Alaska life

Fishing on the Koyukuk River

Pulling fish out of the net. Photo courtesy of Vivian Henry
Pulling fish out of the net. Photo courtesy of Vivian Henry

My relatives from Huslia, Vivian Henry and Shandara Swatling, shared their stories of net fishing along the Koyukuk River. They have generously agreed to share their stories and a few pictures on the Athabascan Woman Blog.

Shandara Swatling’s story:
Well my first year of fishing on the Koyukuk River has come to an end. It was a pretty slow season for fish, but I was able to learn how to set the net, check the net, knock out fish, stab pike, make geeahga (SP), cut fish, hang fish, smoke fish, and watch fish dry just enough. Thanks Viv and family for teaching us how to do it. Continue reading “Fishing on the Koyukuk River”

Alaska life

Berry Fever in Alaska

Summer means it’s time to go fishing and berry picking for many Alaskans. I remember growing up when we would go out and pick berries on the tundra. I lived in the villages of Huslia and Bettles along the Koyukuk River.

We usually went out by boat or four-wheeler to pick berries. I remember high bush cranberries usually came first, and it seemed like they were the easiest to pick and you could pick them fast. We also picked rosehip berries. My mom used to make jam out of them. I remember her using a cheese cloth to strain the seeds out. It was a long process during the hot summers, but the end product was tasty. My mom made syrup out of high bush cranberries. They have a waterier consistency, so it was perfect for syrup.

From my sister-in-law, Dolly Yatlin (Iñupiaq), in North Pole. She said, "Decided to go out and pick me some yummy asriaq (blueberries) and akpiks (salmon berries)."
From my sister-in-law, Dolly Yatlin (Iñupiaq), in North Pole. She said, “Decided to go out and pick me some yummy asriaq (blueberries) and akpiks (salmon berries).”

Salmon berries and blueberries would usually ripen next. The availability of salmon berries varied each year. Some years they didn’t grow and other years they dried out before they could ripen. Salmon berries taste delicious and we felt lucky whenever we were able to pick them. We usually put them in the freezer.

My sister-in-law, Dolly Yatlin, recently went out picking in North Pole, Alaska. She picked blueberries and salmonberries. When asked what she does with the berries, Dolly replied, “Smoothies, put blueberries in our pancakes or eat both with a sprinkle of sugar and carnation milk.” They are delicious treats for Dolly’s three kids. Dolly grew up in Kiana.

“My parents and the family would go out with our grandparents, great grandparents, and uncles and aunts. There would be about five boats and we had our own berry picking spot. We would sit for hours on end filling up buckets and buckets. Our great grandparents told us berries are a very great food to eat. We would go home with 20 gallons of berries that day!” – Dolly Yatlin (Inupiaq)

I loved picking blueberries. When you live in the village, fresh fruits are hard to come by. Fresh blueberries were always a delicious treat! I remember sometimes sneaking a handful and stuffing my mouth full of berries. Pesky mosquitoes are always buzzing around you when you are picking. We would bring a smudge pot (beyee hudaałts’eege). We burned punk (kk’eeyh edaanee’one) to keep the mosquitoes at bay. We also wear summer parkas with a hood and/or wear a head net.

Koyukon Junior Dictionary. Written by Eliza Jones in 1978
Koyukon Junior Dictionary. Written by Eliza Jones in 1978

Denaakk’ee (Koyukon Athabascan) Language Translations
Smudge pot (beyee hudaałts’eege)
Punk (kk’eeyh edaanee’one)
Blueberries (niłyaagh
Low bush cranberries (neentł’ee’)
High bush berries (donaaldloy)
Raspberries (neełdaggay)
Black mountain berries (deenaałt’aas)
Low bush salmonberries (kkotł)
Indian ice cream (nonaałdloda)
Indian ice cream made with fish (binot hoolaanee)

My other sister-in-law, Sonja Yatlin, grew up in Venetie. She says, “I remember going berry picking with my mom and grandma and we would always eat every berry we picked…well the kids at least would (lol). Then my mom would make jam with the berries!”

