Alaska Native culture

Traditional Ways of Life

I shared a picture of a young Gwich’in woman, Quannah Potts, on the Athabascan Woman Blog Facebook page. Quannah Potts says, “This year, I was blessed with shooting my first caribou and our future generations should have the same privilege of being able to hunt and live their ways of life.”

Someone said, “Although using rifles and snowmobiles, ATVs and the like is hardly ‘traditional’…..”

I responded by thanking him for his comment… It brings to light one of the reason I write and share on my blog. The act of spending time on the land and providing for her family is traditional. The tradition of giving parts of the caribou from first catches to Elders or other families is traditional. Alaska Native would not have survived 10,000+ years if we were not adaptable. We moved around on the land with the seasons and the availability of plants, animals, currents, cycles and conditions. We were not static people living in one certain way. I would not expect people to be driving around by horse and buggy from a century+ ago. The only people who can critique Quannah on whether or not she is traditional is her mother, grandparents and community Elders.

I’ve had conversations about what is traditional and contemporary. I say living our ways of life is traditional whether or not we use contemporary tools.

When we give our first catch to Elders or other family members despite shooting with a rifle – that’s traditional.

When we sometimes sing and dance despite it being with a fiddle – that’s traditional.

When we celebrate a memorial potlatch despite it being in a school gym vs. a community hall – that’s traditional.

When we pick berries despite using an ATV or boat – that’s traditional.

When my family fishes despite using a commercial fish net vs. a fish trap – that’s traditional.

When I bead slipper tops on smoked moose skin despite being on hard bottom moccasins – that’s traditional.

When I use beads in my beadwork introduced in the past couple of centuries despite it not being quills – that’s traditional.

When I learn and share the Denaakk’e language despite being on a paper book, by video or audio recording – that’s traditional.

When I share stories despite it being on a blog vs. oratory – that’s traditional.

What would you add? We need to continue sharing our perspectives, stories, culture, language and ways of life. Enaa baasee’.

Alaska Native culture

Molly of Denali Has Arrived

Angela Gonzalez at a Molly of Denali premiere party. Photo by Lena Jacobs

It’s finally here! A groundbreaking PBS Kids cartoon, Molly of Denali, premiered across the country on July 15. I have been looking forward to the show since I heard about it a couple years ago. Producers, animators, storytellers and funders teamed up with Alaska Native writers and cultural advisors to make Molly come to life.

With the support of her family and friends, Vera Starbard hosted a Molly of Denali Premiere Party in Anchorage. It was great to hear some insights on episodes she and others wrote. From what I’ve heard from friends and colleagues who have worked on the show, much thought has gone into every single detail of the show. It was great to hear kids and adults singing along to the catchy theme song! Vera asked trivia questions for adults and children. It was a fun way to celebrate the huge accomplishment of the show’s debut.

Vera Starbard shares trivia about Molly of Denali at a premiere party she hosted. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

At a time when representation matters more than ever, it was great to hear words in the three cultures represented by Molly (Dena’ina Athabascan/Gwich’in/Koyukon Athabascan) in languages of Dena’ina, Dinjii Zhuh K’yaa and Denaakk’e. With repetition, kids across the nation will learn words in these Alaska Native languages. I also love listening to Molly’s voice, because I kept thinking she sounds like my relatives. I also loved seeing the mannerisms and sayings by the characters in the show, like when Aunt Midge said ‘real good’ just our Elders.

It is awesome people of color are represented. One of the reasons I do the Athabascan Woman Blog is to change the narrative by sharing stories and perspectives of Athabascan and Alaska Native people. The writers, creators and producers of Molly of Denali are truly changing the narrative at the very beginning by reaching kids. If my friends and relatives are any indication, the show is reaching kids, adults and Elders. I love all of the details, like multiple family pictures on the walls and the beadwork on the characters’ clothing.

