I heard about a moosehide tanning camp in the Ahtna region in September. Jessica “Nanenełnaan” Denny (Ahtna) hosted a moosehide tanning camp with about 13 people in September. I had to find out more about it, so I reached out to Jessica. I admire how Jessica and her network are living and loving our ways of life.
Jessica is the owner of Alaska Leadership Group, a small for-profit organization that creates community and space for sharing traditional knowledge. Check out the interview with Jessica where she shares about how the camp came to be, her influences like Grandma Lena Charlie, how much learning and healing happened at the camp, future plans and much more!
It was amazing to see how everyone came together to either support the camp or attending. They built a strong cohort who plan to return next year. Jessica said, “We are all co-creators of this.” Grandma Lena Charlie told them, ‘If I am still here – I want you to come back.’
Jessica gave some great advice to those who may be considering starting a moosehide tanning camp. She recommends reaching out to see who might be available in your community to teach and share. Ask about how moosehide tanning was practiced in your area. Each community has access to resources. Get a general understanding of tanning a hide and build a foundation. She says there are lots of resources online.
*Cohort – BUILDING A COMMUNITY*
Enaa baasee’ Jessica for sharing about the moosehide tanning camp and building a community. It is inspiring to see community doers stepping up to keep our cultures and traditions alive. I see it is much more than just tanning a hide. I’m sure this rich experience will carry the cohort far into the future in more ways than one.
A friend reached out to me and suggested I feature Paula Taylor (Yup’ik/Iñupiaq) on the Athabascan Woman Blog. Paula’s family is from Naknek in the Bristol Bay region and Unalakleet. She grew up fishing every summer. She’s a wife, mom of two, storyteller, two-time cancer survivor and more. I got a chance to talk with her recently.
Listen to her incredible story of survival and how she persevered. She was diagnosed with glioblastoma multiforme over 30 years ago. She credits diet, working, attitude, keeping her goals, a strong support system and especially her faith in God to her survival. She got her degree in exercise science and wellness.
“I just had to hold it together and I feel like my faith really grounded me. My faith is really why I’m here.” – Paula Taylor
“Food I think is one of the most crucial things in our life. We are what we eat.” – Paula Taylor
I admire her strong will to live and appreciate the wisdom she shared on her journey. She’s retired now. She and her husband are proud of their children. Enaa baasee’ to Paula for graciously sharing her courageous story and what helped her to survive.
Adeline Peter Raboff (Gwich’in/Koyukon Athabascan) reached out to me to share a new map she helped develop with the Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve / National Park Service. It is a map of the estimated distribution of Inupiat, Koyukon, Gwich’in and Lower Tanana in 1800.
Adeline has worked with the Park Service to get them out to schools. She says, “My main objective in getting this out to as many Alaska Native communities as possible is to make people aware that Alaska Natives have a history that didn’t just start with the first Russians, English, or Americans who came to Alaska. Present day Alaska history books begin with our ‘discovery,’ and Alaska Natives take up about 1/26th of the history of Alaska.”
Adeline is the author many books, including Inuksuk: Northern Koyukon, Gwich’in & Lower Tanana, 1800-1901, published in 2001. Her goal is to write a book about this history in this map.
I spoke with her about the map and our history. The map represents decade of research she’s completed by reading books and stories shared by her family and the peoples of the regions.
Here are some words she shared:
“To me, this map represents the beginning of writing the history of the northern Koyukon, which does not exist.”
“The assumption is that…people just lived in one community and they don’t go back in forth. The truth of the matter is that that all the Native Alaskans traveled great distances. … They went to local trading centers, they interacted. They were multilingual.”
I feel that history books have to start changing in Alaska. We have to say, ‘Well look, we had a history.’ And it should preface the event of exploration, the event of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the event of fur traders and gold miners. … We need more perspective from the Native Alaskan experience, because we were here.”
Description of the Athabascan and Inupiat Alaska, ca 1800 map: The Athabascan and Inupiat peoples of northern Alaska two hundred years ago identified with one of four major groupings, each tied by a common culture and language. These included Inupiaq and three Athabascan languages, Koyukon, Gwich’in, and Lower Tanana. Within each language group, subgroups formed, whose members shared similar dialects and local customs. Land holdings for each were formally delineated, but conflicts, surrendering of land, moves in response to shifting caribou ranges and other natural resource fluctuations, and expansion or contraction of populations caused shifts in who lived where.
This map shows Athabascan and Inupiat lands reflecting geographic borders and cultural identities about 1800. Boundaries were generally agreed upon and were only crossed when there was a purpose. If there was unrest between groups, to avoid conflict, they were strictly adhered to. Still, there was considerable interaction across borders: some trading, some raiding, some friendly visits, some hostile. More permanent moves across lines involved cultural adaptations. New arrivals would often adopt the language of their new home, becoming multilingual. In the east, languages were predominantly Athabascan, in the west, Inupiaq.
How to get the map: Since it was mapped out and printed by the National Park Service, they give them away for free in various locations in Fairbanks and Anchorage. Reach out to Jeff Rasic at: https://www.nps.gov/articles/jeffrasic.htm
Growing up, I heard stories about how connected Koyukon Athabascan people are to the Inupiat toward the western coast. It was cool to hear this was in fact a truth she verified in her research. The other cool thing was to see the indigenous place names and peoples reflected on the map. I’m looking forward to reading the book, and I hope to see her dream come true of seeing this history reflected in history books.
