Huslia community members welcome a 2017 Iditarod musher. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Alaska Native culture

Iditarod Halfway Checkpoint – Huslia

2017 Iditarod Musher Dee Dee Jonrowe arrives in Huslia. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
2017 Iditarod Musher Dee Dee Jonrowe arrives in Huslia. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Huslia was the halfway checkpoint for the 2017 Iditarod. It was fun to be in Huslia as the Iditarod musher passed through. People of all ages enjoyed seeing the mushers and their dogs. The first musher arrived on the evening of Thursday, March 9. My daughter and I went to Huslia on March 10 and stayed until March 13. Each day, we made short videos of interviews with community members and mushers.

On the first day, Ermelina Gonzalez interviewed Barbie Sam, Jefferson Sam, Jessie Henry, Hugh Bifelt, Warner Vent, Sr. (former Iditarod musher), and Katherine Keith (2017 Iditarod musher). On the second day, Ermelina interviewed Warren Vent (grandson of late Bobby Vent, former Iditarod musher), Bill Derendoff, Kristy and Anna Barrington (2017 Iditarod mushers), and Nicolas Vanier (2017 Iditarod rookie musher). On the third day, Ermelina interviewed Agnes Dayton and Rosie Edwin, and we shared some video footage of racers leaving Huslia.

On the last day we were in Huslia, we shared footage the last musher arriving in Huslia. The Huslia Tribal Council gifted Ellen Halverson (2017 Iditarod musher) with a pair of beaver skin mitts made by Colleen Weter. Iditarod volunteers thanked the community of Huslia for all of their efforts for making it a successful checkpoint.

Playlist of all videos:

I was impressed with the community of Huslia and how they came together to welcome mushers, dogs and visitors. For about four days, volunteers worked around the clocks. Volunteer vets, dog handlers and officials came to Huslia too. The community hall was a place to gather for information, meetings and to eat. The community made sure there was plenty of food for everyone.

The weather was fairly warm in the teens and it was sunny. It was awesome to see the dogs when they arrived in Huslia. They had to pull a sled 478 miles from Fairbanks to reach Huslia. They are true athletes. I could see how much they enjoyed resting in the sun. The field in front of the community hall was filled with mushers throughout the weekend.

I am so glad I took a break from city life and went home to see the mushers going through Huslia. Watching mushers at the ceremonial start in Anchorage is always exciting, but it is thrilling to watch them on the trail. You gain a deeper understanding the strength, strategy and will it takes to complete the nearly 1,000 mile race to Nome.

Here are some photos I took in Huslia (click photo to see album on Flickr). Enjoy!

Iditarod in Huslia

Alaska Native/Indigenous People

James Roberts – Yukon Man

James Roberts. Photo courtesy of Yukon Men Show
James Roberts. Photo courtesy of Yukon Men Show

James Roberts (Athabascan) of Tanana is on the cast of the Yukon Men television show. I caught up with James recently to ask him about what it is like to be a part of the show and to find out more about him. James and his wife, Cindy, live in Tanana with their children.

James just finished wrapping up the fifth season of Yukon Men. He has gained a new appreciation for what goes on behind the scenes of TV shows and movies. James says, “I’m always trying to figure out camera angles and lenses.” It has been exciting for him to participate on the show and has gained a better understanding of how they make it. Continue reading “James Roberts – Yukon Man”

Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Iditarod Fever in Huslia

Aaron Burmeister was the first Iditarod musher to arrive in Huslia - the half-way checkpoint. Photo by Jo Derendoff
Aaron Burmeister was the first Iditarod musher to arrive in Huslia. Photo by Jo Derendoff
Huslia residents eagerly wait for the first musher to arrive in Huslia. Photo by Vivian Henry
Residents eagerly wait for the first musher to arrive in Huslia. Photo by Vivian Henry

For the first time ever, Huslia is a checkpoint for the Iditarod. It’s the official half-way point. Mushers began arriving in Huslia on Thursday evening. Huslia is my hometown. Unfortunately, I can’t be there for the momentous occasion, but I have been enjoying the updates from relatives and friends.

Everyone has been pitching in with cooking, coordination and whatever else is needed for the mushers, Iditarod officials and news media. Darrell Vent of Huslia said, “People are sure coming together to help make these mushers feel at home with a lot of positive feedback from mushers so far.”

Joslin Olin (right) and Warner Vent present gifts to the half-way prize winnter, Aaron Burmeister. Photo by Jo Derendoff
Joslin Olin (right) and Warner Vent present gifts to the half-way prize winner, Aaron Burmeister. Photo by Jo Derendoff

Dog mushing fans of all ages waited and greeted dog mushers late Thursday. Al Yatlin, Sr. said, “Everyone is so impressed about coming to Huslia. Warner Vent has been greeting all the mushers. They all know who he is.” Warner Vent, Sr. raced in the Iditarod three times in the early 1970s.

