Donald Bergman as a young man in Allakaket. Photo courtesy of Don Bergman
Alaska Native/Indigenous People

A Letter from an Athabascan Elder

Photo courtesy of Don Bergman
Photo courtesy of Don Bergman

Every year, I send Christmas cards out to family and friends. I enjoy receiving cards with pictures and letters. It is a great time to catch up with people. Each year, I get a card back from Donald Bergman, an Athabascan Elder from Allakaket. Don is 75 years old. He can no longer write with his right hand after a stroke, so the sentences are a little shaky from writing with his left hand.

This year, Don sent me pictures along with his letter. It truly warms my heart to receive a wonderful letter like this from uncle Don. Don is my mom’s first cousin. Don’s late wife, Carrie Bergman, was a special lady. She was the nicest lady who always had a shy smile on her face.

Don is a trapper, hunter and fisherman. He and late Carrie lived a subsistence lifestyle. They spent a lot of time in their camp, which is about six miles below Allakaket on the Koyukuk River. When we were small kids, my parents brought us to visit them in camp. They went back and forth between camp and Allakaket by dog sled. Late Carrie was an excellent skin sewer and knew how to tan moose skin. She made rabbit skin and beaver skin mittens and caribou leggings. My mom, Eleanor Yatlin, said late Carrie was a great storyteller and told some wonderful and funny stories of living in camp.

Don’s letter was addressed to me and my husband:

**************

2-7-14

Photo and caption courtesy of Don Bergman
Photo and caption courtesy of Don Bergman

Dear Friends,

You guys send me nice picture every year, so I send old pictures. One is 4th of July races. They have it down here in old airport. They pay $400-$500 for men’s and woman’s race. First place that is.

I’m doing okay. Stay alone in my old house. I sure like to get out camping and get beaver. No one trap anymore. Prices are good. I like to eat beaver meat, easy to catch.

There’s more moose again. They had wolf control last year. There was no moose for couple years. Wolf kill them all.

I hope you like these pictures. I got lots of old pictures.

Thank you

Uncle Don

**************

Donald Bergman as a young man in Allakaket. Photo courtesy of Don Bergman
Donald Bergman as a young man in Allakaket. Photo courtesy of Don Bergman

Don said he doesn’t have any pictures of himself anymore and that is why he sent me some of his old pictures. The next time I see him, I’ll definitely take some pictures so he can share it with his family and friends. I loved hearing about what is happening in Allakaket.

One Athabascan tradition is to respect your elders. Elders have worked hard to raise families and teach traditions. I can’t wait to go to Allakaket and other villages along the Koyukuk River to spend time with and learn from elders. They have a lot to contribute and share. Treasure your elders wherever you may be. They appreciate the simplest gestures of kindness and being connected.

Ana basee’ uncle Don Bergman of Allakaket!

"Looking north back from New Town. Those kids were sliding down the hill. You can see Alatna Hills and the old village." Photo and caption courtesy of Don Bergman
“Looking north back from New Town. Those kids were sliding down the hill. You can see Alatna Hills and the old village.” Photo and caption courtesy of Don Bergman

 

Angela Gonzalez and Donald Bergman in Allakaket in the summer of 2014
Angela Gonzalez and Donald Bergman in Allakaket in the summer of 2014
Alaska life

Fall 2013 Trip to Huslia, Alaska

I recently visited my hometown of Huslia, Alaska. It was great to be home and visit with family and to be out in the wilderness!

Here is a slideshow of my trip:

Here are some more photos from my trip. Enjoy!

Huslia is northwest of Fairbanks in interior Alaska. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Huslia is northwest of Fairbanks in interior Alaska. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
A cache located in downtown Huslia. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
A cache located in downtown Huslia. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
There were lots of cranberries ready to be picked! Photo by Angela Gonzalez
There were lots of cranberries ready to be picked! Photo by Angela Gonzalez
There were lots of fall colors, like yellow and red, in Huslia. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
There were lots of fall colors, like yellow and red, in Huslia. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

We helped to build a smokehouse for my parents, Al and Eleanor Yatlin, while we were there. They had the same smokehouse for about 20+ years. They like that larger size and the extra height.

I look forward to visiting home each year. I love interior Alaska!