Keenan watches Molly of Denali. Photo by Rona Vent

“My kids just watched the blueberry episode. My son Skyler said, ‘It’s cool they made a show about Natives.’ My daughter Skarlett and her friend Ava were singing along with the theme song. All three of them went to pick blueberries down the road from my house. They went 3X today. Also my son, Keenan, who’s 3 years old said he likes Molly and asked to watch Molly again. Thank goodness I recorded the series, so he can re-watch it.”Rona Vent (Koyukon Athabascan) of Huslia and Fairbanks

“My son is so excited and has been counting the days down daily. He’s so excited that it’s about Alaska.”Dena Sam (Iñupiaq/Koyukon Athabascan) of Alatna and Fairbanks

Episodes are packed with educational lessons reaching the hearts and minds of people. I watched a couple short episodes and it touched me to the core. I could probably go on all day about the things I love about every aspect of the show, but I want to share perspectives from my friends and relatives. Molly also vlogs during her show – super cute!

“Molly of Denali aired today on PBS!!!! A huge shout of thanks and appreciation to those of you who made this possible. Princess, you rock!!! Thanks for bringing this to AK and assembling the team you did.”Sonta Hamilton Roach (Deg Hit’an Athabascan) of Shageluk

April Henry of Fairbanks shared:
“A few months ago, we saw that Peter Pan had been brought out of the Disney vault. We popped some popcorn and bought it and sat down with our kids, eager to share with them a cartoon from our childhood. The movie had barely begun when John Darling reminded the other children, ‘Indians are cunning, but not intelligent.’

Our three-year-old Kai sat between us, eyes glued to the screen. My heart sank. My husband and I looked at each other and steadied ourselves for the tears we knew would erupt when we shut it off. But we knew that much bigger than the tears shed over a cartoon promised and taken away is the pain Indigenous children grow up with and carry into adulthood when they internalize the racism so prominent in depictions of Indigenous people in media. Kai saw children who fly, and a land where kids stay young forever, and fairy dust, and a very clear message – you are not intelligent. You are less than.

So when Kai first saw the preview for Molly of Denali, he said, ‘Hey! I think I know her. I think I’m in there!’ And he was really very excited. But I was moved to tears with gratitude. As an activist in these trying times, the victories are few and far between. But progress of this kind means so much.

In the opening scenes…they were going to a tribal hall, and told us that the grandpa had a necklace ‘like dad’s’. But shortly after that, he simply fell into this quintessential American experience that has been a staple to the majority and fully inaccessible to indigenous children until now – he watched a cartoon he could relate to.” 

An episode called, Grandpa’s Drum, tackles our boarding school story. I watched it three times already and cried each time. It’s a story of triumph, speaks to honoring our cultures and traditions, and a healing song is shared. When little is taught about boarding school history in the US, I’m glad it touches on the story in a positive way. I loved the song! When you watch the episodes, they also weave in real people and stories sharing singing, dancing, life in Alaska and making aqutaq, and more. Check out the episode below.

After seeing the amazing response to Grandpa’s Drum, Producer Princess Daazhraii Johnson (Neets’aii Gwich’in) shared a little bit more about working with Elder Reverend Luke Titus of Minto. “We came to Luke for his approval – that’s when we took this photo together. Dewey also teaches often in the Denaakk’e immersion classroom so that’s why he’s dressed in uniform 😊. Love to our language warriors! What goodness we are capable of when we work together & hold each other up. All this guided by our Ancestors,” says Princess Daazhraii Johnson.

“Oh man how amazing it is to see them identify with a cartoon show!!! They knew the grandpa song thanks to teacher Dewey. This is huge. They love it! So thankful this is now available to them.” – Kimberly Nicholas (Koyukon Athabascan) of Kaltag and Fairbanks

“We just watched two episodes, and tears fell. Our babies will never know a time without representation of their beautiful culture shown so lovingly on TV. So much love to our amazing fam working so hard for years to make this day a reality: Princess Daazhraii Johnson, Dewey Kk’ołeyo Hoffman, Vera Starbard, Du Aaní Kawdinook Xh’unei, Rochelle Adams and everyone else involved. Quyanaqpak from this thankful mama and future ancestor.