Enaa baasee’, Adeline, for sharing some information and stories of the importance of this research.
I met with Annie Huntington Kriska (Koyukon Athabascan) last summer. I’ve known her for a long time but wanted to get to know more about her. She shared about her upbringing, career and how she’s doing amidst the pandemic. Annie has had an amazing journey in life and career.
Annie describes her life now as pre-retirement, stating that with her type of work, she can work for quite some time yet. She recently moved to be closer to her grandchildren. She enjoys fewer hours working, slowing down a bit and enjoying time with her grandchildren.
Annie was adopted by the late Leo and Mary Kriska of Koyukuk, Alaska. Her biological parents are the late Sidney and Angela Huntington of Galena. She had a tough life but appreciates that Leo and Mary took care of her. She was considered a tleetenhoye, the Denaakk’e word for an orphan or adopted child. She experienced trauma as a child that took a lot of self-healing to overcome. She struggled with alcoholism. Eventually, she got sober and began going to church.
As a child, Annie found solace in reading. She said, “I used to read with a flashlight under my sleeping bag.” She thought she wanted to be a teacher but discovered a love for math in high school. She went to college for an accounting degree, but her career took her on a different path – all related to teaching and coaching.
Annie had about 15 jobs in her career, focusing mainly on program development, grant writing and management, business development, strategic planning, mentoring and consulting. She claimed to hold only one job longer than three years because she always focused on mentoring and training her replacement. Annie helped to start the tribal management program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks with the help of community advisors from around the state. Ten Alaska Natives of different regions advised her on the direction, content, and how to engrain culture into the program. She had much community and academic support to get the program finally approved and accredited. It’s a steppingstone to higher degrees, including a PhD.
Annie helped to develop and teach an indigenous knowledge curriculum for which the basis is indigenous concepts for community development. She also taught the basics of federal Indian law, grant writing and community assessment. She folded her knowledge of culture into the course work. She also helped to develop curriculum for Native charter schools and other tribal high school programs that included lessons of how to use math to build a smokehouse and how to understand fishing and hunting by understanding the science of land and water. She also stressed the importance of connections and to acknowledge our relatives and how we are related to everyone.
“There’s an ecology, insects, animals, people. We’re all connected and everything around the world. Everyone and everything is connected.” – Annie Huntington Kriska (Koyukon Athabascan)
One of Annie’s favorite memories as a four-year-old was travelling to different camps throughout the year. She would be covered up and put in the sled in winter. There were big dogs pulling a freight sled. Annie remembers looking around and listening to the sounds of the dogs, snowshoes and the clean air. They lived in a wall tent.
Annie is grateful for many life lessons and mentors/teachers throughout her life. She said, “God put certain people in my life at the right time.” She lived with her uncle and aunt, Ralph and Dorothy Perdue, in Fairbanks as a teenager. They taught her business because they were in business.
Annie shared what has been helping her to cope with the pandemic. She especially missed connecting with family, friends and community members. In the beginning, she met with family members on Zoom on Sundays. She even met new relatives on zoom. She went on lock down for the first three months. When the mandates were lifted, she spent a lot of time outside, including going on drives along the road system. She’s also learned about tapping and mindfulness.
I’ve always admired how Annie gets things done for her community. I’ve seen her volunteering at many events over the years. Annie is a doer. To me, a doer is someone who gets things done, steps up without being asked and motivates others by their action. She also doesn’t hesitate to mentor others and encourages them to reach for their goals. It makes such a big difference when you have someone like Annie believing in you.
Annie is a writer and has some ideas for writing projects she’ll focus on as she is in pre-retirement and eventually retirement. I look forward to reading her stories and learning from them. Just getting to know her in this short time has given me a glimpse into a well-lived life. Enaa baasee’ Annie for sharing a little bit of your life.
I met Amaya Mishka (Athabascan) on Facebook recently. Amaya is Athabascan is from McGrath, and grew up in Haines and Anchorage. She now lives in California. She shared the release of her debut science fiction/fantasy novel, Ascension Warriors Mission 626. It is always exciting to hear about new Alaska Native authors.
Amaya’s family is from McGrath. Her grandmother is Avis Dunkin, and her mother was Sophie Vanderpool. Amaya has been writing passionately since the age of 15, but has stayed covertly in the shadows writing marketing content, short stories, blogs and poetry.
Amaya says, “I have written a book with an Athabascan character. The book is best described as a call to raise consciousness and return to traditional values of treating all living creatures including Mother Earth with respect through literary art told through science fiction/fantasy.”
The model featured on the cover is actress from Canada, Olivia Kate Iatridis (Inuit). Amaya’s goal is to write 10 books in the series, and she plans to feature a new Indigenous role model on each cover.
“Always make sure that if your heart desires something that you make time to do it.” – Amaya Mishka (Athabascan)
I got a chance to talk with Amaya recently. Find out more about what inspired her, advice to aspiring authors, how she has tied in Athabascan values in her book, and plans for a potential script.