I’ve always dreamt in Indian. Vivid, lucid, in color and shaded with symbols. On one evening night quest, my body was carried in a stream. The water above and below me flowed horizontally from my head toward my toes. However, my body was carried in a current of its own and moving me ahead. As I approached a steep hill, I began to struggle. My brief panic subsided when I chose not to lose my strength fighting the elements I could not control. I reached deep in cool water with both hands. Wading below were fish that sucked on my fingers and pulled me the rest of the way home. I think I am a Salmon. Instinctively, I was called home.
In the year of 2014, I located my cousins and my Koyukon Athabascan tribe. I was welcomed with tears. Even my first cousin, Barb, felt like she needed to have a baby shower for me. When my tax return came in February 2015, the first thing I did was make reservations from Los Angeles to Fairbanks, Alaska and a second reservation with a bush plane to fly me to the village of Koyukuk. The Native Village of Koyukuk lies where the Koyukuk River meets the Yukon River. Koyukuk is about 300 miles from Fairbanks. There is no running water to the cabins and are no roads in and out.
I was elated when President Obama announced Mount McKinley will be restored to its original Koyukon Athabascan name of Denali. It’s about time. It was an emotional day for many indigenous Alaskans. It felt like Alaska Natives were given back something taken away from us. People may think colonization is just something that you read about in text books. It is a very real thing when you see names like Mount McKinley take over our place names. People from all over the world travel to Alaska to see the nation’s highest peak. Now, they will see a place where the very President himself thought it was important enough to recognize and honor Athabascan people.
It was awesome to see Poldine Carlo, who is Koyukon Athabascan, sing the Denali song up on his arrival in Anchorage, Alaska. Check out the Indianz.com story about Poldine Carlo: 94-year-old Alaska Native elder greets Obama with Denali song. I can just imagine the excitement she felt and her tears brought tears to my eyes. Sylvia Lange was with her at the time and shared a few photos.
Sylvia says, “My wonderful companion, Poldine. While waiting for the President to arrive, she conquered all hearts by singing the Denali song in Athabascan.” To say that Poldine is happy is an understatement.
Here are some comments on the Athabascan Woman Blog from earlier this year on their thoughts about changing the name.
I asked my Facebook friends what they thought about the name being restored. Here is what they had to say:
“The year I was born the state of Alaska changed Mt. McKinley to Denali, the native Koyukon Athabascan word for “The Great One” or “The High One,” and as a Han Gwich’in Athabascan I am very elated that President Obama sees the significance and respect that traditional name carries with Athabascans and the residents of Alaska. Mahsi cho President Obama!” – Shyanne Beatty, Hän Gwich’in Athabascan
“Yay!” – Rhonda Pitka, Athabascan
“Always been Denali to me!” – Larry Kairaiuak, Yup’ik
“Yes, I always called it Denali too, never should have been renamed in the first place.” – Violet Huntington, Athabascan
“My Deenaalee [daughter] just announced the wonderfully exciting news that Obama is giving our amazing and breath-taking tallest peak its rightful name officially – Denali! That is the best news. Welcome to AK President Obama and Xusrigidisdhin’- a grateful thank you!!! For Deenaalee she is seeing her namesake finally honored, as we all are!” – Malinda Chase, Athabascan
“It was always meant to be Denali.” – Kylee Beatus, Koyukon Athabascan
“Incredible viewed from the sky; spectacular from the ground; the Creator’s paintbrush on the landscape to give us a constant reminder of his power and grace.” – Beckie Gehrke Murdock
“I saw the announcement on my phone while at the grocery store and almost cried. I can’t believe this is finally happening. Wonderful!!!” – Clare Stockert Ross
“I’m so glad to see this. So much silliness about it though – makes me laugh. Denali is such a beautiful word in and of itself – like a gasp of wonder.” – Amy Modig
“It’s always been Denali to me. I told my husband the news and he said it’s always been Denali and it’s being restored to its original name, should never have been Mt. McKinley! It was a proud day for me. Went to work and several of my coworkers mentioned the renaming of Denali but they were able to say that it was an Athabascan word…because they knew that I AM ATHABASCAN! ” – Brenda Mahan, Athabascan
“I think it is a good idea. A congressman from Ohio opposed it and then he said what can we do to remember this president. Besides naming Denali after him.” – Al Yatlin, Jr., Koyukon Athabascan
“YES!! DENALI IS SUCH A WONDERFUL NAME FOR THE HIGHEST MT.!! EXCITING!!” – Selina Sam, Koyukon Athabascan
“Having the name of the mountain restored to its traditional Koyukon Athabascan name “Denali” also in a way restores the honor and sacredness of the land and the people.” – Sonia Vent, Koyukon Athabascan
Thank you to my friends for sharing. Thank you to President Obama and Secretary Jewel for restoring Denali’s original name!
