Alaska Native/Indigenous People, Athabascan in the Spotlight

Moosehide Tanning with Jessica Denny

Jessica Denny. Photo by Angela Wade

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.’

2021 Moosehide Tanning Camp. Photo by Angela Wade

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.


Scraping moosehide. Photo by Deenaalee Chase-Hodgdon
Scraping moosehide. Photos by Deenaalee Chase-Hodgdon
Scraping moosehide. Photo by Deenaalee Chase-Hodgdon

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. 

Follow Alaska Leadership Group for updates and upcoming events at:

Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Samuel Johns – Athabascan Rapper and Motivational Speaker

Samuel Johns, aka AK REBEL. Courtesy photo
Samuel Johns, aka AK REBEL. Courtesy photo

Samuel Johns is Ahtna and Gwich’in Athabascan with family from Copper Center and Arctic Village. Sam has lived in Anchorage with his family since 2005. Sam, also known as AK Rebel, is a rapper, father, motivational speaker and performer. He is a member of the Ahtna Heritage Dancers. A few of Sam’s role models include his uncle, Kenny Johns, Mao Tosi, and Evon Peter.

When asked what inspired him to get into music, Sam said, “I always felt like I had a view.” He wasn’t sure how to get it across. When he was 15 years old, he read a book by Malcom X. That book inspired him to stand up for his people. Sam started out doing poetry, then it transformed in to rap music. He felt he needed to make a bold statement, but something that people could understand. Sam used his voice to spread awareness on various topics.

Sam decided he needed to speak up for the new generation. He referred to the older generation as the pipeline generation. Sam says the pipeline generation focused on income and financial security, and worried about having a nice house and car. The older generation didn’t seem to connect to their kids as much, and the kids wandered off. Sam sought to give the younger generation a message and to get a message from them. He says, “They want a connection with their parents…a bond.”

Sam’s message to youth is let them know they will always be tested with life’s challenges. When people face trials and tribulations, they numb their pain with substance abuse – alcohol and drugs. Sam lived like that at one point and says he is not going back to that life. He says people have two choices when they have trials and tribulations. One choice is to numb the pain and not face the problems, or to feel the pain and face the issues head on. Sam has definitely had his fair share of problems over the years, including being evicted, having his car break down, and other personal losses.

Samuel Johns (at right with bandana) dances at the end of the March for Justice in 2013. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Samuel Johns (at right with bandana) dances at the end of the March for Justice in 2013. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

At a point between jobs, Sam watched a documentary on the Fairbanks Four and felt compelled to do something to help. In 2013, Sam organized the March for Justice in Anchorage in honor of the Fairbanks Four. He wasn’t sure if it was going to happen, but things kept falling into place. Sam received encouragement from people around the state and people came forward to help and to go on the walk. According to Sam, there were marchers from Huslia, Galena, Fairbanks, Copper Center, Mentasta, Tanacross, and more.

Samuel Johns participates in the Walk for Tsucde in May in Anchorage. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Samuel Johns participates in the Walk for Tsucde in May in Anchorage. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Sam’s biggest challenge right now is to remember humbleness and humility and to not let ego get in the way. He has received a lot of media attention for the past year and has been praised by many. More and more people are looking at him. Sam doesn’t want to forget his purpose and to get caught up in all of the attention.

One of the first media stories on Sam was when he visited homeless people at Bean’s Café, and practiced his Ahtna songs. At the time, he was between jobs and wanted to do something to help the homeless. He started out by making sandwiches and ended up going their once a week to practice. For about 11 weeks, Sam went there every week with a few other dance group members from the Ahtna Heritage Dancers.

The beat of Sam’s drum and songs created a spiritual energy and he connected with the homeless. Sam says, “I’m giving their identity and culture back…reconnecting.” The homeless people didn’t ask him for money, but just asked him to come back each week. Sam felt like he was giving the spiritual healing. He also felt like he gave them hope by giving them his time and showing them they worth something. Even though, Sam and the dance group performed the same songs each week, they were still appreciated.

Samuel Johns performs at the Walk for Tsucde with the Ahtna Heritage Dancers. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Samuel Johns performs at the Walk for Tsucde with the Ahtna Heritage Dancers. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Sam is currently working on his first album. He released a couple songs through SoundCloud, Facebook and YouTube. Those songs are about his struggles with identity. Sam is working on songs about domestic violence, subsistence rights and reconciliation. He wants his songs to have a purpose and to be positive. Sam will continue performing for events and to do motivational speaking.

I watched Sam perform his song, “We Are One Tribe”, at the Anchorage TedX event in April. Listen to that song below. His songs and speeches are inspirational and real. Sam is a person who speaks the truth even though it may not be pretty. He reminds us to look at our problems and deal with them. He also reminds us of the importance of reconnecting with our traditions and culture.


Ana basee’ Sam for sharing your story and for motivating people!

Follow AK REBEL on Facebook


Walk for Tsucde – Last Day

The final stretch of Walk for Tsucde. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
The final stretch of Walk for Tsucde. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

The Tetlin ladies with million dollar smiles. L-R: Diane John, Debbie Titus and Pamela Sam. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
The Tetlin ladies with million dollar smiles. L-R: Diane John, Debbie Titus and Pamela Sam. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

I have five new Athabascan heroes:  Fred John, Jr., Harry John, Pam Sam, Diane John and Debbie Titus. They completed a 375 mile walk from Dot Lake to Anchorage on May 31. I also greatly admire Becky Semler of Oregon who supported the team during the walk. Tazlina (Harry’s dog) deserves and an honorable mention for leading the team the whole way.

They could not have accomplished their 375 mile journey without tremendous amount of support from family, friends, individuals and organizations. The children of Fred John, Jr. and Linnea John and really the family of the late Katie John worked behind the scenes to take care of logistics, food, and many other duties. They had many walkers who joined them along the way, and had people welcome them from each community. There were about 150 people who joined in the final stretch through Anchorage.

They had speeches at the end of the Walk for Tsucde celebration. Speakers included:

  • Fred John, Jr.
  • Anne Thomas and other representatives of Chitna Native Corp.
  • Victor Joseph and Nick Alexia, Sr. of Tanana Chiefs Conference
  • Benedict Snowball, Stebbins community (17 mins in)
  • Liz Medicine Crow of First Alaskans Institute
  • Gwendolyn John reads a message from 9 Tribes of Northern County of San Diego
  • George Demintieff Holly dedicates a Dena’ina song (29 mins in)
  • Nick Jackson, Ahtna Elder (36 mins in)
  • Ahtna Native Corporation Board members (38 mins in) (2 men and one lady – Karen Linnell)
  • Gwendolyn John (44 mins in)
  • Harry John (45 mins in)
  • Debbie Titus (46 mins in)
  • Becky Semler (47 mins in)
  • Diane John (49 mins in)
  • Pamela Sam (49 mins in)
  • Fred John, Jr. gifts gifts (50 mins in)
  • Michelle Anderson of Ahtna (52 mins in)
  • Fred John, Jr. final remarks (54 mins in)

Here is an audio recording of the speeches at the Walk for Tsucde celebration. Please email me at ayatlin @ or comment below with any corrections or additions to the list above.

What a momentous occasion to watch in person. Check out their Facebook page for many more photos and updates. I loved seeing the expressions on their faces as they finished their 375 mile trek in honor of the late Katie John and for the protection of Alaska Native rights, subsistence rights, sobriety and veterans.

Fred John, Jr. exclaims, "We did it!" Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Fred John, Jr. exclaims, “We did it!” Photo by Angela Gonzalez