Alaska life

Fish Camp Life – Koyukuk River

Cutting fish at fish camp along the Koyukuk River. L-R: Lydia, Gage, Eleanor, Chloe, Agnes, Vanessa and Jubilee. Photo by Tanya Yatlin
Cutting fish at fish camp along the Koyukuk River. L-R: Lydia, Gage, Eleanor, Chloe, Agnes, Vanessa and Jubilee. Photo by Tanya Yatlin

My parents, Al and Eleanor Yatlin, still go to fish camp each summer. They are getting older, but still make it work. I grew up in fish camp. I love hearing stories and pictures they share about camping and fishing and about life along the Koyukuk River. They spend time at camp along with their daughter, Tanya, and granddaughter, Lydia. Other relatives and friends camp out with them periodically.

Vanessa learned to cut fish. Her son, Brandon, worked hard when they cut fish in July. Now Brandon has fish for his dogs for the coming winter. Jubilee and Joseph learn little Denaakk’e (Koyukon Athabascan language).

Salmon by Eleanor Yatlin
Salmon by Eleanor Yatlin
Koyukuk River by Eleanor Yatlin
Koyukuk River by Eleanor Yatlin

My brother, Johnnie, describes them as: “This is what my parents do. Old school Indians living and surviving off the land.”

“It sure is big difference from town and camp. We use candles, cook a lot over camp fire. It’s quiet. We rest when we go back down to camp. There is too much rushing when we are in town. We hear cranes, geese, ducks and loons. We are always out on the river. It is exciting to see what we catch in our fishnet! Summer sure is going by fast!” – Eleanor Yatlin

Mom and dad live on an island that cut through in the 1990s. It gets a shallower each year and there is only one place to get through right now.  She says, “I close my eyes as we cruise through the narrow opening going to our camp! That is the only way to go through there. Otherwise, we’ll get stuck there. Too much excitement!!”

Highbush berries by Eleanor Yatlin
Highbush berries by Eleanor Yatlin

The camp has a high cut bank. My brother, Al Jr., measured it a few years ago. He estimated the bank to be about three stories high. My parents still climb it today. They have to carry fish, water and supplies up and down the bank. I hope to be as strong as them when I’m their age.

Mom makes jam and jelly out of berries she picks each year. She says, “I am glad we picked blue berries yesterday. It’s raining today. There are cranberries in the area too. You can see them all over. Anaa si baabaa’. We picked high-bush berries, made jam, picked some more and froze it.”

Mom picks blueberries near Huslia. Left-right: Eleanor Yatlin, Dorothy Yatlin, Vanessa Derendoff, Glady Derendoff and Josephine Derendoff. Photo by Al Yatlin, Sr.
Mom picks blueberries near Huslia. Left-right: Eleanor Yatlin, Dorothy Yatlin, Vanessa Derendoff, Glady Derendoff and Josephine Derendoff.
Photo by Al Yatlin, Sr.

We have fun, rain or shine. She counts the fish from a recent trip, two silvers and two sheefish.

Bear captured on my dad's trail cam. Photo by Al Yatlin, Sr.
Bear captured on my dad’s trail cam. Photo by Al Yatlin, Sr.

My dad has a trail cam, and sets it up at various places along the Koyukuk River. Here is a picture of a bear that he recently captured on the camera.

Eleanor Yatlin behind drift wood. Photo by Al Yatlin Sr.
Eleanor Yatlin behind drift wood. Photo by Al Yatlin Sr.

When they go to camp, they set the fish net. They look around along the drift wood for good poles to hang fish on. They also look for logs for their smokehouse. They work hard and enjoy camp life, whether it is warm or cooler. It is starting to get darker as the days get shorter. It is also getting a little cooler at night. My parents have a comfortable tent, and use a small stove to keep warm.

I’m proud of them for living maintaining a subsistence lifestyle and for raising their children camp. They are living ‘the life’! 

Al Yatlin Sr. driving his boat along the Koyukuk River. Photo by Tanya Yatlin
Al Yatlin Sr. driving his boat along the Koyukuk River. Photo by Tanya Yatlin
Alaska life

Summer Fish Camp

Huslia men help put my dad's boat in the water in 2011. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Huslia men help put my dad’s boat in the water in 2011. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

My dad got the boat in the water yesterday with help from the community. Going on the first boat ride of the summer always gives me the best feeling. My parents are getting ready to go to camp.

Camp is hard work, but it has wondrous rewards. Going up and down the bank is hard, but you get a workout. Being healthy makes you live longer.

