Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Throwback Thursday – Athabascan Style

Tanya, Angela and Al Jr. were all one year apart. Photo by taken in Huslia by Eleanor Yatlin
Tanya, Angela and Al Jr. were all one year apart. Photo by taken in Huslia by Eleanor Yatlin

We lived in a one-room cabin in the mid-1980s in Huslia. My dad worked out of town, so mom had to take care of all five kids (at the time) plus dad’s dog team. It was the house on the hill. Before we moved, there were seven of us who lived in here. My dad used to tease us and say, “A mouse ran over your face while you were sleeping.” We used to say, “Ewww!”

Here is a photo of me and my siblings, Al Jr. and Tanya. We were mom’s middle kids…all one year apart. Tanya was adopted from our aunt Dorothy. Thank you to my mother, Eleanor Yatlin, for taking photos of us with her Polaroid camera! I enjoy looking through mom’s old photos. I’m glad she took the photos. It reminds me of the old days with my siblings and cousins.

I’m not sure what month this photo was taken, but it must have been winter because we are wearing our homemade winter boots. The Denaakke’ (Koyukon Athabascan) word for the boots is kkaakina. “She made a pair of boots” would be “Kaakin gheeghonh.”

 

Alaska Native/Indigenous People

Iditarod Fever in Huslia

Aaron Burmeister was the first Iditarod musher to arrive in Huslia - the half-way checkpoint. Photo by Jo Derendoff
Aaron Burmeister was the first Iditarod musher to arrive in Huslia. Photo by Jo Derendoff
Huslia residents eagerly wait for the first musher to arrive in Huslia. Photo by Vivian Henry
Residents eagerly wait for the first musher to arrive in Huslia. Photo by Vivian Henry

For the first time ever, Huslia is a checkpoint for the Iditarod. It’s the official half-way point. Mushers began arriving in Huslia on Thursday evening. Huslia is my hometown. Unfortunately, I can’t be there for the momentous occasion, but I have been enjoying the updates from relatives and friends.

Everyone has been pitching in with cooking, coordination and whatever else is needed for the mushers, Iditarod officials and news media. Darrell Vent of Huslia said, “People are sure coming together to help make these mushers feel at home with a lot of positive feedback from mushers so far.”

Joslin Olin (right) and Warner Vent present gifts to the half-way prize winnter, Aaron Burmeister. Photo by Jo Derendoff
Joslin Olin (right) and Warner Vent present gifts to the half-way prize winner, Aaron Burmeister. Photo by Jo Derendoff

Dog mushing fans of all ages waited and greeted dog mushers late Thursday. Al Yatlin, Sr. said, “Everyone is so impressed about coming to Huslia. Warner Vent has been greeting all the mushers. They all know who he is.” Warner Vent, Sr. raced in the Iditarod three times in the early 1970s.

Huslia has a storied history of dog mushing with many mushers, like late Bobby Vent, George Attla, Jr. and more. People still mush dogs today. Many teams from around Alaska started out with dogs from Huslia and other interior villages. Many of the Iditarod dog mushers know many of the local mushers from rural Alaska, or they heard stories of them.

Gift were presented to Aaron Burmeister, the half-way prize winner. Photo by Teri Vent
Gift were presented to Aaron Burmeister, the half-way prize winner. Photo by Teri Vent

Aaron Burmeister was the GCI Dorothy G. Page halfway prize winner and received a trophy and $3,000 in gold from GCI. Huslia also presented him with gifts, including beaver mitts made by Eleanor Sam, Elsie Vent and Cesa Agnes and a marten hat made by Alberta Vent. Fred Bifelt and Alberta Vent donated the marten hat. Joe and Margie Ambrose donated a beaded cross. A fur ruff was also donated.

Al Yatlin Sr. meets Aaron Burmeister in Huslia. Photo by Andrea Ambrose
Al Yatlin Sr. meets Aaron Burmeister in Huslia. Photo by Andrea Ambrose

Upon meeting Aaron Burmeister, Al Yatlin, Sr. (my dad) said, “I knew him when he was a kid. He said I sold him a dog then and that’s where some of his current dogs come from.” My mom, Eleanor Yatlin, said “When we lived in Nome Al raced against Aaron’s dad, Richard.” Like many Alaskans, my parents are huge fans of the Iditarod and other dog races throughout Alaska.

Alaskans are tuning in from all over the state. Amy Modig was on a trip in Emmonak and listened to updates from KNOM radio. She said, “Over and over again, I’ve heard the loud cheers and everyone calling out to Burmeister – ‘Welcome to Huslia! Welcome to Huslia!’ Sounds like everyone in town was there!!”

