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.
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.
It’s official – June 7 is Walter Harper Day! Senator Click Bishop sponsored Senate Bill 144 to establish June 7 in recognition of Walter Harper (Koyukon Athabascan) who became the first person to stand on top of Denali on June 7, 1913.
I checked in with Walter Harper’s grandnephew, Mike Harper (Koyukon Athabascan), to learn about the significance of the Day. Mike’s family comes from Tanana and Rampart and his family moved to Fairbanks area after the 1918 pandemic. Mike was raised in Fairbanks by his grandmother, Louise Harper, widow of Sam Harper who passed in 1931. Sam was the brother of Walter’s brother. Continue reading “Walter Harper Day”→
My aunt, Flora B. Johnson (Koyukon Athabascan), is from Allakaket along the Koyukuk River. Her parents were the late Edward and Elizabeth Bergman. I’ve admired her for her storytelling and the love she has for her family and communities. She agreed to share her story on the Athabascan Woman Blog.
Flora moved to Iliamna with her husband in 1980. They enrolled their oldest daughter, Shannon, to Newhalen School. Her husband began working at the electric co-op. Life was tough back then and the only job she could find was babysitting. She said, “It turned out that I like kids and my house was always full of happy kids.” Continue reading “Flora B. Johnson – Mother and Educator”→