I wish everyone would watch this, especially our elders and parents/aunties/uncles generation. I watched Grandpa’s Drum twice today and cried both times. Healing is happening through our storytelling in real time ❤ I love #MollyofDenali.” – Ayyu Qassataq (Iñupiaq) of Uŋalaqłiq/Unalakleet and Anchorage

I’m impressed with the excellent writing, production, animation, storytelling, education, singing, partnerships, actors, and so much more! Kudus to Princess Daazhraii Johnson (Neets’aii Gwich’in) and to all of the contributors to this show. I’m a #MollyofDenali fan. Enaa baasee’, Mahsi’ choo and Chin’an for this healthy dose of truth, racial healing and transformation.

The Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center has an exhibit dedicated to Molly of Denali. Check it out if you have a chance!

There is a Molly of Denali exhibit at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. This image depicts the retelling of the truer history. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
There is a Molly of Denali exhibit at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Follow Molly of Denali on Facebook, Twitter, podcast, YouTube and online!

Alaska life, Alaska Native culture, Athabascan in the Spotlight

Athabascan Mushers in the 2019 Fur Rondy OWC Race

There were four Athabascan dog mushers from interior Alaska in the Fur Rondy Open World Championship Race this year! Marvin Kokrine, Ricky Taylor, John Erhart and Courtney Agnes are all from interior Alaska. Overall, they were in the top 12. Check out the overall results on the Alaskan Sled Dog & Racing Association site. Congratulations to the mushers and their teams! Kudos to the families and friends who support dog mushing!

John Erhart on day 2 of the Fur Rondy Open World Championship Race. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
John Erhart on day 2 of the Fur Rondy Open World Championship Race. John was second place overall. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Here are some daily recap videos below. Enaa baasee’ to Marie Kokrine and Monica Moore for sharing on the Athabascan Woman Blog on the last day. It was an exciting three days watching the teams! Thanks for tuning in.

This year, the race was dedicated to late Lester Erhart of Tanana. It was great to see his son, John Erhart, place second. I heard one announcer say, he must be receiving some help from up above.

This year, the Fur Rondy race was dedicated to late Lester Erhart. Courtesy of the Fur Rondy OWC program guide

I love watching Fur Rondy, because my dad, Al Yatlin, Sr., loves it so much. He was a dog musher. When he was in Anchorage during Fur Rondy, we would watch the teams take off from downtown Anchorage, then run over to Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium to watch them cross over the Tudor Road bridge. Then, we would head back downtown to watch them come back in. In the meantime, the radio would be on in the car announcing checkpoint times. He would be marking all of the checkpoint times down. I loved those times!

Dog mushing is a part of Alaska Native life in many villages. I am happy to see this tradition continuing today. I know it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to raise and train dogs. Good luck to all of the mushers in the spring mushing season!

Athabascan in the Spotlight

Athabascan in the Spotlight – Alberta John

Albert and Paul John. Photo courtesy of Alberta John
Alberta and Paul John. Photo courtesy of Alberta John

This summer, the Athabascan Woman Blog is featuring an Athabascan in the Spotlight. Thank you to Paul John (Koyukon Athabascan) for nominating his wife, Alberta (Tritt) John. Alberta John is Lakota Sioux and Gwich’in Athabascan who was born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska. Her mother, Grace Simon, is originally from McIntosh, South Dakota and transplanted to Alaska in the 1970s. Alberta’s maternal grandparents are Charles and Emma VillageCenter. Alberta’s father, William Tritt, Sr., is originally from Ft. Yukon, Alaska. He was adopted to Rev. Paul Tritt, Sr. and Julia Tritt of Venetie, Alaska. Alberta is an Administrative Assistant in the transportation industry. Alberta and her husband, Paul, own Dineega Clothing, an Alaska Native apparel company based in Fairbanks. Alberta’s Lakota name is Uŋžiŋžiŋtka hu oblaye uŋ, which means Prairie Rose of Flat Lands.

In this interview, Alberta shares her story of her family and how to deal with grief.