Aunt Dorothy and Janessa picking blueberries near Huslia in 2006. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Aunt Dorothy and Janessa picking blueberries near Huslia in 2006. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

You might think picking berries is mindless work. It is to a point because you can zone out, but my mind is anything but mindless. I think about my grandmother and how our ancestors once did the same thing. Picking berries was a way to provide for their family, and it made me feel closer to them.

There is a lady, Nuna Inua, from Anaktuvuk Pass who shared her jam recipe. Check it out here:  Cloudberry/Salmonberry/Akpik Jam.

Later in the summer, we picked blackberries and cranberries. My aunt, Rosie Simon of Huslia, makes the best blueberry pie. My mouth waters thinking about it. Many of my relatives save berries for a special occasion throughout the year, like a potluck, holiday celebrations or a potlatch. There are a few people who make Indian ice cream (nonaałdloda). My great aunt, Rose Ambrose of Huslia, makes delicious Indian ice cream made with berries and fish (binot hoolaanee).

Many Alaskans will be freezing, canning jam or jelly or making delicious treats with berries they pick this summer. Many people have their favorite berry picking spots and keep the locations a secret. After leaving a berry patch, I remember just seeing nothing but berries in my mind for the rest of the day. Enjoy berry picking this summer!

Cranberries picked in Huslia. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Cranberries picked in Huslia. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Alaska life, Entertainment

Nikolai – Sobriety for the New Year

Amy Modig recently attended a sobriety celebration in Nikolai and has generously agreed to share her experience on the Athabascan Woman Blog.

Nikolai sunset b by Amy Modig

Nikolai – Sobriety for the New Year – A Community Wide Celebration

New Year celebration in Nikolai. Photo by Amy Modig
New Year celebration in Nikolai. Photo by Amy Modig

In this small Athabascan village of 100, Sobriety Week was celebrated from January 10 to 15, which included Russian Orthodox New Year on the 14th in Nikolai. Beverly Gregory, Tribal Administrator and her Assistant, Shalmarie Nikolai, organized and coordinated the activities for the week which included music for the school students, a suicide prevention workshop, sobriety work, dances every night and a spectacular fireworks display on Russian Orthodox New Year’s Eve. The community was able to use donated funds, as well as local organizations, to house, feed and provide transportation for the guest speakers and musicians.

In the last local election, the residents voted to change Nikolai’s local option law from dry to damp and the community has seen an increase in alcohol-related trauma. Local planners hoped to support sobriety and attract strugglers and inspire active users to choose healthier lifestyles. Many times it is the youth who suffer from chaotic homes.

Josephine Malemute and Mike Mickelson performing at the Nikolai Sobriety Celebration. Photo by Amy Modig
Josephine Malemute and Mike Mickelson performing at the Nikolai Sobriety Celebration. Photo by Amy Modig

With the youth as a priority, Dancing with the Spirit was invited to teach the students in school to play music. Its mission is to connect youth and elders through school music programs and it promotes spiritual, physical and mental wellness with music. Josephine Malemute (Nulato/Galena) and Mike Mickelson (Cordova) were the two instructors. Mike Mickelson, son of founder and Executive Director, Belle Mickelson, said Nikolai was the 30th village the program has visited in the last 20 years.

Josephine, who is also the Assistant Director of Dancing with the Spirit, said they bring guitars, fiddles, mandolins and ukuleles and even though they mostly go to Athabascan villages, they have been all over the state as far north as Pt. Hope and even into Canada. The week of music culminated in a concert for the community by the younger grades.

Guitar lessons for youth in Nikolai. Photo by Amy Modig
Guitar lessons for youth in Nikolai. Photo by Amy Modig

Top of the Kuskokwim School provided housing for most presenters and opened the library for music classes. Principal Tara Wiggins and Teacher Matt Willette were generous in their sharing of space and participating whole-heartedly in all events, while John Runkle, Maintenance, and Martha Stearns, Cook/Custodian, gave all possible support to create a clean and comfortable site while doing all of their regular duties. Matt Willette had just arrived as a new teacher that week! They were all very appreciated.

