Alaska life

Keeping Hope

I have been really thinking about what’s going on with the coronavirus (COVID-19) in our world. Like many people, I have been extra vigilant of washing my hands and taking other precautions, like social distancing. Follow the World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Alaska Department of Health & Social Services for information and prevention.

Last week, there was a point in time when I found myself starting to panic with the news, event cancellations and travelers, etc. I thought about my Elder parents and family/friends, and how I want to keep them safe and healthy. Thankfully, I was able to pull myself together after grounding myself by talking to my family. I reflected on some of the stories people shared about how our ancestors survived the flu pandemic. It gave me the inner strength I needed after realizing that we can get through this. We all have a role in preventing and stopping. 

I asked my friends and family to share some messages and stories of hope. I’ve seen a few people posting stories about our ancestors surviving the early 1900 flu pandemic, reflections and advice. Enaa baasee’ to those who agreed to share.  Continue reading “Keeping Hope”

Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Reflections from Vina Bilow

Vina Bilow. Courtesy photo

My aunt, Vina Bilow (Koyukon Athabascan), recently shared her reflections on moving to Fairbanks from Huslia. She shared some stories and gave some really great advice about living a sustainable lifestyle. She graciously allowed me to share some of it. She’s a fellow writer, and I love reading her stories and reflections.

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It has been three years since I left Huslia and moved into Town (aka Fairbanks). That was the longest—26 years—that I have lived in my home village. I left at age 14 to attend Mt Edgecumbe High School in Sitka or as it was known as way back in 1961 Mt. Edgecumbe Alaska. I was home just for the summers, graduated in May 1965 and joined the Women’s Army Corp the following September for my three-year enlistment tour, so 14 + 26 = 40 years in the village and 33 years elsewhere.

I made quite a few changes in the last three years, plus made changes in my life before that, for several reasons; some for my health, some in lifestyle, others for financial reasons, and whatever else. Continue reading “Reflections from Vina Bilow”

Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Amber Hopkins – Koyukon Athabascan Nurse

My relative, Amber Hopkins, is from upriver from where I grew up in Huslia. I love highlighting Athabascan people doing great things.

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Amber Hopkins. Courtesy photo.

Amber Hopkins grew up in Hughes, Alaska, a small Koyukon Athabascan village on the Koyukuk river. Her parents are Wilmer Beetus and Margaret Williams. Her grandparents are the late Joe and Celia Beetus and late Lavine and Susie Williams. After graduating from Lathrop High School, she went to the University of Alaska Fairbanks for a year. Then, she joined the U.S. Navy and was able to travel to parts of the world. She was honorably discharged at the end of her five-year contract and started school to become a nurse. She used her Montgomery GI Bill and earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing. Amber is now a pediatric/pediatric ICU nurse at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage.

Continue reading “Amber Hopkins – Koyukon Athabascan Nurse”

Alaska Native culture

Steps to Tanning a Moose Skin

During a recent event in my hometown of Huslia, I got a chance to chat with my relative Tom Daton Huntington. Daton was his maternal grandfather’s name. They only had Denaakk’e in that time. Like me, he is originally from the Koyukuk River country. Tom was born at camp below the mouth of the Hogatza river and grew up at Huslia and Galena. He lives in Fairbanks and works in the petroleum industry – instrumentation technician of all things automated and process control. His hobbies include cooking, small engine repair, wood working, and hide and fur tanning.

In our conversation, Tom talked about tanning moose skins and shared some photos and videos of the process. It was very interesting learning a little bit about his process and he graciously agreed to share it on the Athabascan Woman blog! He shared his written story below. Continue reading “Steps to Tanning a Moose Skin”

Alaska Native/Indigenous People, Athabascan in the Spotlight

Blanche Sam – Athabascan & Iñupiaq Beader

Blanche Sam and her daughter, Harper. Photo by Nadine Carroll

My niece, Blanche Sam (Athabascan/Iñupiaq) of Hughes, has really come into her own in the past couple of years with her beadwork, and I hadto interview her. I love her colorful earrings and creativity with using materials, like dentalium shells and hide. Enaa baasee’ Blanche for agreeing to share your beading journey on the Athabascan Woman Blog!

Blanche Sam and her family. Photo by Nadine Carroll

Blanche’s parents are Lester and Ella Sam of Hughes. Her paternal grandparents were the late Frank Sam, Elma (Nictune) Sam and biological (Blanche Henry); and maternal grandparents are the late Arthur Ambrose and Alice (Simon) Ambrose. Blanche now lives in Fairbanks with her own family, including Zeb Cadzow, and children Dakota and Harper Cadzow. She earned an associate degree in accounting from at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and currently works for her village corporation, K’oyitl’ots’ina, Limited.

“My mom and grandmothers did it and were so good at it and it is a big part of our culture as Alaska Natives.” – Blanche Sam (Koyukon Athabascan/Iñupiaq)

Blanche Sam sewed calf skin boots and a martin hat for her daughter. Photo by Blanche Sam

Blanche learned to bead in elementary school from her grandmothers and aunt. Some of her first memories of beading and sewing were in school. Blanche remembers her grandmothers and aunt receiving a grant to get furs, hide, beads and other supplies. She learned to sew calf skin boots with help from her grandmothers, Alice and Rita. Her aunt, Hazel, was the first one to teach her how to bead earrings with a basic pattern with bugle beads.

Beaded earrings by Blanche Sam

After buying several pairs of earrings in 2016, she thought, ‘I should just make my own.’ She began making her own jewelry and connected with it. Now when she’s not busy with her kids, you can find her at her beading table. She invested in supplies and challenged herself with some ambitions first projects. She has learned a lot and improved since the beginning. I’ve loved watching the progression of her styles and themes as she has shared them on social media.

Brilliant Beads by Blanche booth. Photo by Blanche Sam

Blanche stared sharing pictures of her earrings on social media and people were interested and started ordering from her. She found a higher demand once she started an online presence as Brilliant Beads by Blanche. After creating a small business, she started selling more, created a logo, ordered business cards, and learned to take better photos of her work. Although making extra money is nice, she appreciates the therapeutic nature of beading and how it connects her to her culture giving her a sense of purpose. Blanche says, “It allowed me to relax, escape and filled me with purpose.”

Blanche’s Advice for Beaders Who Want to Create a Small Business

  • Find and perfect a niche.
  • Having booths at bazaars is a great way to get known and get the word out about your product.
  • Create an online presence. Her online presence has especially helped increase her sales at bazaars.
  • Learn to take good photographs of your work in natural light.
  • Search for ideas on Pinterest for inspiration and help with your creations. It is also a great place to get ideas for creating an eye catching and inviting booth.

Overall, Blanche says, “Do not give up if you make mistakes. I made a lot and learned from each one of them.” She sells about 60-80 pairs for each bazaar she attends. It is impressive to see how she has grown in her beading journey and how she has come close to selling out at her last bazaars. Way to go, Blanche!

You can find Blanche Sam of Brilliant Beads by Blanche on TwitterInstagram and Facebook.