Entertainment

Growing Up Native: Sharing Culture

Singing at WEIO
Singing at WEIO

I’m fortunate that I grew up in a home where it was okay to be Native (aka Alaska Native, Athabascan, American Indian). My mother taught us about our Koyukon Athabascan culture. My grandmother shared stories. My dad taught us how to hunt, fish and take care of dogs. We were encouraged to share our culture with others.

I once competed to be Miss World Eskimo Indian Olympics (WEIO). That spring and summer, I learned a Koyukon Athabascan song, called “Good Bye My Sonny”. My family and friends of the family sewed traditional Athabascan regalia, including a dress, boots, gloves, belt and jewelry. We all came together to learn more about what it meant to be Athabascan. I didn’t win that year, but I had the opportunity to share what it meant to be Koyukon Athabascan. I did win an award for the best traditional dress.

My mother, Eleanor Yatlin, and I
My mother, Eleanor Yatlin, and I

Participating in WEIO as an athlete, dancer, artist, ambassador or even in the audience is a great learning experience. WEIO will celebrate its 50th Anniversary on July 20-23, 2011 in Fairbanks, Alaska. Many of my friends and family will go to the interior for this momentous celebration. I hope to make it up also.

The experience of running for Miss WEIO prepared me for becoming Miss Indian TU (University of Tulsa). Serving as a cultural ambassador allowed me to learn even more about what it means to be Koyukon Athabascan and Alaska Native. I learned how to properly introduce myself. People know you by whose family you belong to. Alaska Native people ask me where I am from and who I’m related to.

An Alaska Native Introduction
I’m Angela Yatlin Gonzalez, originally from Huslia, Alaska. My Koyukon Athabascan name is Kla’dah Dalthna’. My parents are Al and Eleanor Yatlin.

My grandmothers, Lydia Simon and Alda Frank
My grandmothers, Lydia Simon and Alda Frank

My grandparents on my mother’s side were the late Edwin and Lydia Simon. My grandparents on my father’s side were the late George Frank and Minnie Yatlin, and Alda Frank (my grandfather’s second wife who currently lives in Galena, Alaska).

I surrounded myself with people who appreciated my unique cultural background. I hear stories of people who experienced racism. I experienced some too, and try to educate people when I can. Some people may look at me and see a stereotype, but there are a lot of good things out there too. Alaska Natives, like athlete Callan Chythlook-Sifsof, are breaking new ground and accomplishing great things. Learn more about some exemplary Alaska Natives in a book, Growing Up Native in Alaska by A J McClanahan.

Alaska Native people like to share their culture and enjoy reconnecting with each other to share food, songs and dance. I strive to learn about the many other cultures. To that end, I encourage you to share something about yourself in the comments below. Who are you? Whose family do you come from?

Anaa basee’ (Thank you) for allowing me to share a little bit about my culture!

Entertainment, Fairbanks

Going Home to Interior Alaska

View of Denali by Angela Gonzalez
View of Denali by Angela Gonzalez

Even in Fairbanks, everybody knows everybody and people are friendly. People ask me my name and where I’m from, and sometimes who my parents or grandparents  are. They may know your family or someone from your village.

You can strike up a conversation with someone while you are waiting at the airport and you may hear stories. An Elder shared a story about the 1950’s. He was driving dogs in the springtime before breakup. He fell through the ice and called his leader to come back. His dogs turned around and the leader jumped in the water and helped him get out. His dogs saved him. It was a true story of survival in Alaska. There are many more stories like this.

Huslia in the fall time
Huslia in the fall time

I love the feeling of going home. I am excited to disconnect from the digital world and go out boating, camping, fishing, hunting and spending time with family. It feels great to be closer to family in the interior. I look forward to seeing family and friends.

I’m going to a place where there are sand or gravel trails, with no paved roads. The main transportation is by ATVs, like four-wheelers or snow machines.

View of a camp along the Koyukuk River
View of a camp along the Koyukuk River

I love the smell of the campfire and seeing wildlife. If I close my eyes, I can imagine hearing loons in the background, an occasional fish jumping, a beaver tail slapping the water, or an airplane or boat near the camp. It is very peaceful. You have to respect the land to survive on it.

It is expensive to travel within Alaska, especially if you have a family. I will continue to plan and save for the trip each year. Each time, I treat it like an experience of a lifetime. I love the Alaska and the interior! There is truly no place like home.

Here is a short presentation my trip to Huslia.

Entertainment

Sailor Boy Pilot Bread as Pop Art?

There is a Sailor Boy Pilot Bread Cracker box being displayed at the Nat’uh Non-Profit Service Center in Anchorage, Alaska. You might be wondering what it is and what the significance of it for Alaska Natives. It is a large cracker that can be eaten with just about anything and is a staple food in Alaska. I heard that Alaska is the largest consumer of the Pilot Bread crackers. I love eating Pilot Bread crackers topped with butter, cheese or peanut butter and with a cup of tea.

Sailor Boy Cracker Box
Pilot Bread Cracker Box in Anchorage

Karen Larson created the Sailor Boy Pilot Bread project in conjunction with the Warhol Exhibit by the Anchorage Museum and a subsidiary local art project called Pop 11. The Box was originally displayed at Westchester Lagoon, and is currently on loan to the Nat’uh Non-Profit Service Center for a couple more weeks.

Pilot Bread Grown
Roxanne Peter displays a ‘Pilot Bread Grown’ t-shirt during AFN

That was in the early 1900’s. Here we are in the 2000’s and still enjoying Pilot Bread crackers! There is an Alaska Native band called, Pilot Bread Band. There is a Facebook group page called, Pilot Bread: Sailor Boy Fans Unite! Nomadic Stars sells “Pilot Bread Grown” t-shirts and hoodies. In 2010, Cathy Jones wrote about 13 Ways to Eat Sailor Boy Pilot Bread.  It truly is pop art in Alaska!