Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Yatibeay Evans – Education Advocate

Yatibaey Evans. Courtesy photo
Yatibaey Evans. Courtesy photo

Yatibaey Evans is Ahtna (Athabascan) from Mentasta, Alaska. I met her a few years ago when we served on a committee together. Yatibaey struck me as a friendly, outgoing and capable person. I recently learned she served on the board for the National Indian Education Association (NIEA). I caught up with her this month to find out more about her and her work with NIEA.

From the Head Waters People, Yatibaey is the daughter of Donna Galbreath from Mentasta and Jeff Mann from Massachusetts. She is the granddaughter of Molly Galbreath from Mentasta and Don Galbreath from Michigan. Yatibaey and Lewis Evans are celebrating their 16th year of marriage, and together they have four wonderful boys. Her research while at University of Washington explored the preconceived ideas held by students in Tacoma, Washington. The research prompted Yatibaey to pursue her Master of Arts in Teaching from Johns Hopkins University in order to assist in the field of education.

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Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Jessica Edwin – Ahtna Athabascan

Jessica Edwin presents about the value of higher education in Glennallen in 2008. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Jessica Edwin presents about the value of higher education in Glennallen in 2008. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Jessica Edwin is Ahtna Athabascan and grew up in Copper Center. Jessica now lives and works in Anchorage, where she is raising her two children. I met Jessica in Glennallen in 2008 during the Rural Providers’ Conference. I served on a committee with Jessica’s mom, Katherine McConkey. Jessica was presenting to a youth about the importance of achieving an education.

“My grandpa always talked to me about education and how he wanted me to go to college. The stories I hear of his tribal leadership, inspire me to do more.” – Jessica Edwin, Ahtna Athabascan

Jessica still believes in the value of a higher education in a college setting, but now she pushes vocational and apprenticeships. She also tells it like it is when it comes to student loans and other challenges of going to school. Jessica realizes each person is different and may follow an alternative career path.

Jessica currently works for NANA Management Services. She has served on the Ahtna, Incorporated board of directors for three years. In addition to a full-time job, Jessica obtained a real estate license and sells homes part-time. Getting into real estate is a big investment and sometimes tiring, but she loves to help people achieve their dreams of owning a home.

According to Jessica, purchasing a home is one way to move people out of poverty. She says, “Poverty is the root of a lot of our problems.” Jessica says home-ownership is possible, and is happy to help people to figure out what they need to do to buy a home. She remembers growing up in a home without running water.

“My concentration in real estate is driven by my personal vision to see more Alaskan Native homeowners. The thing I look forward to most is guiding first time home buyers through the home buying process. The earning ‘customers for life’ perspective, is why I selected Jack White Real Estate.” – Jessica Edwin, Ahtna Athabascan

The Alaska Native Professional Association (ANPA) recently highlighted Jessica as a new member in their newsletter recently. They said, “With her enthusiasm and passion towards her real estate profession she will certainly see the successful results from her efforts.”

Jessica Edwin and her children, Clarence and Angel. Courtesy photo
Jessica Edwin and her children, Clarence and Angel. Courtesy photo

Jessica and her children watch TED Talks and discuss the topics afterwards. No matter what you do for a living or where you are in life, Jessica encourages people to find ways to use their brain and be open to new ideas.

It is a challenge to move to the city, work full-time and raise a family. The traditions, mannerisms, self-expression is different in the city. All her life, Jessica was taught not to look at elders and adults in the eye. She had to unlearn this traditional rule when she moved in the city. Jessica remembers a previous boss asking her if he did something wrong or something to offend her. She explained the tradition, and reassured him she did not mean to offend. Jessica offered up some tips for those who are making the transition to the city.

Tips for Rural Alaskans Moving to the City

  • Don’t minimize the transition. It will be a big change for you and your family.
  • You may get lonely in the city, so take steps to prevent lonesomeness. You are often surrounded by family and may be used to visiting and doing things in your community. Make friends and look for community events to participate in.
  • Make eye contact with people, especially in a professional and educational setting.
  • Speak up. From a young age, we are taught to listen more than to speak in the village, but it is different in the city. You are expected to participate in discussions in the city.
Jessica Edwin grew up living a subsistence lifestyle on the Copper River, and gets back when she can. She is catches, cuts, smokes and cans Copper River red salmon. Courtesy photos
Jessica Edwin grew up living a subsistence lifestyle on the Copper River, and gets back when she can. She is catches, cuts, smokes and cans Copper River red salmon. Courtesy photos

Jessica Edwin grew up living a subsistence lifestyle on the Copper River and gets back when she can. She catches, cuts, smokes and cans Copper River red salmon. Jessica advises not to abandon all of your traditional ways. She says, “Bring old ways into the new ways.” For instance, Ahtna people were taught to save everything and not to waste. She explains below.

