Deep Snow

Sunset in Hughes. Photo by Maggie Ambrose
Sunset in Hughes. Photo by Maggie Ambrose

My relative, Maggie Ambrose, from Hughes was reminiscing about her late dad, Lige Ambrose. I love reading her stories and photos. Maggie gave me permission to share her story on the Athabascan Woman Blog. 

Trail on the Koyukuk River in front of Hughes. Photo by Maggie Ambrose
Trail on the Koyukuk River in front of Hughes. Photo by Maggie Ambrose

One year, I followed my dad to his beaver sets down river after I bought my sled from UD. Dad had my old sled I bought from my brother, Jimmie. We were driving down and when we got to the flats where the lakes are, I got stuck. Lucky he kept looking back checking on me. He got me out.

We kept going and stopped at the beaver house. Nice weather…not even cold. I watched him and he work. Then, he looks around and tells me to go over and chop down the birch tree and bring it over to him. The birch trees were the bait for beavers. I looked where he pointed and there was no trail or nothing!! I was thinking, ‘Awe s***, I’m gonna go get stuck.’ So I took off and man there was so much snow. So I’m sailing over to the birch trees and stopped got off the snow go and sunk to below my waist. I chopped down the tree (a small one). I don’t remember how I pulled it to him, but I did it.

Maggie's snow machine is in front. Snow machines are the main form of transportation in the winter in many rural Alaskan communities. Photo by Maggie Ambrose
Maggie’s snow machine is in front. Snow machines are the main form of transportation in the winter in many rural Alaskan communities. Photo by Maggie Ambrose

I drove off the trail and didn’t get stuck. If he didn’t ask me to do that I would have never had the guts to go off the trail. I got stuck once outside of Hughes with the sled he was driving…back on hill side lake. It took me forever to dig to the ground and try get traction. I had my dog with me and I was pissed because he wouldn’t dig for me. Lol! He was more in the way making the snow fall back to where I was digging. Anyway, I remembered what my late brother Frank taught me, to put willows under the front and so I did that and I got out!!! Never did I try driving off the trail until dad told me too.

I remember getting stuck a few times with a snow machine in Bettles when I was a teenager. It is hard to get out when you get stuck in deep snow. Kudos to Maggie for being brave enough to drive through deep snow. Sometimes you’ve got no choice, but to get things done, especially when you are relying on trapping or getting wood. Thank you to Maggie for sharing her story!

Entertainment, Fairbanks

Top 15 Things to Change for Alaska Native People in 2015

Here is my list of the top 15 changes I would like to see for Alaska Native people in 2015. I’m dreaming big!

  1. Decreasing the high rate of cancer for Alaska Native people
  2. Full exoneration of the Fairbanks Four
  3. Language and cultural revitalization. Learn one Alaska Native word, dance, song or art. The resources are there, including people who are willing to share and teach
  4. Less Alaska Native children in foster care. More Alaska Native foster care parents
  5. Less alcohol and drug abuse
  6. Less negativity. See the good in each other
  7. Less racism, more understanding
  8. Lower the high rate of domestic violence and sexual abuse against Alaska Native people
  9. Lowering statistics of Alaska Natives using tobacco
  10. Lowering the disproportionate rate of Alaska Natives incarcerated
  11. More action. Less laziness and excuses
  12. More Alaska Natives at the decision-making table of policy-making affecting them
  13. More respect for subsistence hunting and fishing rights
  14. Reducing the suicide rate among Alaska Native people
  15. Stronger connect to the land. Get out there and explore, wherever you might be

I am grateful for people and organizations whose mission it is to focus on these issues. One of the reasons I have this blog is to focus on the many great things people are doing in our world, and I will continue to do that. I do not like to dwell on the negative, but I think we need to put the issues out there and have a dialogue about them. We can’t ignore the issues. We have the power to make change and there are solutions.

What changes and solutions would you like to see? Which one(s) resonate with you?

Top 15 Things to Change for Alaska Native People in 2015
Top 15 Things to Change for Alaska Native People in 2015
Alaska Native/Indigenous People, Entertainment

Joe Frank – Native Actor

Joe Frank. Courtesy photo
Joe Frank. Courtesy photo

I have known Joe Frank for a few years now. He is Athabascan from Holy Cross, and now lives in Anchorage. I would see Joe and his daughter at events. I was mistaken for one of their relatives, and was their cousin for a bit. We laughed about that. Joe is a single father and works in Anchorage. He is the president of a village corporation, and has worked as a purchaser for many years. Joe is a former pilot holding a commercial, instrument and float ratings.

Although, you may not know Joe’s name, you might recognize his face in some commercials and educational videos in the Alaska Native medical facilities. Joe dreamed about acting for a long time, but kept telling himself that he couldn’t do it. He said, “One day, I thought, now is the time to do things I always wanted to do.” Joe’s role models include actor Clint Eastwood and comedians David Letterman and Johnny Carson.

Joe played Isaac, a lead role, in the “What’s the Big Deal” film focusing on colorectal cancer. He also played a couple small parts in the Everybody Loves Whales movie. You might also recognize his voice-over in “To the Arctic” film.

