Alaska Native culture

Beading and Sewing Stations

It’s no secret I love beading. I love beading slippers/moccasins the most. Since last November, I beaded over 52 pairs on my free time on the evenings and weekends. It’s fun, therapeutic, healing, challenging and relaxing. I asked friends on Facebook recently to share photos in a “photo comment hello”, and some shared their beading and sewing projects and work stations. I love seeing people’s projects and how they set up their work area! I’ll share a few. Enaa baasee’ for friends and relatives for sharing!

Here’s what I’m working on today. I’m beading a pair of slippers for a friend’s daughter who is celebrating her 8th birthday.

This is my cousin, Wanda Moses of Fairbanks & Galena, and she makes summer parkas, aka bets’eh hoolaanee or kuspuks. I love seeing her latest designs. Photo courtesy of Wanda Moses.

My aunt, Gladys Derendoff of Huslia, enjoys beading. I love her creativity and her beadwork reminds me of my late Grandma Lydia Simon’s work. Photo by Gladys Derendoff.

My mother, Eleanor Yatlin of Huslia, is finishing up this beautiful quilt for my daughter. I love seeing her latest blankets. She has an eye for colors and matching fabric. Photo by Eleanor Yatlin.

My aunt, Dorothy Yatlin of Huslia, shared her workspace and her latest beading projects. I love seeing other people’s color choices! Photo by Dorothy Yatlin.

My aunt Dorothy Yatlin also makes fur hats. I love this purple color. They are the perfect hat for cold winters in interior Alaska. Photo by Dorothy Yatlin.

My cousin, Thelma Nicholai of Hughes, shared her beadwork. I love how she’s using white to outline her work. I will have to try white some time. Photo by Thelma Nicholai.

Janet Antone is hosting the @indigenousbeads Twitter account this week. She is Iroquois from Oneida Nation in Canada. She was catching up on American Horror Story and beading. Photo courtesy of Ms. Antone’s Beadwork.

Thank you everyone for sharing!

It took Brenda Mahan nearly two years to complete this Athabascan firebag. It is 9.5” x 10” with a 60” wool yarn strap which hangs approximately 30”. Brenda says, “It is beaded on both sides and lined with cotton fabric. I utilized size 11 Japanese seed beads and it is edged with size 6 Japanese seed beads. I utilized black wool broadcloth to create the piece. On each side, there is a main flower in the center. These flowers are old patterns that I attempted to re-create. Although the overall design is my original, I referenced Northern Athabascan Art, A Beadwork Tradition by Kate C. Duncan to design my piece and to determine what was used to create a firebag.” Courtesy photo
Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Brenda Mahan – Athabascan Beader

Athabascan Artist Brenda Mahan with her latest pieces of beadwork include a firebag, wall hanging and moose hide octopus bag. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Athabascan Artist Brenda Mahan with her latest pieces of beadwork include a firebag, wall hanging and moose hide octopus bag. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

I have been admiring beadwork by Brenda Mahan for the past few years. She is Koyukon Athabascan with roots from Galena, Alaska and now lives in Nevada. Brenda was raised in Cordova, Alaska and is a shareholder of Chugach Alaska Corporation. Although she has a day job as a child support supervisor, she spends her free time beading. I consider her a master artist in beading.

Brenda’s adoptive parents are Pete and Marlene Laplante. Her birth grandparents were Johnson and Lilly Henry from Galena, Alaska. Brenda’s birth mother is Madeline Henry. Madeline is a beader, and collaborated with her late mother, Lilly Henry, to make several large coasters for the Governor’s Awards in Alaska in the 1982. Madeline and late Lilly also have a piece featured in Kate C. Duncan’s book, Some Warmer Tone Alaska Athabascan Bead Embroidery.

Brenda says, “Being adopted, I learned bead embroidery from books.” One such book was, Ann’s Creations: Designs & Instructions for Making Your Own Athabascan Beadwork by Ann Goessel, where she learned some of the basics to beading. In 2001, she ventured to make her first beaded barrette. In 2004, Brenda took a beading class taught by Athabascan bead artist, Delores Sloan, held at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. In 2009, Brenda decided to create floral beadwork with moose hide with a goal to sell it at Alaska Native Medical Center’s Gift Shop in Anchorage, Alaska. The ANMC Gift Shop is known for selling high quality traditional Alaska Native arts and crafts. Brenda said, “This was an honor for me to have my items accepted in this gift shop as it meant that my beadwork had met a high standard.”

