Alaska Native culture

Fish Camp Barbie

Fish Camp Barbie by Angela Gonzalez
Fish Camp Barbie by Angela Gonzalez

My family spent summers in fish camp down river from Huslia, Alaska. As kids we kept ourselves entertained in between chores. We made little fish camps along the steep cut bank of the Koyukuk River.

We made the fish racks out of twigs and willows. The leaves were made into fish. Our late Grandma Lydia created the little tłaabaas out of the sides of the metal part of salt containers. Then she added a twig for the handle. We used to be excited when we finished a package of salt, so our Barbies would get new ones.

Alaska Native knife (tłaabaas) in ‎Koyukon‬ ‎Athabascan‬. It’s commonly called an ulu.

My mom and late Grandmother Lydia were very creative and knew what would keep us entertained (and probably out of their hair while they were working). In camp, you learn to adapt, and also have to use your imagination to solve problems and to play.

Fish Camp Barbie with Ulu. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Fish Camp Barbie with Ulu. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

My brother, Al Jr., says, “I remember. Solomon, Clifford and I used to make fish racks.” My dad and older cousins also carved little boats for them out of drift wood. They would tie them to a pole and string and they would be able to play with them in the water. My sister and cousins also made elaborate Barbie mansions out of mud, sticks and other little scrap supplies.

Nowadays, I’m far away from those long summer days in the interior. I don’t get home that often. My girls are more likely to go dipnetting on the Kenai River rather than fishing along the Koyukuk River. I still cherish those days and appreciate the experiences.


Here’s a Fish Camp Barbie diorama I created and donated to the First Alaskans Institute’s Ted Stevens & Howard Rock Smokehouse Gala in 2015. It was fun to create!

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