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!