As part of the festivities, each night Mike and Josephine played so the community could dance. Several youth, adults and elders were encouraged to try their talents with the two. In a special treat, they were joined by Stanley Peters of Holy Cross who delighted Nikolai with his guitar, fiddle and voice. On New Year’s Day, he and Josephine demonstrated the Jitter Bug dance to everyone’s delight.

Russian New Year’s Eve was on the 13th and the community organized a fireworks display that would rival Anchorage or Fairbanks.

As part of developing sobriety skills, a four-hour safeTALK session was held for over 20 community members, high school youth included. Val Pingayak and Constance Reiner-Ely co-trained and it was very well received. They both work for Tanana Chiefs Conference Suicide Prevention.

Samuel Johns of the Forget-Me-Not movement for helping people to reunite homeless people to their families or communities, delighted the young people with his humor and his inspirational message. The Forget-Me-Not Facebook group started in June and already has over 21,000 members. He has received numerous awards; just the latest is the FBI Director’s Community Leadership Award which he will receive in April in Washington, D.C. Samuel performed some of his rap messages and spoke on his commitment to sobriety and health.

Circle Talks were held at the Nikolai Sobriety Celebration. Photo by Amy Modig
Circle Talks were held at the Nikolai Sobriety Celebration. Photo by Amy Modig

Doug and Amy Modig, early leaders in the Alaska Native Sobriety Movement, held circle talks each day on different aspects of living sober. They also had individual sobriety talks with community members. They thoroughly enjoyed local steam baths and the music and dances.

All the guests were fed three meals a day by a professional quality chef, Ed Ticknor of Nikolai, who is also the father of Tatiana Ticknor (who got to speak with President Obama last November on Alaska Native youth concerns). Joricha Thomas was also a great cook and they had creative recipes for moose and fish. They cooked large items, such as moose stews, baked king salmon and turkeys for the potluck dinners held each night in the school gymnasium.

Breakfast and lunch was provided at the tribal office where a kitchen was set up. Each of these meals, were enlivened by the storytelling skills of the visitors and the local staff. The final lunch on Friday caused so much hilarity that people were wiping their eyes and holding their sides. Many agreed that these were the most healing of all the activities, except for the steam baths so generously provided by the Petruska family, Nick and Oline.

Nikolai Dog Musher John Runkle with pups. Photo by Amy Modig
Nikolai Dog Musher John Runkle with pups. Photo by Amy Modig

Another local activity was provided by John Runkle, longtime dog musher, who gave a sled ride to Mike Mickelson for 27 miles! There were several birthdays during the week. People requested prayers for the Tribal Chief Sammy John, who was under medical care at a hospital.  On New Year’s Day, gifts were presented to the Elders and to the children.

It was a very wonderful sobriety celebration and reminded Doug and Amy of the early Rural Providers’ Conferences. They both received, as well as everyone who had participated, a Certificate of Appreciation “for choosing to LIVE a SOBER lifestyle.” All of us want to thank Nikolai for its generosity for sharing its vision of sobriety with the rest of us. May all their hopes and dreams be realized in the New Year!


Thank you Amy Modig for sharing her experience and beautiful photos. What an inspirational start to the New Year in Nikolai!

Alaska life

Alaskan Gift Basket Ideas

A cooler full of subsistence foods was a hit at a fundraiser in Fairbanks. Photo by Robin Renfroe
A cooler full of subsistence foods was a hit at a fundraiser in Fairbanks. Photo by Robin Renfroe

Throughout the year, I see people doing fundraising to support families, organizations or just looking for gift ideas for birthdays, anniversaries or holidays. When families, friends or organizations are holding fundraisers, they are always looking for ideas for gift baskets themes. I asked Peter Captain, Jr. for some ideas on gift baskets. He is an experienced fundraiser and caterer. Peter shared the following ideas and advice.