Angela Gonzalez and Brenda Mahan meet in Anchorage
Angela Gonzalez and Brenda Mahan meet in Anchorage

Brenda was always drawn to beadwork and sewing and especially loves floral beadwork. She finds inspiration from nature. She grew up enjoying the wonders of Alaska, like beach combing, berry picking, hiking, skiing, snow machining, trapping, hunting and fishing. Brenda’s preferred materials include size 11 Japanese seed beads, nymo thread, porcupine quills, moose hide, dentallium shells and Ultra suede. Brenda uses the two-needle method which she believes makes her lines straighter and more controlled curves. This method came naturally to her, but designing has been more of a challenge.

“I love to work with the soft moose hide and the smell of smoked hide conjures up many feelings of happiness for me. There are not many people who bead on moose hide anymore due to the rising cost.” Brenda Mahan, Koyukon Athabascan

Beadwork brings Brenda closer to her Athabascan and Alaska Native people. She often shares her beadwork on a Facebook group, called Athabascan Showcase. Brenda enjoys connecting with people, and has even discovered some are distant relatives.

Brenda was honored to receive with several pages of floral patterns and a zipper pull mukluk pattern (signature piece) from Madeline. Brenda wishes she lived closer to Madeline so they could bead together. Brenda only met her late grandmother, Lilly Henry, once and treasures looking at pictures of her beadwork. Brenda adds an edge technique to some of her beadwork in honor of Lilly’s style of beadwork.

Brenda Mahan has spent over 100 hours making this moose hide octopus bag. She says, “Currently, the top is done and I am preparing to put it all together. The strap is done and I am lining that with hide using picot-edge beading. I plan to assemble the top in a similar manner. The tentacles will be lined separately from the bag so that eight tentacles hang down from the main bag. The bag will also be lined using picot-edge beading. I've add more details to the bag, little flowers all over.” Photo courtesy of Brenda Mahan
Athabacan Artist Brenda Mahan has spent over 100 hours making this moose hide octopus bag. She says, “Currently, the top is done and I am preparing to put it all together. The strap is done and I am lining that with hide using picot-edge beading. I plan to assemble the top in a similar manner. The tentacles will be lined separately from the bag so that eight tentacles hang down from the main bag. The bag will also be lined using picot-edge beading. I’ve add more details to the bag, little flowers all over.” Photo courtesy of Brenda Mahan
A close up view of Brenda Mahan's beadwork. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
A close up view of Athabascan Artist Brenda Mahan’s beadwork. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Although, I am no expert at beading or determining if someone is a master bead artist, I feel Brenda’s artwork is exemplary. Her work reflects her extensive research on the style and technique of Athabascan beadwork. One of Brenda’s latest projects is a moose hide octopus bag. It is approximately 11” x 15” with beadwork on one side. Her center flower is her attempted to re-create using an older book called, Northern Athabascan Art, A Beadwork Tradition by Kate C. Duncan. Brenda says, “Sometimes I feel like I am connecting to that person when I try to re-create their old flower pattern. The patterns are more difficult than ones that I’ve done in the past. I’ve learned about color and contrast working with these more difficult patterns. I feel like the past speaks to me through my beadwork.”

Brenda studied several octopus bags in museums. However, she has never been able to handle one. The bag is going to be lined. The shape of the bag with the tentacles fascinates her, and she has enjoyed making it. Brenda has been careful in planning and creating the bag using old traditional flower patterns and moose hide throughout.

Angela Gonzalez wears earrings made by Athabascan Artist Brenda Mahan
Angela Gonzalez wears earrings made by Athabascan Artist Brenda Mahan

Brenda sells some of her beadwork at the Alaska Native Medical Center gift shop in Anchorage, Alaska and the Fallon Paiute Shoshone Tribe Fox Peak in Fallon, Nevada. You can view some of Brenda’s work on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.

Brenda is grateful to friends and mentors, like Emma Forsberg and Glenda McKay, for assistance during the process of learning to bead. Brenda’s dream is to bead an Athabascan baby belt. Although, she knows it will be a large, costly and time-consuming project, she’s looking forward to creating one with full moose hide. One day, Brenda also like to create moccasins, mittens and different types of traditional Athabascan bags. She would love to make these items with moose hide and in the traditional manner as it seems to be becoming a lost tradition (creating them entirely out of moose hide).

