Alaska Native culture

Washtub Dance Poem by Martha Demoski

Thank you to Martha Demoski for sharing her writing and poem on the Athabascan Woman blog. Martha Demoski (Koyukon Athabascan) is a retired teacher who is originally from Nulato.

Drummers and singers in Nulato. Photo by Martha Demoski
Drummers and singers in Nulato. Photo by Martha Demoski

Although there were many burials in Nulato since this poem was written, I want to share how people work so hard coming together to uplift each other at these hard times. Everyone knows the hard times from the young to the eldest. The activities that stand out are how the cooks provide all kinds of local foods each night that the body is in town until the day of burial and potlatch. They graciously have a fundraiser (raffle) to help out with travel, supplies for the hall, and any expenses, and each night mostly about 7:00 p.m. They gather together for the rosary and some gospel music.

Our tribal administrator wrote that Nulato people are resilient and we will continue. With Denaahuto’s blessings and people’s praying, we will continue to carry each others through these hard times. May all villages have blessings throughout the year. This is how we began the year.

The first three days of 2014 were so wholesome with the community supporting the Medzeyh Okko Hutnee, the New Year’s Potlatch and the Washtub Dance. The last event washed the Old Year away bringing in the New Year with well wishes of good luck, hope and peace. The Washtub Dance was so amusing and hilarious.

With respect to everyone’s participation in making these events a success, I don’t want to use names, but thank you to all the local Nulato Tribal members. Your help shows the good will and respect you have for your community.

Kids participating in a Washtub Dance in Nulato. Photo by Martha Demoski
Kids participating in a Washtub Dance in Nulato. Photo by Martha Demoski

The community of Nulato welcomes visitors to these events. The night of the Washtub Dance, Kaltag people came to be with us. Two young boys, Tristan and Tyler, participated in the singing and drumming. Their efforts were deeply appreciated. Thanks very much to the young boys.

As an elder, I want to take the liberty of thanking our Young Nulato Singers. They came out to participate; some even wore their regalia. They participated and observed how things are done traditionally with respect. They took care of each other’s physical well-being and emotional health by being respectful and helpful. They showed the elders how they are willing to carry on what the elders taught them.

The old year is washed away and 2014 is here. Wonderful times and hard times filled 2013. May the future bring a positive lift in our lives. If there are mistakes we regret, then may we learn from the past and gain wisdom. Take care of each other in this New Year.

People enjoy the Washtub Dance in Nulato. Photo by Martha Demoski
People enjoy the Washtub Dance in Nulato. Photo by Martha Demoski

Washtub Dance 2014
By Martha Demoski

Energy like electricity traveled through a quivering willow
from the strong arm
of a young boy
tapping on the hide stretched between a round frame
captivating the crowd
with a steady beat
accompanied by voices that echoed
through a time barrier to our ancestors

Costumed characters wore
grimacing or grinning masks
mismatched clothing
ragtag wigs
moved body parts without rhythm
haphazardly, hilariously
provoking laughter and amusement

Two women waved willows tipped with fur
over bags of bread, dried fish, berries, candy…
as if sprinkling blessings and good luck

Clowns in a parade
leave chuckling, wild hoots in their wake
ending the drumming
Denaakk’e sung with old tunes
Shook the building’s foundation
final song, Ket’ene’, resonated
people shuffled in a circle
gracefully bending knees
at the command “Yegge!”

Yeggenh yoz sitting in a circle
oblivious of the adults
sitting on benches
feasting, enjoying, visiting

Washtub dance
washed away the Old Year
holding hopes and dreams for the New!

– Martha Demoski

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