Alaska Native/Indigenous People, Fairbanks

Feeling Fortunate

During the holidays, there are many opportunities to give. I’ve given to a variety of charities and fundraisers over the years. This year, I chose to contribute a gift to a child in need. I picked a star of a child who wanted winter clothes with a budget of $25. It was a challenge to stay under budget. I was only able to get one item that was close to $20, and even that was on sale.

It made me realize the hard choices parents have to make not only during the holidays but throughout the year. I really wanted to just buy the next item, but I had to stay under $25. It made me see the hard reality of people in need. It made me think about what it must be like to choose between things you need like food and warm clothes in Alaska during the winter. I am grateful for this eye-opening experience.

Angela Gonzalez at the Huslia Head Start in 1978
Angela Gonzalez at the Huslia Head Start in 1978.

It gave me a deeper understanding and appreciation of the struggles many of us go through on a daily basis. It also brought me back to my childhood. As the old saying goes, ‘We didn’t know we were poor.’ That’s how it really was. I have fond memories of Christmas time. We considered ourselves fortunate if we got new yarn socks for Christmas.

I’m glad I’m able to contribute a little. It also reminded me of what the holiday season is all about. When I was a young kid, we lived in Huslia. I remember the excitement of seeing Santa at the community hall. The kids received gifts from Santa. I remember eating mandarin oranges. They were so delicious. The whole community came together.

I used to sleep by the Christmas tree. We had live spruce trees in the village. On Christmas morning, people stopped by to shake our hands to wish us Merry Christmas. We also visited people all around town too. Nowadays, we mostly make those wishes on Facebook. Plus it is hard to go door to door when you live in the city.

I remember watching fireworks during New Year’s eve. Sometimes there was a violin dance. At midnight, the men shot their guns in the air. It was an exciting time.

Fairbanks Four photo courtesy of Tanana Chiefs Conference
Fairbanks Four photo courtesy of Tanana Chiefs Conference

On December 17th, the Fairbanks Four (Marvin Roberts, Eugene Vent, Kevin Pease and George Frese) celebrate their first day together as free men. It began unfolding on social media after lunch as reports of them being in a closed hearing was happening. People were on pins and needles waiting for word of the potential release. I was watching it unfold on Facebook and Twitter. Finally, Eugene Vent, Kevin Pease and George Frese walked out of the court as free men. Marvin Roberts was released earlier this year.

It took a tremendous amount of unwavering support from people around the state to set them free. Search “Fairbanks Four” online for news and information regarding their release. One staunch supporter, April Monroe, said, “These are the first Native American men to ever be exonerated, and the first Alaskans as well, but more importantly, eighteen years later these guys are home.”

Yes! They are home just in time for the holidays. Their family and friends will be able feed them and take care of them. They will be able to eat Native food and share in traditions. Freedom is not something to take for granted, and I wish all four of the guys well as they transition to normal life. It is truly amazing what can happen when the entire statewide community comes together for a cause.

Tanana Chiefs Conference (TCC) set up a donation account for the Fairbanks Four. TCC President Victor Joseph “Once this chapter of their lives has come to a close, they will face a new set of challenges as they begin their re-entry into society. These men have been imprisoned for most of their adult lives.” He goes on to say, “The road ahead for the Fairbanks Four is going to be a long one and Tanana Chiefs Conference will be there to support them every step of the way. We ask that the rest of the Fairbanks community and even the nation join us in support of these men.”

I’m looking forward to spending time with family and friends and will definitely not take it for granted. It is also a time for reflection as we enter 2016. It’s a time for giving and receiving and to appreciate the people in your life.

Happy Holidays from the Athabascan Woman Blog!