I recently met her in Anchorage. Her face lights up when she talks about her work and the process. If I know one thing about artists, it is the fact that they love discussing process. She brought three pieces of artwork with her, and I enjoyed seeing the detail of her work. Brenda’s beadwork almost looks 3D, and I thought some beads were raised. She assured me that it was not raised.

As you can see, Brenda is very talented Athabascan bead working and artist. I admire how much she invests into the planning and creation of each of her pieces. Ana basee’ Brenda for sharing your work and passion!

It took Brenda Mahan nearly two years to complete this Athabascan firebag. It is 9.5” x 10” with a 60” wool yarn strap which hangs approximately 30”. Brenda says, “It is beaded on both sides and lined with cotton fabric. I utilized size 11 Japanese seed beads and it is edged with size 6 Japanese seed beads. I utilized black wool broadcloth to create the piece. On each side, there is a main flower in the center. These flowers are old patterns that I attempted to re-create. Although the overall design is my original, I referenced Northern Athabascan Art, A Beadwork Tradition by Kate C. Duncan to design my piece and to determine what was used to create a firebag.” Courtesy photo
It took Brenda Mahan, an Athabascan artist, nearly two years to complete this Athabascan firebag. It is 9.5” x 10” with a 60” wool yarn strap which hangs approximately 30”. Brenda says, “It is beaded on both sides and lined with cotton fabric. I utilized size 11 Japanese seed beads and it is edged with size 6 Japanese seed beads. I utilized black wool broadcloth to create the piece. On each side, there is a main flower in the center. These flowers are old patterns that I attempted to re-create. Although the overall design is my original, I referenced Northern Athabascan Art, A Beadwork Tradition by Kate C. Duncan to design my piece and to determine what was used to create a firebag.” Courtesy photo

 

Athabascan Artist Brenda Mahan made this wall hanging, entitled Alaskan Angel. It is made of moose hide and is 10.5"x12". Brenda says, “Alaskan Angels flies high above the Northern Lights (which is the fringe) so that she can have the best view, constantly watching and guarding over everything. Her dog is her constant companion, watching over Alaskan Angel; pure love and always together. Just like her dog, Alaskan Angel will be loyal to you, watch over you and love you unconditionally. Believe in Angels.” Brenda donated it to the Friends of Pets Quilt Auction, which will take place on October 7, 2017, 11 am-2 pm at the University Center Mall in Anchorage, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Brenda Mahan
Athabascan Artist Brenda Mahan made this wall hanging, entitled Alaskan Angel. It is made of moose hide and is 10.5″x12″. Brenda says, “Alaskan Angels flies high above the Northern Lights (which is the fringe) so that she can have the best view, constantly watching and guarding over everything. Her dog is her constant companion, watching over Alaskan Angel; pure love and always together. Just like her dog, Alaskan Angel will be loyal to you, watch over you and love you unconditionally. Believe in Angels.” Brenda donated it to the Friends of Pets Quilt Auction, which will take place on October 7, 2017, 11 am-2 pm at the University Center Mall in Anchorage, Alaska. Photo courtesy of Brenda Mahan
Heather Kendall-Miller received an award from the Alaska Federation of Natives in 2014. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Athabascan Lawyer – Heather Kendall-Miller

Heather Kendall-Miller in her office at the Native American Rights Fund. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Heather Kendall-Miller in her office at the Native American Rights Fund. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

It took me about a year of thinking about it until I got the courage to approach Heather Kendall-Miller for an interview. To me, Heather is way up there with our top Alaska Native leaders of today. I went to an event at the First Alaskans Institute where Heather was the featured guest. It was a coffee time event, where we had a chance to learn more about Heather. I told her I was intimidated to approach her, and she told me just to reach out. I met with her not too long after that to learn more about her.

Heather is Dena’ina Athabascan with family ties from the Dillingham, Alaska area. She has been a staff attorney in the Anchorage, Alaska office of the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) for the past 23 years. Heather’s legal experience includes cases involving subsistence, tribal sovereignty, human rights, and taxation. She is well-known for being instrumental in winning the Katie John subsistence hunting and fishing rights case in 2001. Heather has worked with other Alaska Native communities like the Native Village of Venetie, the Native Village of Kluti Kaah, the Native Village of Barrow, and the Nome Eskimo community.

I asked Heather if she has any advice for Alaska Native women who have goals aspirations and challenges to overcome. Heather received a history degree, magna cum laude, from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks (UAF) (1988). She received her M.A. J.D. from Harvard University Law School (1991). This did not come easy because she left a tough relationship in order to succeed in law school. She said, “My desire to achieve an education was detrimental to the relationship.” The closer she got to achieving her educational goals, the more threatened he became. Heather was 33 year old when she started school.

