared. If one of us forgot something, she knew who forgot it and reminded them again. We were always comfortable because she helped us to prepare. She made us dress up warm and fed us well. It feels so good to be comfortable out in the wild. Even though it was hard work to prepare for something, eenaa’e taught us the value of being prepared. If we got hungry or cold, it wasn’t because she didn’t warn us. It was because we didn’t listen to her. I’m probably the same way to my kids now and they probably get annoyed with me (smile). However, I don’t see them complaining when they are warm, dry and fed.

Parkas made by Eleanor Yatlin 2012
Eleanor Yatlin sewed fur-lined parkas for her grandchildren, Johnnie, Talia and Nikolai. Photo by Dolly Johnson

Eenaa’e taught the girls how to bead necklaces, earrings, barrettes and boots. She taught us how to repair torn moose/caribou boots. I don’t remember how to do everything and am not very good at them. She also taught us how to cook and bake. Eenaa’e is also a great quilter and has an eye for patterns. She has sewed quilts for her each of her grandchildren. Eenaa’e and my sister, Tanya, have worked together to sew kids parkas over the years.

Eleanor Yatlin cutting fish 6-11
My mother, Eleanor Yatlin, taught her kids, neices and nephews how to cut fish over the past 40 years. Photo taken in 2011 by Angela Gonzalez

Eenaa’e taught us how to cut fish at camp during the summers. I consider her ability to fillet a salmon an art. She was always careful and reverent when working on fish. She and the rest of the family had to work hard for every pound of fish we caught. She would work hard all day and still have energy to cut fish. She loves cutting fish. We had to take good care of her fish by keeping the fire going in the smokehouse. We had to hang them up and we were not allowed to drop it or get it dirty. She makes really good eating fish, whether it is half-dried or dried completely or frozen.

Eenaa’e took in boarding home students over the years. Some schools only went up to 10th grade, so she took in my cousins when needed. She loves children and grandchildren. Even though it was crowded, it was a lot of fun growing up with my cousins.

Eleanor Yatlin showing how to sew quills onto moose skin. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Eenaa’e loves to pick berries in late summer. She saves them for dessert over the winter or to give away at community events. My sister, Sheri, loves to pick berries too. My mother taught us how to cook for the family. As teenagers, we took turns cooking dinner each night. My mom always had us baking something once a week. Baking isn’t my favorite activity, but the memories of learning how and spending time with my mom and sisters stays with me. I’m grateful my mom taught us how to cook moose meat soup and how to bake fish. I now cook soup and bake fish for my family.

As you can see, eenaa’e taught us a lot. I admire her knowledge of the Koyukon Athabascan culture, beliefs and language and her ability to teach and share it. I get my love of writing and photography from her.

Enaa baasee’ Eenaa’e! Thank you Mother!

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