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!

Alaska life

35th Annual Koyukuk River Championship

The start and finish line of the Koyukuk River Championship dog races. Photo by Danielle Ballard Huffman
The start and finish line of the Koyukuk River Championship dog races. Photo by Danielle Ballard Huffman

The Koyukuk River Championship (KRC) is held each April, and is hosted by Huslia, Hughes or Allakaket/Alatna. Communities host a multitude of spring carnival activities, including dog races, snowshoe races, ice picking contest, dances and more. Attendees enjoy reconnecting with friends and relatives, making new friends, getting in races, and celebrating spring. It takes a tremendous amount of volunteer hours to coordinate the KRC.

Lois Vent gets ready to cross the finish line in the Woman's Dog Race. Photo by Danielle Ballard Huffman
Lois Vent gets ready to cross the finish line in the Woman’s Dog Race. Photo by Danielle Ballard-Huffman

Mushers train all year and raise racing teams. People are telling stories. Mushing fans get to hear “dog talk”, where you can listen to stories and strategies for racing. Many dog owners race their own teams, but they also find mushers to race with their dogs.

Huslia hosted the 35th annual KRC on April 4-6. I unfortunately did not make it to Huslia, but I followed along with updates from friends and family. Many of the races are dedicated to local residents who have passed away in the past couple of years. The races bring people from the Koyukuk River and as far away as Kotzebue.

They also had fun games, like the Men’s and Woman’s Beer Scramble. Marc Brown and the Blues Crew and other fiddlers provided entertainment in the evenings.

Danielle Ballard-Huffman and Dolly Simon-Dayton posted photos and updates several times throughout the weekend. Here are the results and photos they shared.

35th ANNUAL KOYUKUK RIVER CHAMPIONSHIP 2014 RESULTS

Ice picking contestants. Photo by Danielle Ballard-Huffman
Ice picking contestants. Photo by Danielle Ballard-Huffman

• Ice Pick Contest •
1st – Ricko DeWilde
2nd – Ricky Vent
3rd – Guy Sommer
4th – Virgil Sam
5th – David Vent

• Old Timer’s Women’s Snowshoe Race – In Memory of Emily Sam •
1st – Agnes Dayton
2nd – Marilyn Roberts
3rd – Mabel Vent
4th – Dorothy Yatlin
5th – Selina Sam

• Old Timer’s Men’s Snowshoe Race – In Memory of Emily Sam •
1st – Percy Lolnitz Sr.
2nd – William Derendoff

The crowd on the Koyukuk River and along the bank watch as the contestants line up for the Woman's Snowshoe Race. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton
The crowd on the Koyukuk River and along the bank watch as the contestants line up for the Woman’s Snowshoe Race. Photo by Dolly Simon-Dayton

• Women’s Snowshoe Race – In Memory of Emily Sam •
1st – Carolyn “Sweetsy” Sam
2nd – Shirley Sam
3rd – Leslie Jones
4th – Molissa Bifelt
5th – Alisha Vent
6th – Maddy ?
7th – Lacey Sam
8th – Jody Potts
9th – LeAnn Bifelt
10th – Samantha Sam
11th – Tatiana Esmailka
12th – Leah David
13th – Ava Vent
[Pot Set Winner – Selina Sam; (Underage) Pot Winner – Tatiana; $100 – Jody Potts]

Many snowshoe racers train throughout the year. A few others raced and even came out of retirement to honor the late Emily Sam. Darrell and his son, Darrel II took the top two spots. Darrell’s wife, Shirley Sam, placed second in the Woman’s race.

“By the time this race comes around, I’m up to 500 sit-ups a day before the race. If they knew how hard I have to train and how hard they would have to train, I wouldn’t be up here.” – Darrell Sam, Snowshoe race veteran

Contestants line up for the start of the Men's Snowshoe Race. Photo by Danielle Ballard Huffman
Contestants line up for the start of the Men’s Snowshoe Race. Photo by Danielle Ballard Huffman

• Men’s Snowshoe Race – In Memory of Emily Sam •
1st – Darrell Sam II
2nd – Darrell Sam
3rd – William McCarty
4th – Allen Titus
5th – Percy Lolnitz II
6th – Devin Penn
7th – Kevin Albert
8th – Vincent Nickoli
9th – Ricky Vent
10th – Virgil Sam
11th – P.J. Simon
12th – Justin Vent
13th – Samuel Barney
14th – Alvin Dayton

[Snowshoes – Virgil Sam; $100 – Darrell Sam; $100 – P.J. Simon]

• Old Timer’s Dog Race – In Memory of Emily Sam •
1st – Ricky Vent
2nd – Harding Sam
3rd – George Attla Jr.
4th – Alvin Dayton
5th – William Derendoff