“I started learning traditional beading at the young age of 3. One of the major lessons at that time was to be careful not to drop my beads and it was considered lazy to make my thread to long. These two things were really important to the Elders who taught me to bead because they grew up in a time where beads and thread (sinew) were very scarce. Others may see these beliefs as old fashioned or even irrelevant, since beads and thread are relatively cheap now days. The lesson remains with me to be responsible with my belongings, take care of what I have, and use supplies efficiently. The other lesson that sticks with me is, time should be used to be productive. In quiet times, our ancestors still kept busy and made clothing and tools. There is always some kind of work to do!” – Jessica Edwin, Ahtna Athabascan

Jessica was taught to work hard and not to be lazy. Jessica advises people not to hop from one job to the next. In an effort to move up the ladder professionally, Jessica says, “I jumped jobs real often, and it’s made my resume choppy and that’s been a negative to potential employers.” She has learned from her mistake and advises people to ““Put in your time in a job.” Not staying long enough at a job may hurt your career and potentially your ability to purchase a home.

Jessica and I have similar stories. We are both from rural Alaska and later moved to urban Alaska. I remember how challenging it was to move the city. I didn’t get my driver’s license until I was 24 years old. Then, I had to navigate my way into city life. I admire Jessica for her great attitude and perseverance in facing her challenges and overcoming them.

More About Jessica Edwin

Jessica Edwin sits with her grandfather, Hector Ewan. Jessica says, "My grandfather influenced my life choices in many ways and I always wanted to make him proud, even though he passed when I was just eight." Courtesy photo
Jessica Edwin sits with her grandfather, Hector Ewan. Jessica says, “My grandfather influenced my life choices in many ways and I always wanted to make him proud, even though he passed when I was just eight.” Courtesy photo

She was born and raised in Copper Center, home to the best fish in the world, Copper River reds. She is the mother of two teenagers, Clarence and Angel. Despite living in the in Anchorage, the Copper River Valley will always be her “home”. Her parents are Clarence and Katherine McConkey. Her grandparents are Marie Craig and the late Clarence McConkey, Sr. and the late Hector and Grace Ewan. Jessica is Taltsiine (water clan) from the Native Village of Kluti-Kaah. She is a shareholder of both Ahtna, Incorporated and Cook Inlet Region Incorporated.

Throughout most of her career, Jessica has been in positions advocating for youth and for Native employment. When she lived in Copper Center, she was an active member of her community and organized dances and other events in an effort to prevent drug and alcohol use. Jessica is a gifted beadworker and artist, creating regalia and other decorative items. She very rarely sells her beadwork and gives most away as gifts to family and friends.

Athabascan beadwork by Jessica Edwin. Courtesy photo
Athabascan beadwork by Jessica Edwin. Courtesy photo
Alaska life

Summer in Twin Lakes

Wilson Justin, aka Catfish MaCaw. Courtesy photo
Wilson Justin, aka Catfish MaCaw. Courtesy photo

Wilson Justin, aka Catfish MaCaw, sent me a story from the Ahtna region and gave me permission to share on the Athabascan Woman blog. This is his story in his own words, and occurred last year.

I got back to Twin Lakes on June 9. I had clear plan and a vision of what was to be. A long glorious summer out on the trails and in the wind, just like the good old days. It was about 3:00 pm on a Sunday afternoon that I drove in to the yard. A dog was laying on his side in the dirt next to the house. He gave a bark without moving his eyes or lips. It sounded like a magpie gargling sand.

My brother was sitting in his easy chair. It was the same chair I hauled up from Anchorage in 1995 along with a conference table. One does not live in Sasquatch country without a large conference table, even if it’s sure to annoy all your visitors who have to pack themselves against the wall like sardines, but there is some prestige to having a large conference room in a remote rural outpost without running water, electrical hook ups or even a good porch!

At any rate my brother was sitting in his easy chair, the same one I bought up from Anchorage in 1995. The same table was lodged against his belly and the same coffee pot once a shiny steel pot purchased from the university mall before it closed down in the late 90’s, was on the burner. There was some pleasantries then I began to offload the truck. Several boxes of books, several cases of files, all kinds of inane objects like coffee mugs, toothpicks, extra socks and fishing lures came next.

In rural Alaska even a bent key or twisted door handle eventually will find some use or need. I perused my little cabin. Built in 1979 at a cost of $1,700, the 15’ by 15’ cabin had long ago paid for itself several times over. Extensive rains had taken its toll but the place was useful yet. Since 1988, the only use for the cabin was storage, mainly large guns and massive amounts of ammunition. Then there was the occasional box of meeting minutes and work papers.

The last time I spent a night in the cabin was in 1998. Since then I would come up from Chistochina and go on to Lost Lake where my hunting camp was, often times without even checking the cabin. Or if I was hauling trash I would come up and go back the same day. After all it was only 53 miles one way, and 106 miles total. In a road community where a family of two might run up to 93,000 miles per year, 53 miles is like a dust mote on a mountain side.