Ten year old, Lydia Yatlin said, “He actually touched me, I’m never washing my jacket. He actually touched me. I can’t believe it!!” Lydia introduced herself to Burmeister and said, “Hi, my name is Lydia. Welcome to Huslia.” Lydia’s mother, Tanya Yatlin, said, “It was truly amazing. Once in a lifetime thing.” 

Huslia volunteer, Ross Sam, hauls Iditarod supplies for mushers. Photo by Teri Vent
Huslia volunteer, Ross Sam, hauls Iditarod supplies for mushers. Photo by Teri Vent

“I’m so proud of our family and friends in Huslia. I am really proud of the early days of the Iditarod, the beginning. I know it takes a special person to do this today, such strength and courage and money!!!! 

Back then, every person in the village was involved. They took mushers in. Everyone helped cut up meat and fish and make dog pot fire. We had to share our dog hay, food. We had pots of moose soup going for a week. Such a special time this was. It was a village effort.

We were so proud of each of these men and their dogs. I loved listening to Uncle Bobby, Herbie Nayokpuk, etc. all drinking coffee and sharing trail stories. Makes me lonely for these special days.” 

– Cynthia Erickson of Tanana

Annette Moses, a kindergarten teacher at the Jimmy Huntington School, brought her students to meet the mushers at the Huslia community hall on Friday. Mrs. Moses said, “My class and I keep going to the ball field and checking out the racers. It just made my whole year to meet Martin Buser…get his autograph and a picture. Our town is booming today, lots of snow machines and new faces. I am having a wonderful day and so are my students.” 

Mrs. Moses and her kindergarten meet Martin Buser at the Huslia half-way checkpoint. Photo by Doreen David
Mrs. Moses and her kindergarten meet Martin Buser at the Huslia half-way checkpoint. Photo by Doreen David

Update on March 23: Huslia received the Golden Clipboard Award. The Golden Clipboard Award is presented by the mushers since 2001 to a special checkpoint and it is voted on by the mushers. What an honor!

“Being in the house all winter for some of us, this event got us out walking, visiting and sharing…was the greatest feeling. It was so nice to see smiling faces, hear lots of laughter and seeing new and ol’ faces. Everyone did something to make this a successful checkpoint. The tables were full with food. The field was immediately cleaned of hay as soon as the team left to be ready for the next musher. Lots of teamwork amongst the Huslia people. The town was overflowed with love and happiness. Thanks to the volunteers for a job well done. It was too awesome to see Huslia was awarded the Golden Clipboard. The volunteers worked hard and fast on short notice, but got the job done!” – Cecelia Nollner, Huslia

Al Yatlin, Jr. said, “They gave them one big Huslia, Alaska welcome.” Huslia welcomed other dog mushers. For current race standings, visit the Iditarod website. Alaskans were pretty excited to have the Iditarod go to Huslia for the first time ever. Huslia has always been a dog mushing community and it couldn’t be more fitting as an Iditarod checkpoint.

Aliy Zirkle on the Koyukuk River in front of Huslia on Friday evening. Photo by Jo Derendoff
Aliy Zirkle on the Koyukuk River in front of Huslia on Friday evening. Photo by Jo Derendoff
Alaska life

Holiday Spirit

Wintertime near Huslia. Photo by Nathan Vent
Wintertime near Huslia. Photo by Nathan Vent

Nathan Vent of Huslia shared a positive and encouraging message on Facebook today. He offers some great advice to get you through the holidays. Nathan gave me permission to share it.

What up Facebook family? I’ve been hating, loving and living life in the one place I truly find peace. Sounds confusing but that’s how life goes. I walk by faith not by sight, I know GOD will guide me right. This time of year is hard for all people. No money, feels like no friends or family around when you’re missing that person that passed away. Wondering if I took action, if I noticed the signs they could have been here celebrating this upcoming New Year.

Truth be told, we hear it all the time, we can’t live in the past, we have to move on. To slip into solitude during one of the busiest times of the year is not the thing to do. If solitude is your thing, when you do see people, give them a hug, show them that you really do love them. Handshakes and hugs can save a life. We see people smile, laugh and we think their doing okay. But deep inside their mind and heart there is a scar that’s been ripped opened every year.

I really understand what it like to lose someone you thought would be there for the rest of your life. We Alaskans have to support each other, no matter what background we come from. Spreading love and not living in the past could make us all better people. We just need to open our eyes, hear what people say, not just listen. We all have scars others can’t see.

Have a good and safe holidays. I PRAY EVERYONE well be alright. PEACE AND LOVE TO Y’ALL!

Thank you to Nathan for sharing this great advice. We should remember people who may be having a tough time during the holidays.