George Attla Jr. Photo by Danielle Ballard-Huffman
George Attla Jr. Photo by Danielle Ballard-Huffman
Agnes Dayton and Jody Potts are neck and neck at the finish line of the Woman's Dog Race. Photo by Danielle Ballard Huffman
Agnes Dayton and Jody Potts are neck and neck at the finish line of the Woman’s Dog Race. Photo by Danielle Ballard Huffman

• Women’s Dog Race – In Memory of Christine Attla •
1st – Leslie Jones
2nd – Lois Vent
3rd – Susie Sam
4th – Haley Sam
5th – Tammy Joseph
6th – Katie Reimer
7th – Kimberly Moses
8th – Jody Potts
9th – Agnes Dayton
10th – Eleanor Sam
11th – Kelsey Jackson

Alexander Vent and Nicole Gregory come in at the the same time in the Open KRC Dog Race. Photo by Danielle Ballard Huffman
Alexander Vent and Nicole Gregory come in at the the same time in the Open KRC Dog Race. Photo by Danielle Ballard-Huffman

• Open KRC Dog Race (2 days) – In Memory of Emily Sam •
1st – George Attla III (total time 101:44)
2nd – Francis Captain (total time 110:07)
3rd – Alexander Vent (total time 111:33)
4th – Luke Sampson (total time 112:14)
5th – Tyler Huntington (total time 115:58)
6th – James Henry (total time 119:52)
7th – Todd Bergman (total time 120:47)
8th – Andrew Huntington (total time 131:22)
9th – Benedict Jones (total time 131:28)
10th – P.J. Simon (total time 132:38)
11th – Nicole Gregory – disqualified

The Open KRC dog race has traditionally been mostly men. Nicole Gregory unfortunately hit a stump on the second day, and was disqualified. Learn more about the KRC and previous champions here.

A Calcutta was held for the Open KRC Dog Race and Woman’s Dog Race.

Leslie Jones accepts the 1st place trophy in the Woman's Dog Race. Photo by Danielle Ballard Huffman
Leslie Jones accepts the 1st place trophy in the Woman’s Dog Race. Photo by Danielle Ballard-Huffman

• Calcutta Winners •
Open KRC Dog Race
1. Shandara, Josephine, Vanessa
2. Alberta Vent
3. Virgil & Luke

Women’s Dog Race
1. Virgil Sam
2. Tim Pavlick
3. Mabel Vent

• Raffle Winners •
KRC t-shirt – Justin Vent
KRC sweatpants – Jacienda Vent
KRC sweatshirt – Aaron Kozevnikoff
KRC t-shirt – Brian & Bev Weter
KRC sweatpants – Kim Moses
KRC sweatshirt – Francis captain
KRC t-shirt – Elsie vent
Beaded Box – Jo Derendoff
KRC sweatpants – Gavin Sam
Small tlaabaas – Kat Sam
Spirit of the Wind – Jo Derendoff
KRC sweatshirt – Ryan & Jenna Olin
Large Tlaabaas – Keith Bifelt
Beaded Picture Frame – Robert Attla
Knife Set – Karen Sam
20 Gallons of Gas – Vincent Simon
Beaver Pelt – Nancy Ambrose
$100 from Compeaus – Shirley Nickoli
Beaded Gloves – Samson Henry
Fisher Hat – Stewart Cleaver
Painting by NV – Nicole Gregory
Mini iPad – Annie Vent
R/T Wrights Air – Shirley Nickoli
Half Moose Skin – Annie Vent
$500 – Marion Huntington
$1000 – Cecelia Grant

Luke Sampson of Kotzebue took 4th place in the Open KRC Dog Race. Photo by Danielle Ballard Huffman
Luke Sampson of Kotzebue took 4th place in the Open KRC Dog Race. Photo by Danielle Ballard-Huffman

Congratulations to all winners and participants of the 2014 KRC. I love seeing the continuation of traditional sports, like dog mushing, snowshoe racing and ice picking contest. Thank you to volunteers from the communities of Huslia, Hughes, Allakakat and Alatna for continuing to host the KRC. Thank you to the KRC sponsors and supporters for making it all possible.

Ana basee’ to Danielle Ballard-Huffman and Dolly Simon-Dayton for allowing me to share their updates and photos!

Alaska life

Where to Buy the Spirit of the Wind DVD

Spirit of the Wind – Movie about George Attla Re-released
Spirit of the Wind – Movie about George Attla Re-released

The Spirit of the Wind movie has been re-released on DVD. Check out this story from KTVA: After 30-plus years, a film about legendary musher George Attla is re-released: http://bit.ly/MSQFHo. You can see a few clips from the movie on the story. The director reworked the color in the film and it looked great on the screen.