Marc Brown of Huslia and Fairbanks shared a great story about what it was like growing up in Huslia. He was reminiscing with this son, Sammy. He agreed to share it with Athabascan Woman Blog readers.
Back in the Early Days in Huslia
By Marc Brown
My oldest son Sammy and I are just chillin’ in our room and I started telling him stories about what it was like when I was growing up in Huslia.
I’m so old that I when I was a kid we didn’t have running water, TV or a phone. I told him that I remember when there were 3 phones in town – the city office, the school and the clinic. It was big news when you got a phone call, because they had to post it on the bulletin board at the city office. Or, if it was really important, someone would hand deliver the note to your house.
Once, when I was like nine, I got out of the boat coming back from fish camp and everyone I ran into told me Donovan called from Galena. That was big news back then! Lol! So I had to run back to my house and ask my mom if I could go to the city office and use the phone to call Galena. You had to have them dial for you and after the call the city clerk would get a call back from the operator and tell you the charges on the call.
There was one TV in town back then and it was at the school. They had a Beta machine with it and three video tapes to play. The video tapes looked like VCR tapes, but were huge and the beta machine weighed about 60 lbs. Couple years later everyone had TVs, but we only had two channels.
We had to pack water from my grandparents’ house every day and sometimes twice a day if you wanted to take a bath. He gets a kick out of my stories. I used to enjoy my summers in camp where we didn’t even have electricity. We were never bored.
When I was 14 years old, my uncles Kenny and Glen gave me a 14′ boat with a 25 horse outboard motor. It was supposed to be for taking my grandma to check the fish net, but I took it everywhere. 🙂
I used to listen to the hum of the motor and daydream songs. Some of my best songs came to me in that little boat on the Koyukuk River.
Thank you Marc for sharing your story! I remember and miss those days without the constant barrage of technology.
Marc is owner of the Marc Brown and the Blues Crew. Learn more about the group on their Facebook page. He will be on Native America Calling on Wednesday, August 12 to talk about the release of his 12th album. Marc is NAC’s August Music Maker Of The Month. Congratulations Marc Brown and the Blues Crew!
We lived in a one-room cabin in the mid-1980s in Huslia. My dad worked out of town, so mom had to take care of all five kids (at the time) plus dad’s dog team. It was the house on the hill. Before we moved, there were seven of us who lived in here. My dad used to tease us and say, “A mouse ran over your face while you were sleeping.” We used to say, “Ewww!”
Here is a photo of me and my siblings, Al Jr. and Tanya. We were mom’s middle kids…all one year apart. Tanya was adopted from our aunt Dorothy. Thank you to my mother, Eleanor Yatlin, for taking photos of us with her Polaroid camera! I enjoy looking through mom’s old photos. I’m glad she took the photos. It reminds me of the old days with my siblings and cousins.
I’m not sure what month this photo was taken, but it must have been winter because we are wearing our homemade winter boots. The Denaakke’ (Koyukon Athabascan) word for the boots is kkaakina. “She made a pair of boots” would be “Kaakin gheeghonh.”
Warren George shared some Koyukon Athabascan stories and beliefs on Facebook recently and gave me permission to share it on the Athabascan Woman Blog. Warren is originally from Nulato and now lives in Fairbanks.
I was always told to always respect the land and animals. There was always rules you had to follow when handling animals that you have killed. Little things like if you get blood on the floor try and wipe it up as soon as possible. Do not walk all over the blood.
Even before you went out hunting you had to show respect. You were not supposed to boast about how you are going to get an animal or how you were going to shoot it. Somehow the animal would know you were coming supposedly and you would not have any luck. Even after you bring an animal home if you had luck.
You had to follow certain rules. Like after eating bear meat you have to burn the bones of the bear. Or you can’t feed bear meat to a dog because it will make it mean. Or you can’t throw bear bones into the river because it will change the rivers channel and a sand bar would appear where you threw the bones. Or rules on what women can or can’t eat of a bear.
Our elders used to have to follow these rules year after year and this is how they passed this knowledge on from generation to generation. We can only speculate who made these rules (maybe it was between the animal spirit and man). Maybe it was just learned over time.
We are a generation that does not totally live off the land and we are chancing the possibility that we could lose parts of our traditions. It would be nice if our elders could somehow document it. There are a lot of rules about trapping and hunting out there.