Interview with Alberta John:

I am the oldest girl with five brothers and eight (now seven) sisters. My late sister, April, and I were close; she was two years younger than me, so she was my first best friend in life. We did so many things together. We helped our parents with our younger siblings.  We shared a lot of laughter and tears. We loved to plan family cookouts and coordinated lunch dates. We both shared a love of books and adventures, and ultimately we planned her last days together. My siblings and I were all there to help her when she needed us and fortunate for us her spirit lives on through her children. A wonderful and loving mother, she leaves behind two sons and a daughter. We all remain a close-knit family and we will ensure that her legacy lives on.

Lakota Naming Gathering. Photo courtesy of Alberta John
Lakota Naming Gathering. Photo courtesy of Alberta John

In October 2013, we found out April was extremely ill.  As a family we banded together to help her get better. She was immediately admitted into the hospital where she would spend close to two months. That December, the doctors told us that this might be our last Christmas with her, so we might as well make the best memories of it. We called our huge family from my dad’s side and my Uncle Edward came up from Seattle to spend it with us. It was the best Christmas in ages! We enjoyed all the traditional and modern foods that were cooked. There was laughter, hugs and tears with her and with everyone that showed up, that we forgot why we had gathered together. It was great!

Alberta, her sister, April, and mother Grace. Photo courtesy of Alberta John
Alberta, her sister, April, and mother Grace. Photo courtesy of Alberta John

Life after that for April was touch and go for months. In mid-March, after she spent a week with her two youngest children, I received the hardest call ever from her doctors, to get to her immediately if I wanted to say goodbye. After a heart-wrenching drive to Anchorage, we said our goodbyes and sent her with all of our love and prayers to our Heavenly Father. She passed away surrounded by her family and all the love anyone could ever ask for.

The coming days, weeks and months afterwards were very difficult and emotional. Planning a burial to honor your loved one is a very hard process. It was good to have someone who already has gone through it and is not related to you, by your side to help you through it all. In all honesty, you don’t remember much, and things would probably would have been forgotten. But if asked again to be the responsible one and do that all over, would I have said yes? Yes, I would have; she was my sister, coach, cheerleader, confidante, co-prankster, book lover, adventure taker, food critic and ever loving best friend for life and I will miss her every single second of every single day.

There are many promises that I kept for her; bury her next to her late baby, keep things as normal as possible for the younger kids, continue to think of others before ourselves, celebrate the Holidays, go on bike rides, try to enjoy the sunsets, try new foods, laugh, love, smile, go for walks, keep our mom happy and not so sad after she passes because she will always be with us and take her children in and love them like my own.

My husband was my rock through it all. When I informed him that my late sister asked us to adopt her children he did not hesitate to agree, he said “of course, we’ve loved them from the moment they came into this world, we’ll love them more in our home.” As we began the process of Tribally adopting the two youngest ones (a nephew and niece), my niece decided she wanted to live with her dad who was the only parent she had left, and she didn’t want to leave him. Although I was breaking my sisters promise, I told her, ‘Whatever makes you happy, but just know, our home is always open to you,’ and off she went to her dad and there she stayed. Thankfully, she still lived in town and we got to help raise her.

If there is anything that I learned from a huge and devastating loss of a loved one, it is this: grief is strange and powerful, it comes at you. . . like huge waves in the ocean, you never know when it will hit you and when it retreats, you take a deep breath and wait for the next wave, hoping that you survive.

For the first YEAR of your loss, you cry off and on, let the tears fall when they arrive.  Do not bottle them up. It will return like a waterfall.

Talk about your grief. Talking to a grief counselor helped in so many ways I never knew about the things they mentioned. It’s okay to talk about your grief, it’s not something to be ashamed about or too proud to hold in.

You are NEVER the same person as you were before your loss, you have to try and live life without your loved one, that it feels like you lost a limb and are learning how to swim without it. It’s okay. It’s like that old saying, Time Heals All Wounds.

Yes, you are still you, yes, life will get better, but you have to choose to live. You have to choose life. You have to choose love. If you need to, find someone you can talk to, one who will just BE there, not give advice, not make you feel like you need to “get over it”, but just be a shoulder to cry on, an ear to listen, a hand to hold. Someone who understands your loss with you.