The views during the day and night are spectacular. It is quiet and after a while you start to hear and discern the sounds of different birds. You hear loons. You hear occasional howls. You also hear sticks breaking in the woods, and it could be moose walking around. The mosquitoes are buzzing and sometimes drive you crazy. Bug spray is key. We also keep a smutch (Koyukon Athabascan), where we burn punk. Mosquitoes don’t like the smoke from punk.

My nephews, Marvin Jr. and Brandon, collect mountain water along the Koyukuk River in 2011. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
My nephews, Marvin Jr. and Brandon, collect mountain water along the Koyukuk River in 2011. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Camp coffee and tea are the bomb, especially if you get mountain water from up and around the bend. Camp food is delicious, and you really enjoy it after working in camp. I love mom’s cooking. We ration the food until we go to town to get more food.

You have to communicate because it is important for your safety. It is like a team and the adults always know where the kids are at all times.

My parents teach the kids how to play card games, like rummy. You sip on tea in the evening and sit around after a long day.

My parents will set a fish net, and check it twice a day. They have a raft in down the bank from camp and they cut fish on it. They have a smoke house on top of the bank where they dry and smoke fish.

Rainbow over smokehouse in the fall of 2012. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Rainbow over smokehouse in the fall of 2012. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

We have to keep the smoke going and use dead cottonwood. The smoke gives it a good taste and also keeps the flies away. It also keeps animals away, because they avoid smoke.

My dad likes to listen to the radio at night. He listens to news, talk shows and music. It kind of drowns out the sounds you hear at night.

We also read books and magazines. There is nearly 24 hours of light in the middle of summer so you have light to to read. We read by lamp or flashlight when it gets too dark. Now, we have e-readers with lighted backgrounds, but the battery eventually dies.

I won’t be going to camp until September when we go home to Huslia. I do plan on camping in Southcentral Alaska though. I’ll have to figure out how to get out on a boat ride before then. I love summer fish camp along the Koyukuk River!

Dorothy, Al Sr., Ermelina, River and Princess on a boat ride on the Koyukuk River in 2011. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Dorothy, Al Sr., Ermelina, River and Princess on a boat ride on the Koyukuk River in 2011. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Native Cousins

My (now) friend, Loretta, sent me a Facebook friend request thinking I was her cousin. That was about two years. We ran into each other last weekend and we talked for a bit and parted ways. Her dad was at the event too. Loretta talked with her dad and told him that she ran into me (her ‘cousin’). He told her that we weren’t cousins after all. Loretta found me and she told me that she thought I was her cousin all this time. We laughed about it!

I didn’t know that she thought I was her cousin all this time. I told her that we can be cousins. Ha ha! Apparently, I have the same first name as her real cousin and I also look like her. I’m always glad for more friends.

Angela, Tanya and Michelle
Cousins Angela, Tanya and Michelle visited in Anchorage last year.

Being from a small Alaska Native village, I’m used to having lots of cousins and extended family. I come from a big family with five siblings. My late aunt had 14 children. That is not to mention all of the second cousins. I basically have relatives all up and down the Koyukuk River and in the interior.

I once told a colleague about what one of my cousins was doing. Then in another time I told him about another cousin. He said, “Angela, everyone is your cousin!”

Cousins collage
Top: Cousins Gloria and Tanya. Bottom: Michelle and Angela. Photos taken in the early 1990’s.

Some of my best friends are my cousins. I’ve gone on so many adventures with them. They are like my sisters and brothers. We are spread all over the place, but still connected. We tease each other. Some of us aren’t technically cousins, like I’m their aunt or they are mine. We consider ourselves cousins because we are close in age.

I once won a dance contest with my late cousin, Hudson Jr. It was a rock and roll dance contest. Fun times!

One of my first cousins is my adopted sister, Tanya. Our aunts and uncles help raise their nephews and nieces. Native families help each other out.

Simon cousins
My daughter and I visited with my first cousins, Wendy and Olin.

My mom always made sure to tell me who my cousins and relatives were, because we weren’t allowed to date them. Just saying this makes me laugh. I was pretty much not allowed to date anyone on the Koyukuk River.

All kidding aside, I consider some of my cousins are like a sister or brother to me and some are my lifelong friends. I don’t see them as much as I used to, but we manage to stay in contact. It is great to see what they are up to and what they have accomplished in life. Some of them are engineers, nurses, teachers, tribal leaders, and more. I’m proud of them. I love my cousins!