Alaska Native/Indigenous People

PJ Simon – A Koyukuk River Hunter and Fisherman

PJ Simon and Doug Bergman of Allakaket made their national television debut on Animal Planet's American River Renegades on May 26.
PJ Simon and Doug Bergman of Allakaket made their national television debut on Animal Planet’s American River Renegades on May 26.

PJ Simon of Allakaket is starring in one of Animal Planet’s newest reality TV shows, American River Renegades. At least six episodes will air this summer. They’ll decide whether or not they want to continue after they see how this initial run goes. PJ is the only Alaskan ‘Renegade’ on the show. There are three other ‘Renegades’ from the Lower 48. PJ and I are cousins.

The premiere episode will air on June 15 on Animal Planet. Check your local listings.

PJ hopes the show puts a positive aspect on Alaska Native people and their way of life. He says, “We don’t live in igloos. We might not drive in cars, but we get in boats, snogos and airplanes.” PJ goes on to say, “We’re trying to find food. We have to work hard for what we have.”

The cost of fuel is expensive in rural Alaska. According to PJ, they have to prioritize their time and efforts to go seining, moose hunting and caribou hunting. He wants to clarify they are not starving.

PJ has many accomplishments in his life, and has been keeping himself busy lately. PJ is the second Chief of Allakaket, and serves on the Tanana Chiefs Conference executive board, and Doyon, Limited board. He also participates on a focus group on sanitation and running water for the Department of Environmental Conservation.

PJ Simon in interior Alaska. Courtesy photo
PJ Simon in interior Alaska. Courtesy photo

PJ is a former plumber. He went from a generous salary of a plumber to making a lot less to return home to be a political advocate for this community. He is a recreational gold miner among other things. PJ is often called upon to broadcast sporting events.

PJ is passionate about giving back to his people. He grew up on the Koyukuk River and he says, “The village raised me up.” PJ serves in those leadership capacities so he can fight for a positive environment for tribal members, better education, running water and sewer, prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault, safety in the villages and for controlling alcohol and drugs. It’s a tall order, but he wants to stand up for villagers and won’t give up.

“I want to tell kids that I’m there for them. Be proud of where you grow up. Never give up.” – PJ Simon, Koyukuk Athabascan

PJ asserts a lot of people are affected by domestic violence and sexual abuse. He stresses the importance of openly talking about these issues and finding way to prevent them. PJ also says, “It’s our job as leaders to provide employment and some kind of security so they can take care of themselves.” PJ encourages young people by telling them that it is never too late to better themselves and to find gainful employment.

Todd Bergman and PJ Simon on a caribou hunt. PJ says, "Our lifestyle in Allakaket is very traditional, we love our traditional foods. " Courtesy photo
Todd Bergman and PJ Simon on a caribou hunt. PJ says, “Our lifestyle in Allakaket is very traditional, we love our traditional foods. ” Courtesy photo

Villagers are connected to the land and resources. According to PJ, Alaska’s fish and game resources are exploited. He says, “Our resources are running low. Game is getting scarce, including moose, caribou and fish.” PJ is an avid hunter and fisherman and provides for his extended family in Allakaket. He advocates for conservation of fish and game.

PJ caught a huge shee fish on the Alatna River last year. Courtesy photo
PJ caught a huge shee fish on the Alatna River last year. Courtesy photo

PJ wants people to remember, “We’re strong Native people.” He’s a village advocate with a mission to lessen the disparity between the villages and urban areas. The communities do come together to survive though. PJ says, “Our bonding mechanism is working together and providing food for the villages’ health and welfare.”

In upcoming episodes of American River Renegades, you’ll see him dipnetting at Chitina and getting there by four-wheeler. 🙂 You’ll see him using a traditional fish trap to catch white fish on the Koyukuk River. You’ll also see him building a log firewood raft. They also went half way to Henshaw by boat last fall during the fall hunting season. You may also see his adventure of going out water fowl hunting by dog team. PJ is known for his great sense of humor and I’m sure that will come through on the show.