Huslia has a storied history of dog mushing with many mushers, like late Bobby Vent, George Attla, Jr. and more. People still mush dogs today. Many teams from around Alaska started out with dogs from Huslia and other interior villages. Many of the Iditarod dog mushers know many of the local mushers from rural Alaska, or they heard stories of them.

Gift were presented to Aaron Burmeister, the half-way prize winner. Photo by Teri Vent
Gift were presented to Aaron Burmeister, the half-way prize winner. Photo by Teri Vent

Aaron Burmeister was the GCI Dorothy G. Page halfway prize winner and received a trophy and $3,000 in gold from GCI. Huslia also presented him with gifts, including beaver mitts made by Eleanor Sam, Elsie Vent and Cesa Agnes and a marten hat made by Alberta Vent. Fred Bifelt and Alberta Vent donated the marten hat. Joe and Margie Ambrose donated a beaded cross. A fur ruff was also donated.

Al Yatlin Sr. meets Aaron Burmeister in Huslia. Photo by Andrea Ambrose
Al Yatlin Sr. meets Aaron Burmeister in Huslia. Photo by Andrea Ambrose

Upon meeting Aaron Burmeister, Al Yatlin, Sr. (my dad) said, “I knew him when he was a kid. He said I sold him a dog then and that’s where some of his current dogs come from.” My mom, Eleanor Yatlin, said “When we lived in Nome Al raced against Aaron’s dad, Richard.” Like many Alaskans, my parents are huge fans of the Iditarod and other dog races throughout Alaska.

Alaskans are tuning in from all over the state. Amy Modig was on a trip in Emmonak and listened to updates from KNOM radio. She said, “Over and over again, I’ve heard the loud cheers and everyone calling out to Burmeister – ‘Welcome to Huslia! Welcome to Huslia!’ Sounds like everyone in town was there!!”

Ten year old, Lydia Yatlin said, “He actually touched me, I’m never washing my jacket. He actually touched me. I can’t believe it!!” Lydia introduced herself to Burmeister and said, “Hi, my name is Lydia. Welcome to Huslia.” Lydia’s mother, Tanya Yatlin, said, “It was truly amazing. Once in a lifetime thing.” 

Huslia volunteer, Ross Sam, hauls Iditarod supplies for mushers. Photo by Teri Vent
Huslia volunteer, Ross Sam, hauls Iditarod supplies for mushers. Photo by Teri Vent

“I’m so proud of our family and friends in Huslia. I am really proud of the early days of the Iditarod, the beginning. I know it takes a special person to do this today, such strength and courage and money!!!! 

Back then, every person in the village was involved. They took mushers in. Everyone helped cut up meat and fish and make dog pot fire. We had to share our dog hay, food. We had pots of moose soup going for a week. Such a special time this was. It was a village effort.

We were so proud of each of these men and their dogs. I loved listening to Uncle Bobby, Herbie Nayokpuk, etc. all drinking coffee and sharing trail stories. Makes me lonely for these special days.” 

– Cynthia Erickson of Tanana

Annette Moses, a kindergarten teacher at the Jimmy Huntington School, brought her students to meet the mushers at the Huslia community hall on Friday. Mrs. Moses said, “My class and I keep going to the ball field and checking out the racers. It just made my whole year to meet Martin Buser…get his autograph and a picture. Our town is booming today, lots of snow machines and new faces. I am having a wonderful day and so are my students.” 

Mrs. Moses and her kindergarten meet Martin Buser at the Huslia half-way checkpoint. Photo by Doreen David
Mrs. Moses and her kindergarten meet Martin Buser at the Huslia half-way checkpoint. Photo by Doreen David

Update on March 23: Huslia received the Golden Clipboard Award. The Golden Clipboard Award is presented by the mushers since 2001 to a special checkpoint and it is voted on by the mushers. What an honor!

“Being in the house all winter for some of us, this event got us out walking, visiting and sharing…was the greatest feeling. It was so nice to see smiling faces, hear lots of laughter and seeing new and ol’ faces. Everyone did something to make this a successful checkpoint. The tables were full with food. The field was immediately cleaned of hay as soon as the team left to be ready for the next musher. Lots of teamwork amongst the Huslia people. The town was overflowed with love and happiness. Thanks to the volunteers for a job well done. It was too awesome to see Huslia was awarded the Golden Clipboard. The volunteers worked hard and fast on short notice, but got the job done!” – Cecelia Nollner, Huslia

Al Yatlin, Jr. said, “They gave them one big Huslia, Alaska welcome.” Huslia welcomed other dog mushers. For current race standings, visit the Iditarod website. Alaskans were pretty excited to have the Iditarod go to Huslia for the first time ever. Huslia has always been a dog mushing community and it couldn’t be more fitting as an Iditarod checkpoint.

Aliy Zirkle on the Koyukuk River in front of Huslia on Friday evening. Photo by Jo Derendoff
Aliy Zirkle on the Koyukuk River in front of Huslia on Friday evening. Photo by Jo Derendoff
Alaska life

Huslia Dog and Snowshoe Races

Some of the biggest fans of the races on the Koyukuk River races. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton
Some of the biggest fans of the races on the Koyukuk River races. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton

Huslia has a long standing tradition of holding dog races, snowshoe races and other competitions around Christmas and New Year’s Day. Here are some photos courtesy of Dolly Simon-Dayton and race results courtesy of Jo Derendoff.

