Alaska life

Keeping Hope

I have been really thinking about what’s going on with the coronavirus (COVID-19) in our world. Like many people, I have been extra vigilant of washing my hands and taking other precautions, like social distancing. Follow the World Health Organization, Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Alaska Department of Health & Social Services for information and prevention.

Last week, there was a point in time when I found myself starting to panic with the news, event cancellations and travelers, etc. I thought about my Elder parents and family/friends, and how I want to keep them safe and healthy. Thankfully, I was able to pull myself together after grounding myself by talking to my family. I reflected on some of the stories people shared about how our ancestors survived the flu pandemic. It gave me the inner strength I needed after realizing that we can get through this. We all have a role in preventing and stopping. 

I asked my friends and family to share some messages and stories of hope. I’ve seen a few people posting stories about our ancestors surviving the early 1900 flu pandemic, reflections and advice. Enaa baasee’ to those who agreed to share. 

“Pastor Chris Kopp mentioned a YKSD Elder Biography, remember those, by Nollner, I can’t remember his name. But he had an incredible story of survival wherein he went to a village possibly for help, and was refused entry because of the 1918 flu. He left and was sick, out on the country by himself. He went back to the village days later, and everyone was dead. Its incredible because he lived, and to imagine he was saved because they wouldn’t let him in the village.” – Kimberly Kayotuk Pilot

“I had a wonderful Great Grandpa and Grandma. They were the parents of my father’s mother. They had 17 children, my grandmother was the youngest. During the 1918 Flu Pandemic, they had choices to stay away from the virus or go to work like many others who didn’t have a choice. They left their children with relatives and went to work in Barstol, CA. There were opportunities opening up in the mines, because others were afraid to go out and work. They needed the opportunity to help them along but unfortunately, they passed away from the 1918 flu within a week from one another. Since those deaths, our family took almost a century to find out the details about who they were and who we are. I’m telling this story because I do not want this to happen to any other family. I know how it is to lose yourself and your identity because of the relocation of all the 17 children that they had. Alowah.” – Albert Chacon

“My dad tells of his grandpa Old Man Simon, who took his family out in the country. They traveled for five years after spending that first year in the woods. They went to Stevens, Beaver, Rampart and Tanana over those five years before returning to the area.” – Geri Simon

“Shishmaref saved themselves and kept people out by gunpoint.” – Vanessa 

The Alaska State Archives has a recording from Ruben Gaines’ radio show: Conversation Unlimited. A story about a photograph of the village of Shishmaref and how the village avoided the 1918 influenza epidemic by building a barricade and not allowing any visitors into the village. Written and performed by Ruben Gaines.

“My late stepmom said in the spring everyone was sick. One household cooked cranberries and they started getting better. After that, others cook berries and got better.” – Dorothy Yatlin

“Shout out to all the hunters/whalers/providers who help me (and everyone else) fill the freezer here in the city. ? I am always grateful for my soul food but I wanted to send extra EXTRA love as I’ve been hiding out in my house, kinda too scared to even go to the grocery store during this time. ♥️♥️♥️ Because of you all, I don’t have anxiety about running out of food in this chaos. My heart, stomach and spirit are nourished & happy.” – Jacqui Iqiḷan Lambert


Advice and Tips from Velma Schafer

I made a list of things people could do with their children while the schools are closed or even for other times when things are normal. Kids need supervision for most of these activities. Anyone of these things can be done any day or altered / adjusted to fit the group of children and age. I made a short list but you could use your imagination and do more. It doesn’t cost anything or very little. It could be done in any order that fits your family. 

Cooking: bake cookies, cake, pizza, make salads, mac and cheese, fry meat, help make soup, meat loaf, sourdough hotcakes, and whatever you and your family like. To make it fun and interesting make paper chef hats out of paper towels, newspaper, or other stiff papers. Get creative and do things to make this fun. Take photos and have the kids write short articles or stories about their experience doing the cooking. At first keep the stories short unless they are used to writing. Have each one read their stories to you. 