I’m looking forward to watching the episodes and seeing people of the Koyukuk River and their lifestyle featured in the show. Who knows what the future holds, but I’m glad to see PJ and others from the interior show a part of how I grew up. I’m glad young people have a positive role model like PJ to look up to. Thank you PJ for sharing the lifestyle of Koyukuk River people and for fighting to protect that way of life.

PJ Simon got some white fish for elders of Allakaket. Courtesy photo
PJ Simon got some white fish for elders of Allakaket. Courtesy photo
Donald Bergman as a young man in Allakaket. Photo courtesy of Don Bergman
Alaska Native/Indigenous People

A Letter from an Athabascan Elder

Photo courtesy of Don Bergman
Photo courtesy of Don Bergman

Every year, I send Christmas cards out to family and friends. I enjoy receiving cards with pictures and letters. It is a great time to catch up with people. Each year, I get a card back from Donald Bergman, an Athabascan Elder from Allakaket. Don is 75 years old. He can no longer write with his right hand after a stroke, so the sentences are a little shaky from writing with his left hand.

This year, Don sent me pictures along with his letter. It truly warms my heart to receive a wonderful letter like this from uncle Don. Don is my mom’s first cousin. Don’s late wife, Carrie Bergman, was a special lady. She was the nicest lady who always had a shy smile on her face.

Don is a trapper, hunter and fisherman. He and late Carrie lived a subsistence lifestyle. They spent a lot of time in their camp, which is about six miles below Allakaket on the Koyukuk River. When we were small kids, my parents brought us to visit them in camp. They went back and forth between camp and Allakaket by dog sled. Late Carrie was an excellent skin sewer and knew how to tan moose skin. She made rabbit skin and beaver skin mittens and caribou leggings. My mom, Eleanor Yatlin, said late Carrie was a great storyteller and told some wonderful and funny stories of living in camp.

Don’s letter was addressed to me and my husband:

**************

2-7-14

Photo and caption courtesy of Don Bergman
Photo and caption courtesy of Don Bergman

Dear Friends,

You guys send me nice picture every year, so I send old pictures. One is 4th of July races. They have it down here in old airport. They pay $400-$500 for men’s and woman’s race. First place that is.

I’m doing okay. Stay alone in my old house. I sure like to get out camping and get beaver. No one trap anymore. Prices are good. I like to eat beaver meat, easy to catch.

There’s more moose again. They had wolf control last year. There was no moose for couple years. Wolf kill them all.

I hope you like these pictures. I got lots of old pictures.

Thank you

Uncle Don

**************

Donald Bergman as a young man in Allakaket. Photo courtesy of Don Bergman
Donald Bergman as a young man in Allakaket. Photo courtesy of Don Bergman

Don said he doesn’t have any pictures of himself anymore and that is why he sent me some of his old pictures. The next time I see him, I’ll definitely take some pictures so he can share it with his family and friends. I loved hearing about what is happening in Allakaket.

One Athabascan tradition is to respect your elders. Elders have worked hard to raise families and teach traditions. I can’t wait to go to Allakaket and other villages along the Koyukuk River to spend time with and learn from elders. They have a lot to contribute and share. Treasure your elders wherever you may be. They appreciate the simplest gestures of kindness and being connected.

Ana basee’ uncle Don Bergman of Allakaket!

"Looking north back from New Town. Those kids were sliding down the hill. You can see Alatna Hills and the old village." Photo and caption courtesy of Don Bergman
“Looking north back from New Town. Those kids were sliding down the hill. You can see Alatna Hills and the old village.” Photo and caption courtesy of Don Bergman

 

Angela Gonzalez and Donald Bergman in Allakaket in the summer of 2014
Angela Gonzalez and Donald Bergman in Allakaket in the summer of 2014