I had the best support system; I had numerous people who were there for me – they were my hand to hold, shoulder to cry on, and listening ears. Without them, I wouldn’t have survived. I’m so very thankful for my husband for always standing by me, holding my hand, holding me tight, and letting me cry; without him I wouldn’t have made it. It’s been a long four years of grief after losing my sister. But with Faith, Family and Love, I did it. If I can do it, so can you. I would also like to include this article that I found on grief, although our grief was different, it still explained the loss so perfectly. Many blessings to all those who are grieving and stay strong because it will get better.

[Alberta found words on mourning by Kay Warren to be very helpful. It gave her an understanding about the grieving process. She also appreciated the words of advice on how people should respond to people who are going through the grieving process. Alberta summarized the advice below.]

“Please don’t ever tell someone to be grateful for what they have left until they’ve had a chance to mourn what they’ve lost. It will take longer than you think is reasonable, rational or even right. But that’s ok. True friends – unlike Job’s sorry excuse for friends – love at all times, and brothers and sisters are born to help in time of need (Prov. 17:17 LB). The truest friends and ‘helpers’ are those who wait for the griever to emerge from the darkness that swallowed them alive without growing afraid, anxious or impatient. They don’t pressure their friend to be the old familiar person they’re used to; they’re willing to accept that things are different, embrace the now-scarred one they love, and are confident that their compassionate, non-demanding presence is the surest expression of God’s mercy to their suffering friend. They’re okay with messy and slow and few answers….and they never say, ‘Move on’.” – Alberta John (Lakota Sioux/Gwich’in Athabascan)

***

Enaa baasee’ to Paul for submitting Alberta to be an Athabascan in the Spotlight and sharing some much-needed advice on dealing with loss and going through the grieving process.

Do you have someone you admire, like a culture bearer, artist, storytellers, activist, role model, community doer, language warrior, leader, hunter, gatherer, parent, or grandparents? Find out more about how to submit a nomination here: http://athabascanwoman.com/?p=4248.

Athabascan in the Spotlight

Athabascan in the Spotlight – Elaine Alexie – Teetł’it Gwich’in

Elaine Alexie. Courtesy photo

This summer, the Athabascan Woman Blog is featuring an Athabascan in the Spotlight. Elaine Alexie is Teetł’it Gwich’in from Alberta, Canada. I have been following her for a few years, and am excited to feature her on the Athabascan Woman Blog. She and I share a love of beading. We both learned our sewing and beading skills from our mothers. Her mother is her biggest supporter and continues to be an inspiration.

Here’s my interview with Elaine:

Can you tell me about yourself?

My name is Elaine Alexie and I am Teetł’it (Tee-tlit) Gwich’in. I currently reside on Treaty 6 and Metis homelands in Alberta, Canada with my loving partner Adam. My home community is Teetł’it Zheh or Fort McPherson, Northwest Territories (NWT), Canada. Teetł’it Gwich’in is loosely translated as, ‘the people of the headwaters’ or ‘above the water’ people. Our ancestral territory extends from what is now described as the Peel River Watershed in the central area of the Yukon Territory to the Mackenzie Delta region of the Northwest Territories in Northern Canada.

I was born in the NWT and raised in Teetł’it Zheh within my large and extended Teetl’it Gwich’in maternal families of both Vittrekwa (Don’t Cry/Esau) and Alexie (Martin/Sha un Nakhya). Like many other families, I have many aunties, uncles and cousins all around. I come from a large family of creators and makers.  In some ways, I like to consider myself more of a Yukoner as I spent a majority of my childhood out on the land with my family at our winter/spring camp at Tr’atr’aataii Njik, which is approximately 80 miles upstream on Teetł’it Gwinjik, the Peel River, on the Yukon side. 