With a deep passion for learning more about federal Indian law and social justice, Heather worked hard to earn her law degree as a single mother. The summer before law school, she attended a pre-law summit in Albuquerque for Native American woman. She saw other women struggling with domestic violence issues. One lady was even dragged down the hall at a hotel. It made her realize she had a decision to make. Heather tells her story not because she’s looking for sympathy, but to give hope to women who may be in a similar situation.

“I had a goal of getting an education for years. Going to school and studying was a way to maintain control of my life. It gave me a focus. This is what I want to do.” – Heather Kendall-Miller

In her junior year at UAF, Heather took a master’s degree class on federal Indian law. She connected to the history of federal Indian law and the political relationships. Heather researched why Alaska Native people are beneficiaries of services and the role they have in relationship with the federal government. She thought to herself, ‘This is something I can do.’

When Heather started school, her daughter was in junior high school. Heather grappled with the potential impacts of moving her daughter out of state when she went to law school. School and career changes can impact children and it was a challenge to maintain balance in her life. It was a struggle, but she persisted. After earning her law degree, her goal was to pass the bar and get a job.

Heather met and married Lloyd Miller and they had a child. Her first daughter had a child and Heather and Lloyd raised her. Both girls are now earning their college education. Heather hopes to retire by the end of the year. Her mom and dad are 103 and 93 respectively and she wants to spend more time with them.

Heather’s Dena’ina mother died when she was very young and she was raised by her her white father and later on her white stepmother. Although Heather didn’t grow up in a traditional Native household, her father instilled in her the value of helping people. She is driven by issues and the needs of her clients, which makes her an effective advocate. Heather has a strong interest in serving Native people and standing up and defending Native rights.

Heather Kendall-Miller received an award from the Alaska Federation of Natives in 2014. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Heather Kendall-Miller received an award from the Alaska Federation of Natives in 2014. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Working as a staff attorney for NARF was her dream job because it provide her an opportunity to focus on the issues of institutional racism. Heather is concerned about the global changes taking place right now and what it means to Alaska Native people, culture and the traditional way of life in respect to their connection to land and resources. Heather respected the late Katie John for insisting on continuing her way of life. She said, “It’s a story about resilience, survivance. Survival is more than just surviving – you do survive by moving forward.”

I asked Heather how can people put culture into their lives if they weren’t raised in a traditional Native household or who live away from their people. Heather maintains relationships with people and observes Native culture and how people relate to each other. She incorporates Native values into her life. Heather’s daughter connects with other Native American students at college, and is finding ways to learn the Dena’ina language.

For those who are aspiring to be lawyers, Heather says, “Be clear in your head what aspect of lawyering you want to do.” She compared lawyers with doctors, and how they can specialize in many areas. For instance, ask yourself if you want to focus on tribal rights, Alaska Native corporations, or non-profit organizations, etc. How you see yourself is also important. Think of ways you can attend law school for three years with expenses. Once you earn your degree, you still have to pass the bar exam.

Maintaining balance with a family and career has not always been easy, but Heather strives to inspire others to move beyond their circumstances to achieve their goals. She recommends focusing on balance and wellness and finding ways to replenish energy especially when your life is busy. I appreciated and enjoyed getting to know Heather a little bit. Chin’an to Heather for sharing your story!

Moose Calling along the Dietrich River, an oil painting by Rose Albert. Courtesy image
Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Rose Albert – Athabascan Painter and Artist

Rose Albert. Courtesy photo
Rose Albert. Courtesy photo

I have admired Rose Albert’s painting for years. Rose is Koyukon Athabascan originally from Ruby, Alaska. She is a talented artist and also a former Iditarod sled dog musher. She is owner of Nowitna River Studios and resides in Anchorage.

Rose always wanted to become an artist since she was two years old. She remembers playing under the blankets with my siblings and being fascinated by static electricity. The streaks of light looked like little angels to her and her siblings. At the age of five, Rose’s first three drawings were of angels with wings.

Another vivid memory is when Rose was mesmerized by midnight blue glass beads shining at an old dump site. The color blue spoke to her and in second grade, she drew rivers, streams and mountains and colored them blue. Rose says, “After school as dusk fell upon us, I would stand one place outside and watch as the atmosphere turned blue.” She remembers getting cold outside but couldn’t resist watching how the blue faded into darkness. Rose realized later, she was a winter person.