Alaska life

Community Halls in Rural Alaska

Eleanor Yatlin stands outside of the Huslia hall after voting in 2012. Photo by Georgia Attla
Eleanor Yatlin stands outside of the Huslia hall after voting in 2012. Photo by Georgia Attla
A gathering is held in the Huslia hall. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
A gathering is held in the Huslia hall. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

A community hall is a central gathering place in smaller villages. It is a community center, where you go for dances, bingo, meetings, weddings, funerals, banquets and many other events. Voting polls are set up in the  halls during election time. Many halls in the interior are built with logs. Halls usually have a wood stove and electricity with little else. The halls are usually circular with eight sides.

In Huslia, the community hall is about 35 years old and is in bad shape. The doors are old and have been repaired multiple times. Some of the windows are broken. The floors have not been in the best condition for a long time. It is generally in need of a replacement. Plus, the community has outgrown the old hall.

Tanya and Lydia Yatlin attended a wedding in the Huslia hall. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Tanya and Lydia Yatlin attended a wedding in the Huslia hall. Photo by Angela Gonzalez

Building a hall in a small village of nearly 300 people is a big undertaking. The Huslia Tribal Council and the City of Huslia have partnered in the project. They are working to secure more funding and hope to build the new hall in the summer construction season of 2015. They also hope to make the new hall energy efficient.

According to Edwin Bifelt of Huslia, they have collected 400 logs upriver from Huslia. The next phase of the project will be to build four rafts of 100 logs each and transport them to Huslia. Edwin says, “This is the biggest logging project Huslia ever did.”

Edwin shared a few photos below.

Here are the people in the photo below:
Back row left to right: Timothy Sam, Edgar Weter, Joe Bifelt, DJ Starr, Rocky Peters, Craig Bifelt, Christopher Moses, Glenn Sam (crew boss), Floyd Vent, Russell David, Tony Sam Jr., David Vent and Donovan Williams.

Front Row: Victor Vent, Nate Vent, Beattus “Dino” Moses, Jr. and Calvin Jackson.
Camp Cooks: Kimberly Moses and Ophelia Moses

Other loggers who worked on the project include Robbie Williams, Ricky Vent and Clifford Edwin. Another cook not pictured is Agnes Dayton. Edwin  thanked  George Attla, Jr. for hauling supplies  and Rachel Weter and Em Penn for helping.

Huslia loggers. Photo by by Edwin Bifelt
Huslia loggers. Photo by by Edwin Bifelt

In rural Alaska, you have to be innovative to make things work for your needs. There are many logistics that need careful planning. There is a also a lack of heavy equipment when you are working outside of the village. Calvin Jackson and Glenn Sam built two custom built log hauling trailers for the project.

Log trailer hitched to four-wheeler. Photo by Edwin Bifelt
Log trailer hitched to four-wheeler. Photo by Edwin Bifelt
A log is hauled out on a custom-built trailer. Photo by Edwin Bifelt
A log is hauled out on a custom-built trailer. Photo by Edwin Bifelt

I’m looking forward watching the progress of the rising of Huslia’s new community hall. Community halls are vital to rural Alaskan communities.

Alaska Native culture

Denakkanaaga Elders and Youth Conference

Denakkanaaga youth in Huslia in 1992
Denakkanaaga youth in Huslia in 1992

Denakkanaaga is a non-profit organization based in Fairbanks that serves as the voice for Native Elders in the Doyon and Tanana Chiefs Conference regions of Interior Alaska. The organization hosts the Denakkanaaga Elders and Youth Conference. I attended it twice as a youth delegate as a teenager.

I remember the Denakkanaaga Conferences as a time to connect with and learn from Elders from around interior Alaska. I remember the encouragement from Elders and leaders at the time. I was a youth delegate representing Evansville in the early 1990s. Leaders of the day came to the conference and spoke to delegates. I learned how to properly introduce myself to Elders. There were potlatches, dances and workshops held during the conferences. I gained leadership skills and about the importance of being a role model.

Here are some photos from two Denakkanaaga Conferences in the early 1990’s.

Elder ladies sing an Athabascan song at the Denakkanaaga Conference in Tanacross in 1991. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Elder ladies sing an Athabascan song at the Denakkanaaga Conference in Tanacross in 1991. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Elder ladies at a dance in Tok in 1991 during the Denakkanaaga Conference. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Elder ladies at a dance in Tok in 1991 during the Denakkanaaga Conference. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Attendees dance in Tanacross during the Denakkanaaga Conference in 1991. Photo by Angela Gonzalez
Attendees dance in Tanacross during the Denakkanaaga Conference in 1991. Photo by Angela Gonzalez