At any rate, my cabin had not warmed to a human occupant for decades. The rust on the stove and weather beaten face of the window notwithstanding I resolve to activate plan A from planet 9 and settle into my vision for the summer.

Nabesna Road. Photo by Wilson Justin
Nabesna Road. Photo by Wilson Justin

The next day was June 10. I put four hours of work in. It was blazing hot and by 2:00 pm, I was a burnt, exhausted, dust covered wreck, severely dehydrated and almost hallucinating. I stumbled into my little cabin and tried to calm myself. This, I said to myself, will pass. Tomorrow you’ll feel better. It was then that I realized that 30 years of office work was not a good way to prepare to return to the rural lifestyle.

I won’t recount the horror of the first week, other than mentioning that I have never seen 90 degree weather in June at Twin Lakes and never even dreamed that such a thing could be possible. After all, when I was growing up, we didn’t even see the leaves turn green until about the 10th of June. Even sleeping was difficult, and walking was like dragging an iron railroad tie along with you. And to make it even worse, I began to hear strange sounds late at night around the cabin.

Have you ever heard the alone ringing in the back of your mind? It comes with unease and some trepidation. It’s like listening to the sound of an aircraft falling into the distance and the feeling you get that no one may come back for you. You wake up sometimes with this almost alien feeling that somewhere there’s a place that you’re supposed to be at, but no one told you where it was. Well nothing like that affects me. I just go to sleep and wake up anytime a noise out of place happens, and in that first week there was lots of out of place noises.

When I was still a village kid, we would hear stories from the old folks; stories of abductions and fearful encounters in the back woods with spirits and giant hairy men who would steal kids from camps and hide their trails from trackers by some strange mixture of mud, grass and leaves. The trackers would be persistent but not once where they ever able to recover stolen children. The mournful sounds that sounded like a loon or a coyote would end with thump on the side of a tree and there would be an answer from a different direction. The medicine man would sing or chant and sprinkle the protective powder around the campsite to keep the intruders at bay or confuse them as they search the woods for the camp. These strange late night sounds were artfully sent. Even the thumps and clumping sounded like they were on mute and the old folks would say that the sound were meant to make the kids cry so the giant hairy men could locate the kids.

A bear in the fall time. Photo by Wilson Justin
A bear in the fall time. Photo by Wilson Justin

Well that first week, there were plenty of strange noises and sounds. Footstep like or ever close to a knocking on the side of the house. My windows are plastic and after 30 years no amount of eyestrain is going to reveal what’s on the other side, so if I was to know I would have to step outside and see. I hear plenty of irrational stuff along with lots of unlikeable noise in my other life so this wasn’t going to ruffle me, but trying to make sense out of it all was a little wearing.

Being Indian, I needed to up the ante, so several times a day I would check out the surroundings. Judging by the bear prints the usual suspects were in the locality. But nothing of note to explain the sounds. Then one day late in the evening under a faint new moon, I got my first inkling of what was to be. I had just gotten to sleep when the thump came. I was awake in an instant. Slowly I stepped outside and eased around the corner of the house.

For a long minute, I listened. The hum of insects? Yes. The flapping of the swan wings on the lakeshore? Yes. The thrum of the wood duck living in a dead tree a hundred yards away? Yes. My brother snoring like a runway train? Yes, everything checked out. Then at long last, there was very clearly a thump and a clump from almost beneath my feet, but under the house!

Sunset at Chistochina. Photo by Wilson Justin
Sunset at Chistochina. Photo by Wilson Justin

It took only seconds for me to toss a rock under the house and out came a rabbit. It turned out a rabbit was living under the house and would only settle in very late at night when I was already asleep. I was at once annoyed and at the same time relieved that I would not have to go chasing off into the woods to solve the mystery.

Shortly afterwards, my heartbeat had come back to normal when a dragging sound came in from behind the house. That I said to my self is not a rabbit! I debated whether I should load up my largest gun or just go out and face up to whatever strange critter might be floating about. I stepped out, moved to the back of the house and there stood a large cow moose!

We were maybe 30 feet apart. She made no move; I made no move. Then she swung her neck away and begin walking. Immediately, I heard the dragging sound. Looking closer, I could see that she had a bit of wire wrapped around one of her hind foot. The wire was just long enough to have caught up a dry tree branch which was now almost completely gone.

The nest morning I went out and looked around. The moose had been bedding down between my cabin and that of a neighbor. In distress it had been recuperating for some time. The dogs had simply accepted her as part of the landscape and that was all there was.

I went back to being burnt, dehydrated, exhausted and dust covered. Plan A evaporated, plan b was abandoned. My vision was gone and all that was left were half eaten cans of beans and mosquitoes by the millions. As I write this, I am thinking I should have gone to Argentina or to Kuwait when I had the chance in 1972. Then, I remember I wasn’t able to get my passport until 2006. More beans, I’m guessing now, is my fate.

– Catfish MaCaw

Thank you Catfish for sharing your story and photos!