“Having done and coordinated many successful fundraisers over the years, mainly here in Fairbanks with the help of an awesome volunteer based group of people who help in their own unique way. Learning as we go along over the years what works and what doesn’t has been a big learning stone. But one thing for sure, having REALLY good raffle items makes a HUGE difference.” – Peter Captain, Jr.

Peter said, “Really GOOD raffle items are anything made with LOVE!” For example, homemade items are a hit, like beaded slippers, fur hats, beaded gloves, clothing, snow shoes, dog sleds or quilts/afghans.

According to Peter, the biggest hit sellers are Native food baskets. They are sometimes more challenging to acquire because of shipping costs, but they are very popular. He gives a list below, but says there are many more ideas for Native foods (whether frozen, fresh, jarred or smoked).

Native Food Baskets

  • Moose or caribou Dry meat (Biggest hit)
  • Jarred salmon or smoked salmon strips
  • Frozen fish of any kinds (especially white fish eggs)
  • Frozen moose or caribou meats
  • Fresh, pickled or jarred muktuk
  • Jarred seal oil
  • Jarred pickled fish
Robin Renfroe attended a fundraiser in Fairbanks, and took pictures of these Native food baskets.
Robin Renfroe attended a fundraiser in Fairbanks and took pictures of these Native food baskets. Yum!


Here is an example of a Thanksgiving themed holiday basket. Photo by Robin Renfroe
Here is an example of a Thanksgiving themed holiday basket. Photo by Robin Renfroe

Seasonal Gift Basket Theme Ideas

  • Emergency roadside kit tote
  • Emergency household kit
  • Holiday theme baskets (Thanksgiving, etc.)
  • Holiday dinner totes
  • Sledding packages (sleds, hats, mitts, hot coco, mugs, tea, marshmallows, etc.)
  • Bonfire kits (hot dogs, marshmallows, hot coco, fireworks, etc.)
  • Planters Basket (Spring)
  • Picnic Basket (Spring)
  • Graduation Party Kits (Spring)
  • Car Detailing Basket (Spring)
  • Jarring Kits (Summer)
  • Family Swimming Basket (Summer)
  • Fishing Tote (Summer)
  • Camping Tote (Summer/Fall)
  • Rafting Tote (Summer/Fall)
  • Hunting Totes (Summer/Fall)
Here is an example of a spa gift basket prepared by Janet Hall. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Here is an example of a spa gift basket prepared by Janet Hall. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Everyday Fun Basket Theme Ideas

  • Family fun night basket (board Games, card games, soda, popcorn, chips, candy, etc.)
  • Movie night basket (movies, DVDs, chips, candy, popcorn, soda, juices, etc.)
  • Laundry Basket (laundry soap, dryer sheets)
  • Bathroom décor basket
  • Men’s personal hygiene basket
  • Men’s tool set toolbox
  • Women’s personal hygiene basket
  • Home décor basket
  • Kid’s family fun basket
  • Reading basket
  • Knitting basket
  • Sewing basket
  • Beading basket
  • Photography basket
  • Wine basket

Baking Basket Ideas

  • Cookie sheets, cookie mix, baking oil, cookie cutters, frosting
  • Cupcake pans, cake mixes, cupcake holders, frosting, decorations, oil
  • Cake pans, utensils, cake mixes, frosting, oil
  • Bread pans, flour, yeast, oil, milk, sugar
  • Pie pans, pie filling, Pie Crust box

Assorted Dinner Basket Ideas

  • Pasta dinner in colander
  • Lasagna dinner in baking dish
  • Spaghetti Dinner in Colander
  • Soup makings in soup pot
  • Taco makings in frying pan

Last year, I wrote about an Alaskan Road Trip Survival Kit on the Athabascan Woman Blog. Some items that could go into a road trip kit are below.