Where to buy Spirit of the Wind
Alaska Native Heritage Center
– Anchorage
Fur Rondy Shop – Anchorage
Jade Boutique – Fairbanks / Follow them on Facebook

Jade Boutique owners Cari Mayo and Georgia Attla are proud to be selling the DVD about their grandpa. They are also selling Spirit of the Arctic DVD, a timeless northern journey of natural sounds and images with Native voices and music.

“It’s a film about Alaska Native people.” -Steven Alvarez, Alaska Native Heritage Center

The Alaska Native Heritage Center held a re-release reception and showed the movie followed by a question and answer period. It was great to see the movie on the screen. Director Ralph Liddle and the actor who played Pius Savage answered questions after the movie.

“It’s a film that saves lives.” – Ralph Liddle, director, Spirit of the Wind

Ralph Liddle loves the sport of dog mushing. He described George Attla as “larger than life, charismatic.”

According to Ralph, the leader of the team was a big star. Apparently, she won races for George and also for Carl Huntington. Ralph said, “She was a house dog, not high strung.” Pius said, “She was a good actress and she knew her stuff.”

“Running those dogs was breathtaking.” – Pius Savage, actor, Spirit of the Wind

Pius Savage and Ralph Liddle answer questions at an event at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Pius Savage and Ralph Liddle answer questions at an event at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

During the Q&A period, I learned a few things from behind the scenes.

Behind-the-Scene Facts

  • George Attla’s actual dogs were used in the movie.
  •  They only had enough funds for two big name stars. Slim Pickens and Chief Dan George were the big stars.
  • Slim Pickens loved that old snow-machine featured in the movie, and it was affectionately named, “Amigo”. Slim loved it so much that he had it sent to him in California.
  • Many of the aerial shots were from a helicopter. The pilot was a Vietnam veteran. He flew so close to the ground at one point that the camera man’s feet were touching the tops of the trees.
  • Pius Savage was chosen for the lead role because he not only looked the part, but was also a pilot.
  • It was shot in 35 mm film. It was a low-budget film.
  • Rose Ambrose (George’s actual sister) played his mother in the film. After the movie, she was offered a part in a mini-series on Huns in China. Despite being offered $5,000 per week for five weeks, she turned the role down. At the time, she was a health aide in Huslia, and couldn’t leave her job.

It was touching to learn things about behind the scenes. It was great to see people in the movie. It is a great piece of history to cherish. Like many others, I hope the film touches and inspires a whole new generation.

What was the your favorite part of the movie? How has it touched and inspired you? Comment below.

Alaska life

Spirit of the Wind – Movie about George Attla to be Re-released

George Attla II was recently at an Alaska Sports Hall of Fame event where he signed autographs for new and old fans. Marlene Watson (Navajo) is a new fan. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
George Attla, Jr. was recently at an Alaska Sports Hall of Fame event where he signed autographs for new and old fans. Marlene Watson (Navajo) is a new fan. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

The Spirit of the Wind movie is being re-released this year and will be available for purchase on DVD! The movie is based on the life story of Athabascan dog musher, George Attla, Jr. of Huslia. Attla was able to overcome tuberculosis and win many dog mushing races, including the Fur Rondy sprint races. Attla has left his mark as a dog mushing champion through hard work, dedication, staying focused, staying competitive and overcoming obstacles and challenges. He is my dad’s uncle, so I’ve heard a lot of dog talk over the years. Attla is revered and respected by people all over Alaska, US, Canada and even beyond.

Three decades later, Alaskans will finally get a chance to see ‘Spirit of the Wind’ by Suzanna Caldwell via Alaska Dispatch:
http://www.alaskadispatch.com/article/20140122/three-decades-later-alaskans-will-finally-get-chance-see-spirit-wind

The Alaska Native Heritage Center will hosted a re-release event for the movie in conjunction with the 2014 Fur Rondy.  A reception with refreshments, a special screening of the film, and for the first time a limited number of DVDs will be on sale to the public at this event!

While you won’t be able to buy it in Anchorage, you can buy it from Jade Resale Boutique in Fairbanks (729 1st Avenue, phone 907-479-5233). Jade Resale Boutique is owned by George Attla’s granddaughters.

I enjoyed hearing Martin Buser's story about George Attla, Jr.
I enjoyed hearing Martin Buser’s story about George Attla, Jr.