My great grandmothers and their daughters had many skills including hide tanning, sewing, medicine knowledge, birch bark basket-making, dog team handling and working with fish and meat, among other things. I am a descendent of strong people and I am proud of that. – Elaine Alexie (Teetł’it Gwich’in)

Elaine Alexie. Courtesy photo

I left home in my mid-teens to go to high school in other regions of the NWT. At the time, this was the only option. After school I had the opportunity to work on the protection of the calving grounds of the Porcupine Caribou Herd in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. I spent lots of time touring with other Gwich’in to the Lower 48 and lobbying the US Congress to protect the calving grounds. I also worked in other areas of land protection and Indigenous rights in Canada, including the protection of the Peel Watershed and Dene resistance to the revived Mackenzie Pipeline proposal. These experiences taught me a lot about community organizing and communication.

I have always had a fondness and love for traveling in my peoples lands and I did it a lot growing up at my family’s seasonal camps. Later on, I rafted and canoed rivers during the summer seasons. A big part my who I am is connected to water. This interest led me to get my certifications and training for being a raft tour guide.

I worked in film and TV production as a producer for several years but was laid off during the recession in 2008. Fortunately, that same summer I was accepted to the University of Victoria in British Columbia and my river rafting dreams slowly would diminish from there.

To get my degree done faster, I did summer school sessions, so I wasn’t able to continue my love for being on the water or to work in that area. My university experience became another door that opened many other doors, and I trained in the area of political science/Indigenous studies. I enjoyed it so much I continued on for my master’s degree in Political Science. My degree was thesis-based, so I worked with my elders and led a community-based research project on my people’s use of traditional governance. This project grounded land-based practices and explores how it informs our indigeneity that is essential to our self-determination. I find research amazing and I really enjoy it, when done right and respectfully. I enjoy working with community knowledge holders and building projects with them. I currently work at the University of Alberta in the Faculty of Native Studies in northern research engagement and part of my job is to build research partnerships and relationships with communities across Northern Canada.

Can you tell me about any recent projects you’re working on or maybe one you finished? 

Elaine Alexie beading a Gwich’in style baby belt. Courtesy photo

I have one major project on the go right now: a Gwich’in style beaded baby belt. I am using mostly seed beads on stroud and velvet. I have acquired some vintage pony beads to incorporate for the tassels, so I am excited about that. I have been researching old styles of Gwich’in baby belts by visiting museum collections and looking at resources online. This past winter, I visited the Royal Alberta Museum, Bata Shoe Museum and Royal Ontario Museum to see Gwich’in pieces in their collections. I’ve seen a very old baby belt dated to at least late 19th century and a Hudson’s Bay flour sac was used as a liner. Old! This demonstrates that certain materials were not within reach and people used everything they could to make things with whatever they had available. That’s pretty special.

I have a deep appreciation of the work my Gwich’in ancestors have done with beads, the many forms of hand stitch, and the use of certain fabrics. – Elaine Alexie (Teetł’it Gwich’in)

Beaded purse top by Elaine Alexie. Courtesy photo

I really admire the old-style beading and the use of velvet. I appreciate the use of certain bead colours no longer in production and the formation and use of floral motifs. It is also not very easy to bead on velvet, so it takes some skill. Each beaded flower motif tells a story and that is something special to pay attention to. This reflects our peoples surroundings or in some way, interpretations of the beauty of our cultural landscape, as our ancestors have seen it.

Beaded flower for a purse by Elaine Alexie. Courtesy photo

I am fascinated by all this and want to continue the art of my peoples beadwork and continue the use of the old style in a variety of ways. One project that relates to this topic is a bag I completed with the help of my sister, Shirley, and mom, Dorothy. I sewed it together in a two week period, alongside tanning caribou and moose hides with my mom, and it was deeply gratifying. As exhausted as I was physically at the end of our days working on hides, I managed to sew and bead in the evenings.

Surprisingly, I found doing these different tasks went hand in hand. What influenced my desire to do this bag was an old school bag my mom owns that is about 70 years old. This bag was fully beaded in the traditional way – on blue velvet and old Gwich’in beading floral motif pattern. It is simply beautiful, and I’ve admired it all my life. The bag was considered my mom’s bible bag to store her bible and hymn books, and she would occasionally take it with her on her weekly visit to church.

