Alaska life

Where to Buy the Spirit of the Wind DVD

Spirit of the Wind – Movie about George Attla Re-released
Spirit of the Wind – Movie about George Attla Re-released

The Spirit of the Wind movie has been re-released on DVD. Check out this story from KTVA: After 30-plus years, a film about legendary musher George Attla is re-released: You can see a few clips from the movie on the story. The director reworked the color in the film and it looked great on the screen.

Where to buy Spirit of the Wind
Alaska Native Heritage Center
– Anchorage
Fur Rondy Shop – Anchorage
Jade Boutique – Fairbanks / Follow them on Facebook

Jade Boutique owners Cari Mayo and Georgia Attla are proud to be selling the DVD about their grandpa. They are also selling Spirit of the Arctic DVD, a timeless northern journey of natural sounds and images with Native voices and music.

“It’s a film about Alaska Native people.” -Steven Alvarez, Alaska Native Heritage Center

The Alaska Native Heritage Center held a re-release reception and showed the movie followed by a question and answer period. It was great to see the movie on the screen. Director Ralph Liddle and the actor who played Pius Savage answered questions after the movie.

“It’s a film that saves lives.” – Ralph Liddle, director, Spirit of the Wind

Ralph Liddle loves the sport of dog mushing. He described George Attla as “larger than life, charismatic.”

According to Ralph, the leader of the team was a big star. Apparently, she won races for George and also for Carl Huntington. Ralph said, “She was a house dog, not high strung.” Pius said, “She was a good actress and she knew her stuff.”

“Running those dogs was breathtaking.” – Pius Savage, actor, Spirit of the Wind

Pius Savage and Ralph Liddle answer questions at an event at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Pius Savage and Ralph Liddle answer questions at an event at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

During the Q&A period, I learned a few things from behind the scenes.

Behind-the-Scene Facts

  • George Attla’s actual dogs were used in the movie.
  •  They only had enough funds for two big name stars. Slim Pickens and Chief Dan George were the big stars.
  • Slim Pickens loved that old snow-machine featured in the movie, and it was affectionately named, “Amigo”. Slim loved it so much that he had it sent to him in California.
  • Many of the aerial shots were from a helicopter. The pilot was a Vietnam veteran. He flew so close to the ground at one point that the camera man’s feet were touching the tops of the trees.
  • Pius Savage was chosen for the lead role because he not only looked the part, but was also a pilot.
  • It was shot in 35 mm film. It was a low-budget film.
  • Rose Ambrose (George’s actual sister) played his mother in the film. After the movie, she was offered a part in a mini-series on Huns in China. Despite being offered $5,000 per week for five weeks, she turned the role down. At the time, she was a health aide in Huslia, and couldn’t leave her job.

It was touching to learn things about behind the scenes. It was great to see people in the movie. It is a great piece of history to cherish. Like many others, I hope the film touches and inspires a whole new generation.

What was the your favorite part of the movie? How has it touched and inspired you? Comment below.

Alaska Native culture

What is a Cultural Exchange?

A cultural exchange can be an intentional act of bringing two or more people together to exchange information about their differing backgrounds to understand each other. It can happen as a part of an official program or it can happen informally.

There are many people who go to the village for work or as tourists, and sometimes a cultural exchange will happen on their visit. More often than not, in those cases, people might not get a full picture of what it is like to live in that village. Just as someone from the village comes to the city wouldn’t necessarily get a full picture if they are not staying there for long.

Chris arrives in Bettles, Alaska in 1996! Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Chris arrives in Bettles, Alaska in 1996! Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Cultural exchanges can also take place between friends. I went to college with Chris from Wisconsin. She had a million questions about Alaska, Alaska Natives and what life was like in the village. As I answered the questions, I learned a lot about my culture by verbalizing it to her. She learned a lot about how we live, what we eat, what it’s like to live in the village through many conversations.

Chris had a thirst for knowledge and was studying to become a teacher. No matter how many stories I told her or how many pictures, she didn’t really know how it was really like to live in a village. During summer break in 1996, I invited Chris to visit me in Alaska. She arrived in a small airplane in Bettles, Alaska. My family was planning a boat trip down the Koyukuk River from Bettles to our hometown of Huslia. I was excited to go home to see close friends and relatives. The trip took a few days and we camped out along the way.

My late grandmother, Lydia Simon, was with us on the trip. Chris got to see generations of Athabascans up close and personal along the way. She learned the importance of sharing food and clothing.

Chris says, “I learned that the idea of family, especially extended family, was very much intact. This is during the 90’s when it seemed like the idea of family was in decline in the rest of America.”