“I went through grade sixth to eighth drawing women in the latest fashions. I gave them away and my classmates seemed to like them. My first oil painting was of Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Later in eighth grade I did an oil painting of Zeus who was the sky and thunder God in ancient Greek religion as a class project. The next one and many afterwards were of wild life. One of a bull moose and cow and one with wolves running. Throughout high school, I painted outdoor winter scenes and wildlife and best of all dogs racing down the trail, all along trying to capture that blue atmosphere that cold weather seems to bring on. During high school I took art classes by Don Decker. Though I may have been good at composition, he instructed me on how to work with light and the direction it was coming from and when to use shadows and colors.” – Rose Albert, Koyukon Athabascan

Rose worked on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System after high school. She painted on her free time on commission from pipeline workers from the Lower 48 who were missing loved ones. Using small snapshots of their wives, she painted 16×20 oil paintings. After that job ended, she was lost afterwards until a school teacher from Ruby told her I should go down to the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. In 1981, Rose earned an associate’s degree in two-dimensional art specializing in painting from IAIA. She says, “I still obsessed about blue and brought to life Alaska themes with rich northern colors in cold but romantic settings on the Iditarod race or trapline.”

Rose Albert attending a 2015 Fur Rondy event honoring late George Attle Jr. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Rose Albert attending a 2015 Fur Rondy event honoring late George Attle Jr. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

After Rose returned to Alaska, she got in the Iditarod race and finished in 32nd place. She was the first Alaska Native woman to get into the Iditarod. She says, “It was cold and blue out there and I loved it.” Rose continues to refine her painting techniques depicting wildlife and beautiful Alaska scenes, and loves painting Iditarod scenes. She also specializes in painting portraits.

In 1998, Rose began building Alaska Yellow Cedar boxes and carving wildlife, totemic art and Iditarod images of people and their dogs in the Iditarod. One of her favorite things to do is to design boxes to the appropriate shape or size. Then she pays a woodworker to build finger joint boxes so they will never lose their shape. At one point, Rose had to hire someone to build them because it took too much of her time to build them.

Rose has always loved beads. Ten years ago, she began making costume jewelry, especially with glass beads. The jewelry was a hit, and Rose began adding Swarovski crystals, stone, ceramic, bone and silver beads. Later, she worked with moose antlers by inlaying beautiful natural stones in the antler after slicing them into oval or round buttons. She searched for the best bone or stone beads to go with her pendants. Rose loves all Alaskan stones, like jasper, Malachite, quartz and garnets, but she also likes Labradorite.

Like many Alaska Native artists, Rose is multi-talented and is not afraid to experiment with new art forms. She is also an inspiration for women who want to run in the Iditarod. Follow Rose Albert on the Nowitna River Studios Facebook page or email her at lbrt_rs@yahoo.com. Rose shared a photo of her most recent painting, entitled “Moose Calling along the Dietrich River” on her Facebook page. It took four about four months to paint in five phases. This oil painting depicts a bull moose calling as it walks along the Dietrich river on a brisk autumn day during the rut.

Moose Calling along the Dietrich River, an oil painting by Rose Albert. Courtesy image
“Moose Calling along the Dietrich River”, an oil painting by Rose Albert. Courtesy image
Alaska life

VHF Radio in Rural Alaska

VHF radios are used in many rural Alaskan villages. The community uses them to communicate everyday messages. You can hear radio chatter all day, from birthday messages to local emergencies and community announcements. When people are done saying with a message, they ask if anyone heard the message. People reply with, “copy”.

Here’s an example of Cesa Agnes speaking on a VHF radio in Huslia.

My niece, Sasha, in Huslia in 2014. Photo by Solomon Yatlin
My niece, Sasha, in Huslia in 2014. Photo by Solomon Yatlin

My brother, Solomon, shared a story about his daughter, Sasha, who was five years old at the time. My mom was talking to dad when she was cooking one day. My dad has a hearing aid, and Sasha wasn’t sure if my dad heard my mom. Sasha said, “Grandpa, you gotta copy?” Adorable!

Being connected by VHF radio in the village is convenient and a great way to get messages out to most people. Many remote Alaskan villages are small. Huslia has about 300 residents. In the past few years, more and more people are getting connected to the internet. Many of my friends and relatives are on Facebook, and use it as a way to communicate. I see my relatives posting updates with information or events, like open gym night. I heard people call Facebook the ‘new VHF radio’. Times are changing. 🙂