Take about an hour walk each day. Make sure each one dresses for the weather. During the walk, ask them to observe what they see on the way. What did they expected to see before the walk and what did they actually see. Write a short review of the things they saw. What was their favorite things they saw and what they didn’t like? Adult or adults – walk with them. 

Set rabbit snares even if you won’t eat them. Skin and clean them and give to Elders in town. Elders love rabbits because that’s our food of long ago. Help them make the fence and pole for the snare. Show them what rabbits eat, rabbit tracks, and how to set the snare. Show them the trails of rabbits. Tell them stories of how people used rabbits long ago. No stores in those days. 

Knit or crochet; simple things, granny squares are easy. 

Here’s a simple button bracelets on felt that can be done with kids of varying ages.

Beading: Simple designs on felt. Help them along and they won’t get frustrated. I know this works because I used to do it in my classroom as an extra thing to do after they finished their work. With high school kids, we did fur hats, skin boots, suncatchers, glove patches, slippers and so on. 

Read books with them and to them. Even big kids enjoy being read to. There’s all kinds of good books about Alaska. [Check out some interactive digital books by Yukon-Koyukuk School District and Alaska Association of School Boards.]

Tell stories of long ago or stories like Kkudon ts’ednee. Late Catherine Attla had good books on these. There’s the Yukon Koyukuk biographies about real people. Huntington books. Even little kids used to know is that Tobaan atsuh.

Play map games. Post a map on the wall and make a starting line on the floor and the caller calls a city, country, state and times the child for how long it takes to find the place. It gets very competitive as time goes on. Our kids use to play this game and we use to get almost the whole village kids in the house playing this game. Lots of fun, laughter and teasing. It could be Alaska state map, US map, world map. 

If you know any Native songs, sing with them. You can use recorded songs from your parents or someone you know. I use to do this with my students also. This will help you too because while you teach your kids you will be learning too. They will be comfortable doing Native dancing and singing. It’s fun. 

Help them learn skills development for sports. Native games, basketball, soccer, and so on. It’s warm enough now they can do this outside. Long ago with very poor cold weather gear for some of us we played a game called football in 30 to 40 below weather! There are old photos of people in Allakaket playing this game on the river! In the 40s, I think. 

I would like to think that most kids would love the attention of their parents and enjoy doing these activities. Kids and parents will enjoy time with each other

Limit time on video games, TV and such. 

Keep things like puzzles, board games , coloring books, puzzle books available on table or somewhere near so they can just go to it and work on it. 

Have a picnic outside somewhere even if it’s already cooked food, just to enjoy the time outside. Go sledding somewhere nice and away from traffic. 

There’s so much more but I will post these suggestions to you parents as a starter. You can figure out where to go from here as it fits into your daily life and how it fits in your family. In the city it can work but we have to be willing to work a little harder to get somewhere, not like the village where everything is right there. Be safe, keep kids safe, love your kids, and take care of yourself too. Love you all and hope this helps some families.


Enaa baasee’ to my aunt Velma Schafer for sharing this good advice! She is a retired school and language teacher/educator from Allakaket. I know I’ll be doing some of these activities with my teen. Someone shared an awesome list of with activities you can do with kids during quarantine/social distancing. 

I love the way we can draw upon our cultures, traditions and teachings from our Ancestors at this time. I appreciate people’s posts about natural ways to boost your immune system too. Please comment with your own stories, reflections or advice. Enaa baasee’ to everyone who shared!

I’ll close with a message from Tonya and Didder of But We’re So Happy:

“While this time can be scary and intimidating, let’s not panic. Taking precautions and being prepared are essential. We ask everyone to use this time to remember what’s important. Your health is important and your loved ones. Check on the Elders and those that are vulnerable. Remember to use this time for quality time with loved ones. There is always something to be grateful for. Practice good hygiene and wash your hands and butt properly. Remember to work on waving at people and doing the elbow bump in place of a handshake. Most importantly if you are feeling sick don’t go out in public.”

Tonya and Didder of But We’re So Happy
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3 thoughts on “Keeping Hope”

  1. Denounce Satan, pray, learn to pray, study the Bible each day you are given and Faith and Courage will be yours in new day you are guven❤️?

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