I met Iditarod musher Martin Buser a couple of years. It seems like whenever I say I’m from Huslia, people have stories to share about George Attla. Martin said he has learned some of the most important dog mushing lessons from George in the fewest amount of words. Martin visited George once and complained about the dogs not listening to him and running off the trail, etc. George said, “Who’s driving?” Martin said that was an important lesson for him. Yep, that’s a great lesson!

It will be great to show this classic movie to my children so they can see what it was like to grow up in interior Alaska in Athabascan country. Attla continues to race occasionally. He helps to run a Frank Attla Youth & Sled Dog Care program in memory of his late son. Through the program, he is able to pass on his knowledge and lifelong experience to the younger generation. It is great to see how the youth are discovering dog mushing. There are many valuable lessons to be learned from taking care of dogs, training them and taking on life’s challenges. They are catching the dog mushing fever!

George Attla II raced in the Cue Bifelt Memorial Dog Race in Huslia in 2013. Photo by Al Yatlin, Sr.
George Attla II raced in the Cue Bifelt Memorial Dog Race in Huslia in 2013. Photo by Al Yatlin, Sr.

About George Attla, Jr.
George Attla, Jr. is Athabascan and is from the northwest community of Huslia, Alaska. The legendary open-class sprint dog racer has won more Fur Rendezvous World Championships (10 wins) than any other musher to date. He won eight North American World Championships and nine International Sled Dog Racing Association unlimited class metals. His book, Everything I know about Training and Racing Sled Dogs, is still considered the musher’s bible. His life story became the subject of a film, Spirit of the Wind and a book of the same title has been published. In 2000 he was awarded the Best Musher of the 20th Century. In 2007, he was inducted into the first Alaska Sports Hall of Fame. 2008 marked his 50th year of competitive sled dog racing. In April 2011, he won the Bergman Sam Memorial Koyukuk River Championship in Huslia.

Find more information about George Attla, Jr., please visit: http://attlamakingofachampion.com/.

Alaska Native culture

Dog Mushing Traditions in Alaska

My friend, Michelle Sam of Alatna, recently reminded me of a funny story of going for a sled dog ride in Bettles. It was over 20 years ago, but we still laugh about it!

“Remember taking the dogs out that one time? We got near home and were tipping over like crazy! One time after the other. The dogs were still full of energy. As we got near the dog lot, they were cruising around every corner. Maybe there were no corners! I was in the sled and we tipped and you were dragging. I fell off and you got back on and I was on the handle bars then we tipped over again and I was dragging and you fell off and I had to catch up. We were laughing a lot!” -Michelle Sam

My dad, Al Yatlin, Sr., was a dog musher. I think he had the most dogs when we lived in Bettles. He’s been in many local and regional dog races. We all helped in one way or the other, whether it was feeding,  watering, picking up poop, catching them if they got loose or helping to train them.

The Fur Rondy, North American, Yukon Quest and Iditarod sled dog races were always a big thing in our household. It was comparable to watching the Super Bowl! My dad keeps track of each the times at each check point and analyzes the times. Everyone had to be quiet when there was a race update on TV or radio. If my dad was out, we had to write the times down for him.

Andrea Swingley (@akswingley) mushing in the Limited North American Sled Dog Race in Fairbanks

I love watching sled dog races. Andrea Swingley of Fairbanks races in the Limited North American in Fairbanks, Alaska in March 2013. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

“Dog talk” is what we refer to as a conversation about dogs. We heard a lot of dog talk over the years with dad and friends and fellow mushers. They would discuss the diet, training techniques, harnesses, sleds, stories along the trails and much more. It puts a smile on my face when I hear dog talk.

Huslia is a pretty well known town for dog mushers. “Huslia Husler” is what dog mushers were known as back them. George Attla II gained an international reputation as a champion sprint dog musher. There were other mushers who ran the Iditarod. Dog mushing goes way back as a form of transportation in Alaska. Huslia still holds local sled dog races for all ages. I’ve enjoyed many races over the years. I even got in the five dog race and won one year.

I know how hard the mushers and their families work to raise and race their dogs. It is a huge commitment. It is also rewarding to your mind and body. Taking care and running your dogs requires a lot of physical work and keeps you in shape. It also keeps your mind busy.
Marvin Kokrine #7

Marvin Kokrine (Athabascan) runs in the Fur Rondy in Anchorage, Alaska in February 2013. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

I don’t own any dogs, but I enjoy watching sled dog racing. There is an excitement in the air during race times. It is something to look forward to in the winter and gets me out of the house. My dad no longer raises a dog team, but he volunteers during race times and with a dog mushing program in Huslia.

Downtown Fairbanks comes alive during the Open North American Championship Sled Dog Race. Kudos to the dog mushers, families, fans, supporters, sponsors and the dogs!