Joe Frank played a lead role in the "What's the Big Deal?" film. Courtesy photo
Joe Frank played a lead role in the “What’s the Big Deal?” film. Courtesy photo

Joe enjoys acting in short films focusing on disease prevention and education. He feels like he is making a difference in the lives of others by playing those roles. Joe plans to continue to pursue acting, but is also interested in music, motivational speaking and learning to play the keyboard. Joe would like to do motivational speaking with those who are struggling with alcohol and drug addictions.

Joe grew up on Holy Cross, where they didn’t have televisions or telephones. They didn’t have running water and used wood burning stoves. They got their water by dog sled. Joe worked hard in the village on multiple chores, including chopping wood, feeding dogs and getting water.

Joe recently acted in a film, called Safe in the Village. The film was produced by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, and it will be aired throughout rural Alaska. Safe in the Village is a current research project by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium in effort to create effective and culturally sensitive sexual health and healthy relationships curricula. You can hear Joe’s voice-over in the trailer below.

I admire Joe for reaching for his dreams of becoming an actor. He serves as a role model for others, especially Alaska Native men. Best wishes Joe!


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.

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!


Great American Smokeout Day – November 20

Great American Smokeout - Nov. 20
Great American Smokeout – Nov. 20

The Great American Smokeout Day is coming up on November 20. It’s a day when tobacco users make a commitment to stop using tobacco. We hear the messages on TV and radio, see posters about it on the negative effects of tobacco-use and the reasons to quit. The statistics are not good for Alaskans, especially Alaska Native people. I am no expert on the subject, so I’m providing a few resources.

I smoked cigarettes in my teens and through college. I stopped when I became pregnant with my first daughter. It wasn’t easy to quit, but I made a commitment. It made me too tired and I wanted to make a positive change in my life. So many of smokers start out at a young age, and keep up the habit into adulthood. Prevention is so important because it is a difficult habit to quit. I reached out to my friends on Facebook and asked them for some advice, and they provided some excellent reasons to never start.

What is one thing that you would tell your younger self (or a younger tobacco user) about tobacco use?

Alaska's Tobacco Quitline has a ton of resources for tobacco-user to kick the habit and other information. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or enroll online through this website.
Alaska’s Tobacco Quitline has a ton of resources for tobacco-user to kick the habit and other information. Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or enroll online through this website.

“If I knew then how hard it would be to quit now, 20 years later, I would have not started. I started smoking trying to be cool, all the kids were doing it. Cigarettes are $12.50 a pack out here in Hughes, and I pay it, it is the hardest vice ever to quit. A carton now a days in Fairbanks is about $80.00. It is different for everyone, I admire those of you who were able to quit, it is hard for some of us, because I do want to quit. I have quit a lot of vices/addictions, this is by far the hardest.” – Tal Beetus Baker

“Tobacco has never appealed to me. It taste bad, gives you bad breath, and lingers around you all day. It is in no way attractive. Tobacco, drinking and drugs are always talked about but one thing no mentioned is also having an addictive personality that plays a key role.” – Paul and Alberta John

“It started as only a couple a week. Then it turned into just a couple a day. It took forever to quit. It is so easy to fool yourself into thinking just a few won’t hurt me.” – Rhonda Pitka

“The cost are high not only money but health. Tough addiction to quit.” – Raquel Williams

“It doesn’t keep you stay skinny. It causes so many problems you don’t even realize, and some you do. You can even get periodontal disease, bladder problems, your skin will age faster, etc.” – Kathy Ward

“Stop before you start.” – Gabe Sam

The Alaska Tobacco Control Alliance mission is to create conditions for Alaskans to live free from the harmful effects of tobacco.
The Alaska Tobacco Control Alliance mission is to create conditions for Alaskans to live free from the harmful effects of tobacco.

“It’s too expensive there’s better ways to spend your money. I’ve lost a lot of friends and family to cancer and I don’t like the smell of it on clothes.” – Val Babich

“I would tell younger men that smoking is a total deal-breaker for many of the ladies.” – Miriam Aarons

“You cannot afford to smoke or chew.” – Agnes Dayton

“It is very hard to quit smoking and costs you a lot of money which you could buy a new snow machine or vehicle to drive. I smoked for 40+ years and could have bought a new house probably.” – Darrell M Vent

“Chew is not worth it! I used to tell my kids, ‘Who wants to kiss you with chew in your mouth?!’ ‘Don’t smoke’, dad used to say. You save thousands every year when you don’t smoke.” – Selina Sam

“How much are cartons of cigarettes these days? When I smoked, I was appalled when it hit $18 per carton. I think the last carton I bought was about $22. So I stopped buying them by the carton and only a pack at a time. I quit around 1999, and after that only an occasional smoke. Once in a great while I might smoke a pipe, but now I have no idea where my pipe went in 2008. That was the last time I saw it.” – John Gregg