Chris shoots a gun while my brother is goofing around. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Chris shoots a gun while my brother is goofing around. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Chris and Tanya sitting at the Huslia graveyard. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Chris and Tanya sitting at the Huslia graveyard. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Chris got to see how big Alaska is and how we travel. The river serves as a highway to get from one village to the next. In each village, the main mode of transportation was four-wheeler ATVs. Chris enjoyed playing basketball and softball in Huslia. I am not sure if my stories prepared her for the reality, but she had a great time.

This cultural exchange would not be complete until years later when I went to Chris’ wedding in Wisconsin in 2007. The wedding was at her aunt’s farm in rural Wisconsin. The house was over 100 years old, and owned by the family for generations. It had a cellar, which I’ve only ever read about in books. We took a walk around the farm.

Angela and Chris in Wisconsin in 2007. Photo by Melissa Gerald
Angela and Chris in Wisconsin in 2007. Photo by Melissa Gerald

The church was also old and one where may family members also wed. Everyone was nice and welcomed me with open arms. I learned about many of their wedding traditions, with German influence. It was absolutely beautiful, and I was glad to learn about Chris’ background and see where she grew up.

People have many questions about Alaska Native people and culture. I have questions about what it’s like to live in the Lower 48. We can read about the Alaska Native culture in book, but it is difficult to really know what it is like until you experience it in person. Chris and I have a deeper understanding of each other and our backgrounds. Although we have many difference, we found we also have many similarities.

There are many ways we can create cultural exchanges. It can be between two friends, like Chris and I. They also take place through programs, like the Sister School Exchange program with the Alaska Humanities Forum.

It can also be through conversation with someone from a different background. That can happen very easily in today’s electronic world. I find myself talking with people around the country and sometimes the world through Twitter. Cultural exchanges are way to open your eyes and experience the world. I learn a lot about my culture when I articulate it to others. Perhaps you can do the same.

Alaska Native culture

Growing Up Native: Sharing Culture

Singing at WEIO
Singing at WEIO

I’m fortunate that I grew up in a home where it was okay to be Native (aka Alaska Native, Athabascan, American Indian). My mother taught us about our Koyukon Athabascan culture. My grandmother shared stories. My dad taught us how to hunt, fish and take care of dogs. We were encouraged to share our culture with others.

I once competed to be Miss World Eskimo Indian Olympics (WEIO). That spring and summer, I learned a Koyukon Athabascan song, called “Good Bye My Sonny”. My family and friends of the family sewed traditional Athabascan regalia, including a dress, boots, gloves, belt and jewelry. We all came together to learn more about what it meant to be Athabascan. I didn’t win that year, but I had the opportunity to share what it meant to be Koyukon Athabascan. I did win an award for the best traditional dress.

My mother, Eleanor Yatlin, and I
My mother, Eleanor Yatlin, and I

Participating in WEIO as an athlete, dancer, artist, ambassador or even in the audience is a great learning experience. WEIO will celebrate its 50th Anniversary on July 20-23, 2011 in Fairbanks, Alaska. Many of my friends and family will go to the interior for this momentous celebration. I hope to make it up also.

The experience of running for Miss WEIO prepared me for becoming Miss Indian TU (University of Tulsa). Serving as a cultural ambassador allowed me to learn even more about what it means to be Koyukon Athabascan and Alaska Native. I learned how to properly introduce myself. People know you by whose family you belong to. Alaska Native people ask me where I am from and who I’m related to.

An Alaska Native Introduction
I’m Angela Yatlin Gonzalez, originally from Huslia, Alaska. My Koyukon Athabascan name is Kla’dah Dalthna’. My parents are Al and Eleanor Yatlin.

My grandmothers, Lydia Simon and Alda Frank
My grandmothers, Lydia Simon and Alda Frank

My grandparents on my mother’s side were the late Edwin and Lydia Simon. My grandparents on my father’s side were the late George Frank and Minnie Yatlin, and Alda Frank (my grandfather’s second wife who currently lives in Galena, Alaska).

I surrounded myself with people who appreciated my unique cultural background. I hear stories of people who experienced racism. I experienced some too, and try to educate people when I can. Some people may look at me and see a stereotype, but there are a lot of good things out there too. Alaska Natives, like athlete Callan Chythlook-Sifsof, are breaking new ground and accomplishing great things. Learn more about some exemplary Alaska Natives in a book, Growing Up Native in Alaska by AJ McClanahan.

Alaska Native people like to share their culture and enjoy reconnecting with each other to share food, songs and dance. I strive to learn about the many other cultures. To that end, I encourage you to share something about yourself in the comments below. Who are you? Whose family do you come from?

Enaa baasee’ (Thank you) for allowing me to share a little bit about my culture!