Alaska Road Trip Kit

  • Camera
  • Car charger for your device(s)
  • Thermos with coffee
  • Jack Link’s Beef Steak Tender Bites
  • Gardetto’s snack
  • Kellogg’s Fruit Snacks
  • Nuts – chocolate covered
  • Mandarin oranges
  • Dried moose meat and fish
  • Pilot Bread Crackers
  • Spam
  • Water and juice
  • Entertainment – books, games and movies

As you can see, there are no shortage of ideas for gift baskets. I can see how  these can be used for the holidays or sent as care packages to loved ones. Thank you Peter Captain, Jr. for sharing your great ideas and experience. I certainly appreciate the ideas as I prepare for the holiday season. There is a lot of work that goes into making specialized gift baskets, but it can make a big difference in fundraising or in making someone feel special.

Alaska life

Alaska Natives Dressing for Success – Ten Tips

I’ve lived in the city for the past 20+ years. When I was in college, I dressed very casually. After I moved to Anchorage, I realized I had to step it up. What has changed over the years? I asked a couple of my Athabascan friends to give me their top five tips for dressing for success. Freddie Olin IV is always dressed impeccably. Lessa Peter is always dressed to impress. They are both business professionals living and working in Anchorage. It’s a new year and it’s a good time to review your fashion and grooming habits.

Related:  Meeting Shirt – A Clothing Staple for Rural Alaska

Freddie R. Olin IV. Courtesy photo
Freddie R. Olin IV. Courtesy photo

Five Tips for Dressing Office Professional from Freddie Olin IV

  1. Accessories (belt, socks, and dress shoes) should match by color to the dress shirt, tie, and slacks.
  2. If no color is black for the shirt, tie, and slacks, do not wear black colored accessories.
  3. Shine dress shoes before wearing them, every time.
  4. Dress jackets and gloves should also be matched in addition to accessories in the winter.
  5. Style your hair how you like it and be clean shaven every morning.
Lessa Peter. Courtesy photo
Lessa Peter. Courtesy photo

Five Tips for Dressing for Success from Lessa Peter

  1. Business casual – A lot of times when there is a business casual dress policy, new professionals think, “Hey, I could do that. I have all kinds of casual going on in my closet!” But sorry, business casual is not a nice strappy pair of sandals in the summer nor a pair of comfy Uggs or Timberlands in the winter. Look at what your boss is wearing. You want to dress for his/her position. Look through your company’s dress policy and stick to the guidelines.
  2. Keep the logos, tight/baggy, low-necklines, low-ride jeans and clothes that look like they’ve been through the wringer for the weekend. There’s nothing worse than bending over to grab something and showing company executives that you actually needed that belt you reconsidered this morning.
  3. Dress for the occasion – If you are going to an event, check with someone who has attended before about recommended attire. You wouldn’t show up on a first date wearing your worst fitting jeans and yesterday’s hair and make-up. Dress to impress when meeting new people and attending events and gatherings. You never know who you might meet!
  4. Hygiene – Most people don’t need a reminder, but it’s an important one to keep in mind. Make sure to shower and brush regularly to keep yourself and your breath smelling clean. Your coworkers and colleagues thank you. Keep your hair coiffed, face shaved or beard/mustache well-groomed.
  5. Wear it well! It’s not all about what you wear, but how you wear it. Remember to make eye contact, shake hands, smile and be engaged with others. Practice good posture. People remember you for the impression you give them within the first 7 seconds of meeting them, so make it count!
Angela Gonzalez in a fancy summer parka. Photo by Audrey Armstrong
Angela Gonzalez in a fancy summer parka. Photo by Audrey Armstrong

Some of the tips are common sense, but cannot be overlooked. There are definitely times for dressing up and dressing down. It is okay to occasionally wear your traditional indigenous clothing, like an Alaska Native summer parka. Some companies celebrate with ‘Cuspuk Fridays’ by encouraging staff to wear summer parkas on Fridays. Each office is different.

Summer Parka in Some Alaska Native Languages
Koyukon Athabascan – bets’egh hoolaanee
Inupiaq – atikłuk
Yup’ik – cuspuk or kuspuk

Thank you to Lessa and Freddie for sharing their tips for dressing for success. Remembering the details of fashion and grooming are important. It’s all about creating a package. Dress codes vary widely depending on the type of field you are in, so some tips may not apply. What tips would you add? Has dressing and grooming well made a difference in your career or life?