“Don’t start because you won’t be able to stop.” – Marie Jeno

“Tobacco smoke will give you a face full of wrinkles.” – Will Yaska

“I started to be ‘cool’ also at age 11; more than 1/2 my life ago. I sure don’t want my kids to! It’s not even hard to quit – I did cold turkey 11 months ago tomorrow. You just have to want to! I still crave a cigarette when I’m stressed/aggravated, then sometimes I get a whiff of one and I’m good. Ryan quit when we found out we were pregnant…almost 13 years ago!” – Gina McCarty

“I have a lot of young friends who use tobacco in any form. I have friends who smoked since they were 11 years old!! Can you imagine that? Some don’t smoke anymore and some of them passed away. When I was a young girl my cousins were smoking and they hand me the cigarette and said ‘inhale’. I didn’t know what the meant so they showed me. I inhaled and got all choked up, couldn’t breathe, and I thought that was the end of me. My one cousin’s parents use to chew, so she use to sneak some from her dad. One time she put some in my mouth. It burned my mouth! I spit it out! That one I never tried again, but cigarette I tried but I didn’t like the smell on my clothes. My late dad also told us since we were little girls, ‘Women shouldn’t smoke.’ My late parents both smoked back then. Both of them quit later on and lived smoke free lives. I met a woman last night who quit three weeks ago. She will be 55 this month. She’s real happy for herself and I’m happy for her. She quit ‘cold turkey’ and said she’s been thinking about it for a long time. Think about your kids or grandchildren and think about, ‘Do I really want to continue doing this?’  It’s not too late to quit cigarettes or chew. It’s time to quit for the sake of your family.” – Velma Schafer

“I smoked for half of my life before I quit four years ago. I can’t believe people still smoke, it’s so archaic. There’s this pretty young lady that rides the bus in the mornings with me, she smells like an ashtray.” – Loretta Linus

“I quit smoking ‘cold turkey’ about eight years ago. I was sitting in the porch smoking my granddaughter said, ‘Grandma, you need to quit smoking because you’re the only grandma that I see smoking and it’s embarrassing.’ I was talking to late Kam Ballard, and he said to quit on his birthday so that’s the day I quit. The kids notice I don’t smell like an ashtray. I used to smoke four packs a day. I had lots of friends because they need cigarettes. I saved myself a lot of money, but lost my friends. I also got off all my medicines.” – Irene Peters

“Hey you young wild child, smoking makes you smell horrible! Snuff out tobacco.” – Teflon Barb

“Wow, I wish I could go back in time and talk myself out of ever starting. I wanted to be a cool bad kid. I have overcome a lot of addiction but cigarettes are far and away the hardest habit to drop I have ever seen. I genuinely wish I hadn’t ever picked up the addiction. There just isn’t any going back. Once you’ve been a smoker you will always be a smoker or an ex-smoker.” – April Lynn

“That it’s the only thing I did when I was young that I regret doing. It was something dumb that I could have avoided.” – Liz Fullerton

“I am the product of second hand smoke from womb until I moved out on my own at age 18. I have chronic problems with my lungs, heart and inflammatory disease, all symptoms of second hand smoke. Though I take excellent care of myself, that is one thing I had no control over and I hope that the healthy lifestyle I have chosen to live will override the toxins that my mother chose to expose me to from the first moment of conception. My mother was a child of the 1950’s and 1960’s where young women smoked to subdue their appetite and to look glamorous, where the Marlboro man was sexy and displayed on billboards up and down the highway, and young men wanted to portray that tough guy from the movies (who usually was smoking a cigarette). I think that the baby boomers had it tougher because they were misled into smoking, but my generation and the ones to follow should never have started smoking as the health concerns and warning information has been available for 30 years.” – Liane Mae

“To my young teen self:  ‘Give up cigarettes with your so-called friend & cousin who got you started! Twenty years from now you’ll appreciate that you look young while they have wrinkles on their faces! It WILL make you addicted and you will waste SO much money on it. Look at photos constantly of people with mouth & throat cancer from tobacco!’ I had parents who constantly hated smoking so eventually their lectures kicked in for me; I cut back to be one of those “drinker-smokers” and then eventually I just gave up the partying and the smoking, too! The smell is terrible and I see people with yellow stained teeth. I’m glad to not waste money on cigarettes and to have never smoked when I was pregnant either. Kids deserve better.” – Holly Flynn

“Hey you. You think you are cool with that cancer stick in your mouth. Get real. Grow up young Sarah.” – Sarah Mattingly-Benson

“That I would have never had the breathing issue I have now or the allergies.” – Katherine McConkey

“I’m at 4 months cold turkey after smoking for 20 years.” – Miz Tooyou

Thank you to my brave friends and relatives for speaking up and sharing their advice. Quitting tobacco is one of the most difficult things to do and it is a personal decision. I’m glad I quit smoking. I’m thankful for the support of my family and friends when I stopped smoking and later when I stopped drinking alcohol about five years ago. I really want to set a good example for my children. There are a million and one reasons to quit and there are tons of ways to do so. Let’s not let tobacco-use be our legacy for future generations. Consider quitting on the Great American Smokeout on November 20 or encourage a loved on to do so. You can do it!

In case you need more inspiration, here are some great digital stories told by Alaskans produced by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.