Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Koyukuk River Fish Camp Memories

I grew up in a village along the Koyukuk River in Alaska. We went to fish camp every summer from the time school got out to the time it started up again. When I was a kid, I missed playing with my friends in Huslia when I was in fish camp. As I look back, the summers spent at camp were some of my best memories. I had the most fun with my family and cousins.

Fish Camp in 1980
Cousins in 1980 in fish camp. Photo by Eleanor Yatlin

We worked hard all summer on fishing. We set a fish net and checked it once or twice a day. My parents, aunts, uncles and older kids cut fish. The younger kids would also learn how to cut fish too. Younger kids helped by hanging fish, carrying water, and gathering wood. Cooking was also a big part of being in camp. We all had to chip in to make sure everyone was fed.

We had to help take care of each other. Older kids took care of babies while the adults were cutting fish. We cut fish for the winter ahead. If we were lucky enough to get king salmon, my parents would be sure to bring some back for the Elders in Huslia. My dad was a dog musher, so we had to make sure to store plenty of fish for the dogs over the winter too.

We had to keep the camp clean and cut grass and brush. Cutting the grass helped to cut down on the mosquitoes and gnats. We slept in mosquito nets at night, ones made by my mom and grandmother. I loved the fabric and netting my mom used and remember daydreaming and reading under mosquito nets.

The summers were pretty hot in the interior. We didn’t have refrigerators or freezers in camp. My late grandmother, Lydia Simon, kept a couple bags of frozen meat in the ground. We would replenish the supply every couple of weeks when we went to town. We stored food in a big wooden box to keep it dry and cool.

Lydia Simon and grandchildren in camp in 1980s
My late grandma, Lydia Simon, loved to play cards and hang out with her grandchildren. Pictured with her are Soloman, Johnnie and Josephine. Taken in fish camp in the early 1990s by Angela Gonzalez

Grandma Lydia would yell, “Who wants sookanee?!” We would all say, “Me, meeee!” Sookanee means pancakes or bread in Koyukon Athabascan. [I’m not sure how to spell it correctly. I know a lot of words in Athabascan, but not necessarily how to spell them.] My grandmother made the best sourdough pancakes and fry bread. In late July, we would start to pick high bush cranberries. We ate pancakes with syrup or high bush berry jam. We ate a lot of salmon and whitefish all summer.

We would get excited when we heard a boat or airplane and would compete to see who heard them first. We would yell in camp, “First one to hear boat!” or “First one to hear airplane!” Small distractions and games kept us busy. We played card games, dice and other games. My parents played cribbage in the late evenings after they settled down for the day.

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

Everyone worked hard in camp and had a role. With the hard work, we also had a lot of fun. We washed the boat every two weeks on a nice day. We got to go swimming. Then, we would sometimes go for a boat ride. My dad would bring us on little adventures when we went for boat rides. We would get mountain water from down river and use it for coffee and tea.

We had visitors in camp every once in awhile. They would spend a few hours or a few days with us. It was good to have visitors. We would hear the latest news from town and sometimes they brought us fresh food or new magazines or books.

I remember playing under the cut bank in the summer. My sisters and cousins made elaborate Barbie mansions out of mud and sand. We played for hours. We climbed trees. The boys had boats carved out of driftwood. The boat would be tied to a string and stick and they had fun making their boats “cruise” in the water.

My grandma made grass dolls and dresses out of grass heads and fabric. She would sew little clothes on them for us. She made a few more like this to sell. The clothes were made out of moose skin and beading. I think they were like $400 or more each. We were lucky we got some to play with. She was a master sewer and beadworker.

We had a couple small cabins and a couple tents that we stayed in. My parents had oil lamps that we used sparingly in the evening to get a little bit of reading time in. We took turns reading comics, books, and magazines. They were worn out by the end of the summer.

We listened to radio all summer. The song of one summer was “Abracadabra” by the Steve Miller Band. Everyone sang along when they heard that song and other popular ones. There was no TV in camp, so we relied on the radio for news. If there was an emergency or someone wanted to reach us from the village, they would send a message over the radio.

We did not go to town very often, and when we did, we took turns going. My parents made sure to bring us to town to spend the Fourth of July holiday in Huslia. There were all sorts of fun festivities for the Fourth of July. We got in all of the races and games for our age levels. After those few days, we headed back to camp.

Mom and dad and kids in 2007
My parents, Al and Eleanor Yatlin, spend as much time in fish camp with their grandchildren, nieces and nephews as possible. Photo take in 2007 by Angela Gonzalez

It wasn’t an easy life, but summers spent in fish camp were some of the best times in my life. I learned how to work hard, to live off the land, and how to have fun. I treasure the stories my grandmother told us throughout the summer. I have a great appreciation for my parents, grandparents, aunts and uncle and wonder how they did it. I try to bring my family back to camp once a year. My oldest daughter spends the summers with her grandparents and gets to spend time in camp. I hope to teach my children some of the important lessons I learned along the Koyukuk River.

Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Shan Goshorn (Eastern Band Cherokee) – A Great Mentor

Shan Goshorn and Angela Gonzalez 1996
Shan attended my graduation from college in 1996

I met Shan Goshorn in Tulsa, Oklahoma in the early 1990s. Shan attended an event at the University of Tulsa for the Native American Student Association. We struck up a friendship, and she helped me throughout college. Thinking back on my college career, Shan was one of the people who believed in me and pushed me to succeed. One of the things I remember most from those years was her work on Native American stereotypes and racism.We have kept in touch over the years, and I recently caught up with her and wanted to find out more about her and her life as a successful artist and advocate.

Shan Goshorn
Shan Goshorn, courtesy photo

One of Shan’s biggest accomplishments includes having her work commissioned by and later collected by the Smithsonian Institution. Despite living in Oklahoma, she has kept strong ties to her tribe in North Carolina. Shan is proud of being able to support herself exclusively with her artwork for over 25 years. She also says that successfully raising children and being married for 25 years is another large accomplishment in her life. She is proud of being able to inspire people with her artwork by working with companies to create large commissioned art pieces.

Lack of time is one of the Shan’s most difficult challenges in her life. There is just not enough time in the day. Shan works hard on deadlines, researching, raising her family, sometimes at the expense of building memories with her family. One of the ways she manages time is by keeping a strict regimen in her schedule. She attributes her success to being organized and disciplined, and says, “I’ve never considered myself to be one of the best artists that I hang out with, but if I say I’m going to do it, then I do it.”

One of the things I sometimes struggle with is how to incorporate my culture into my everyday life, so I asked Shan how she does it. Shan is very inspired by traditional teaching of her tribe and other tribes across the US. One of her goals is to bring education and awareness about issues Indian people face today, and it inspires her.

“We are not extinct and are a force to be reckoned with in today’s world. We are a strong people.” -Shan Goshorn

When discussing her work on racism, Shan says she has mellowed out since the early 1990s. She wants to get beyond the A-B-Cs of racism and says, “I want to move on to the H-I-J or M-N-O.” Shan has worked with the Tulsa Indian Coalition Against Racism and is inspired by the more peaceful ways to approach people about racism vs. butting heads.

Recently Shan has been volunteering on what she describes as a ‘calling’ to heal birds in her own home. As a child, she successfully healed birds and helped them move on. Not one to do something small-scale, Shan has actually helped to form a local non-profit Audubon organization, called Songbirds In Need Group – In Tulsa. Shan says working with birds keeps her really grounded.

Shan says, “The birds are getting into my work.” She has been working on a series called “Displacement” which looks at the result of invasive species and how they are having an impact on the environment. She studies invasive species to find out what they’ve done and looks for ways we can cohabitate. She likens the invasive species to the colonization of America, and uses the series as another way to open dialogue about race issues.

Shan has been trying to gather bird stories from tribes, and to be able to remember stories that she’s heard. She talked about behavior of birds 500 and 100 years ago and how they have the same kinds of behavior today. Shan finds it interesting how stories from different tribes about the same bird, like the king fisher, match up.

“Birds are barometers of the health of our world. Birds are a reflection of working with mother earth.” -Shan Goshorn

Shan describes how miners use canary birds to check if areas are safe. If they see dead canary birds, they know they have to get out of that part of the mine. Although she described it as a calling, she would like to step back a little because taking care of birds is very time consuming and intense.

Shan Goshorn
Shan Goshorn at a New Year’s Eve Powwow in Tulsa. Courtesy photo.

Shan is living proof that you can have a successful career and family. I asked Shan what advice she might have on building a career and raising a family.

Career:  Go for excellence. Aspire to be the best that you can. If you can find excellence in your work, the money will follow. Choose something you have a passion about and be the best you can be and you will find your place.

Family: I don’t think we are meant to avoid challenges. Cars break down. You get sick. That’s the thing, that is life. It is how we handle obstacles that show who we are.

“We are not meant to have a challenge-free life. Challenge and obstacles are how we grow.” -Shan Goshorn

Shan has been a great mentor to me and I am sure to others also. Her artwork is amazing and transcending in its meaning. She is truly a beautiful person, inside and out. Shan is an Indian woman who is always cognizant of current Native American issues and how she can start a dialogue to solve them.

Ana’ Basee Shan!

ABOUT SHAN GOSHORN

Shan Goshorn - Artist
Shan Goshorn with a recent prize winning basket. Courtesy photo.

Artist Shan Goshorn (Eastern Band Cherokee) has lived in Tulsa, Oklahoma since 1981. Shan Goshorn is a self-employed artist conducting her work through her business, the Shan Goshorn Studio. Her work is exhibited extensively in the US and in Canada and has won prestigious awards in major competitions. Goshorn’s painted photographs have toured with the Fratelli Alinari “Go West” collection, and have been exhibited in venues in England, France, China and South Africa. In 1992, her tribe awarded her with an honorarium for the work she was doing to truthfully represent the Eastern Band. In 2001, the Indian Affairs Commission of Tulsa honored her with the Moscelyn Larkin Cultural Achievement Award for her artwork that challenges the stereotypes that persist regarding Indian people. She has served on the Board of Directors of the American Indian Heritage Center (Tulsa) as the first and second vice chair; NIIPA (Native Indian/Innuit Photographer’s Association) in Canada; The Second Circle Board of the National Native Arts Network ATLATL; and was appointed by the mayor to serve on the board of the Greater Tulsa Indian Affairs Commission and the Arts Commission of Tulsa.