Beaded purse by Elaine Alexie. Courtesy photo

For the bag I worked on, I freestyled the beading based on learning about certain floral patterns and cut out a pattern to bring it together. My sister is a master at the sewing machine, so she showed me the best way to sew it together. Our mom watched and instructed us on certain things to pay attention to. It was a great thing to do with several family members. I am super proud of it because it was made from scratch and drawn from a vision I had. That is, a vision that was inspiration based on Gwich’in items that I’ve researched through books and viewed in person.

There are so many other skills I want to develop in my lifetime, like working with quills and natural dyes, harvesting and using birch bark, and learning how to make sinew and babiche. The list is endless. – Elaine Alexie (Teetł’it Gwich’in)

Do you have any web or social media links you would like me to share? 

Elaine Alexie’s new business and collective is called, Shinli’ Niintaih, which means my strong hands.

Over the years and to offset my loneliness for my land, home, family and culture, I took up beading and making things to keep myself busy. This has been on and off over the years, but I really picked it up in university. I continue to work on projects while working full time and have started a small business on the side, Shinli’ Niintaih: my strong hands, a name that my mom and I came up with.  I gravitate to this concept because of my life-long love of learning new skills. I love that. My work and many other things that I am invested in begins with the understanding around the concept of Shinli’ Niintaih.

Shinli’ Niintaih in my people’s language means “strong hands” or “my hands are getting strong.” It means that to be a strong person starts with your hands, so by making things drawn from our homelands, we get stronger. My hands always get stronger by working with them. – Elaine Alexie (Teetł’it Gwich’in)

I have started a Facebook and Instagram page for Shinli’ Niintaih, so people can follow my research and journey in making things with my hands. You can follow @ShinliNiintaih. From time to time, I will sell items I make, so if people want to purchase they can. An incentive that really got me to begin Shinli’ Niintaih was what started as making gifts to family and friends over the years became larger as more people came to me for custom pieces. A portion of my jewelry making sales will go toward youth cultural resurgence projects in my home community. My website is www.shinliniintaih.com.

Shinli’ Niintaih is also a community collective. To support other Teetł’it Gwich’in artists, I help them by selling their work online. All of the proceeds from their sales goes to them. I believe strongly creating opportunities for people to generate and keep the art forms alive is incredibly vital for knowledge transmission, and the relationships that result, in Indigenous communities. A key component of material culture creation is not just in the tangible process but the making of kinship along the way.

My philosophy and approach to social media is that I am always happy to share knowledge with other Indigenous community members and youth. I love to connect with other artists in an open, uplifting and supportive way, and to share my love for making things.

Do you have anything else to add?

About five years ago, Ned Blackhawk gifted me the famous book, ‘Northern Athapaskan Art’ by Kate C. Duncan. I was floored, because the book is now out of print and I felt I hit the jackpot. I have always had an interest in making things and having cultural influences all around me growing up was something I was always used to. This book help to start my interests in looking at my peoples art forms more closely and I have been able to start my journey in researching the many forms of Athapaskan material culture and artistic practice. I have so much gratitude to the researchers who have recorded the oral knowledge of the elders in the communities on the knowledge they carry. There is so much more work to do. I hope to do my PhD in the next few years on this very topic within my peoples practices to help preserve knowledge and the practice of Teetł’it Gwich’in art forms.

Elaine Alexie’s beading space. I love seeing other people’s beading spaces! Courtesy photo

***
Enaa baasee’ to Elaine Alexie for sharing on the Athabascan Woman Blog! It was great to learn a little bit about her background, process and inspiration for her work. I know it takes a lot of time, trial and error and dedication to learn about beading. I love seeing her style and uses of colors and materials.

Do you have someone you admire, like a culture bearer, artist, storytellers, activist, role model, community doer, language warrior, leader, hunter, gatherer, parent, or grandparents? Find out more about how to submit a nomination here: http://athabascanwoman.com/?p=4248.