Huslia Open Dog Race
1. Lois Vent
2. Joseph Bifelt
3. Nicole Gregory
4. Westley Henry
5. Andrew Huntington

Huslia Old Timer’s Dog Race
1. Al Yatlin, Sr. 
2. Agnes Dayton
3. Bill Derendoff
4. Jackie Wholecheese
5. Don Ernst

Huslia Woman’s Dog Race
1. Vivian Henry
2. Joyce Sam
3. Danielle Huffman
4. Eleanor Sam
5. Ilona Vent
6. LeAnne Bifelt

Huslia Snowshoe Race Results 

Men’s Old Timers Race
1. Alvin Dayton

Women’s Old Timers
1 Agnes Dayton
2 Joyce Sam

Men’s Race
1. Joe Bifelt 19.43
2. Darrell Sam 20.05
3. Kevin Albert 22.38
4. Beatus Moses 22.58
5. Bruce Sam 23.04
6. Devon Penn 23.34
7. Justin Vent 24.23
8. Seth Williams 24.24
9. Steven Woods 26.39

Women’s Race
1. Shirley Sam 4.16
2. Samantha Sam 4.30
3. Marissa McCarty 4.46
4. Lacey Sam 4.57
5. Jo Derendoff 5.51
6. Melody Oakes 5.59
7. Athena Sam 7.16

Photo from the Men’s Open Dog Race by Dolly Simon-Dayton

Andrew Huntington of Galena. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton
Andrew Huntington of Galena. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton
Andrew Huntington of Galena. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton
Andrew Huntington of Galena. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton
Joseph Bifelt. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton
Joseph Bifelt. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton
Joseph Bifelt. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton
Joseph Bifelt. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton
Lois Vent. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton
Lois Vent. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton
Lois Vent. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton
Lois Vent. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton
Nicole Gregory. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton
Nicole Gregory. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton
Nicole Gregory. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton
Nicole Gregory. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton
Westley Henry. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton
Westley Henry. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton
Westley Henry. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton
Westley Henry. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton

 

Entertainment

Be a Champion for ATTLA: A New Documentary Film

George Attla. Courtesy photo by Stacia Backensto
George Attla. Courtesy photo by Stacia Backensto

Catharine Axley is seeking funding for new documentary film on legendary dog musher, George Attla II. Catharine is a film student at Stanford University working on her masters in documentary film. She traveled to Alaska last summer and fell in love with the state, and with George’s dog mushing program for youth.

Learn about the project on Catharine’s Kickstarter fundraising campaign page site.

Catharine says, “I found it so fascinating and inspiring.” She met George and found him to be a very dynamic person. He was ‘larger than life’ and Catharine was impressed to see that he started the youth dog mushing program. Catharine says, “He is pioneering something really remarkable.” She looked through archival and current footage and saw the potential for a great documentary.

As of Sunday, November 9th, Catharine has raised $12,181, and her stretch goal is $14,500 by November 12th. She is only $2,319 away from her overall goal! The funding will allow her to make three trips to Huslia to film George, his mushing protege and the program.

Catherine is confident in the project and says, “We know we were going to make this happen.” George is 81 years old and not getting any younger, and he is also training a new musher. Huslia is my hometown and George is my dad’s uncle. He is family and I’m glad to see someone taking the initiative to capture the rich dog mushing history in Huslia.

Frank Attla Youth and Sled Dog Care Program. Courtesy photo by Stacia Backensto
Frank Attla Youth and Sled Dog Care Program. Courtesy photo by Stacia Backensto

Catharine has been surprised and grateful for the support she has received so far. The goal was $5,500 to cover one trip with an extended goal of raising enough for one-two more follow-up trips. Catharine says people from all over the world have been reaching out to her via the campaign page to support her and to share their own “George Attla” stories. There was a Swedish man who said his dogs are descendants of George’s dog, Lingo.

Why should people support the Kickstarter campaign to make this documentary? Catharine says, “It’s a great way to be a part of it, and people will gain insight into how the film is being made.” People who donate will receive project updates, and can get benefits based on their level of giving. Catharine sees the Kickstarter donors as the team behind the project, no matter the size of their contribution. I donated $35.00 for the project.

Links:
Kickstarter Page
George Attla – Making of A Campaign website
ATTLA documentary film on Facebook

Catharine is looking for home movies and photos of George Attla and his mushing history. She plans to add some archival footage in the documentary. Catharine offered to transfer any VHF tape footage of George for free. If you have some archival video footage or photos, please get in touch with Catharine at catharine.axley@gmail.com.

Be a part of this great documentary film about the Huslia Husler, George Attla. Make your contribution by November 12th. You have the opportunity to be a champion of the project and be a part of the team to push Catherine over the edge and then some!