Tuesday, April 24, 2012

“Picture Yourself in a National Park"

This morning, while quietly sipping morning coffee at my desk I was shocked to discover National Geographic used one of my photographs for a feature story on National Parks.  As I scrolled down the website I know and love, I was shocked to recognize a small thumbnail image of my wife.  Beneath the image it said “Picture Yourself in a National Park!”  My jaw dropped, my hands started shaking, I was giddy as can be.  

The photo was taken last summer while touring Yellowstone National Park in June with Gretchen and her sister, Beth Russell.  As we walked around the Old Faithful Geyser scenic trail, this one particular hot spring had a variety of spectacular contrasting vibrant hues. I quickly admired the color comparisons with Gretchen’s jacket and bright red hair. I perched myself upon a bench overlooking her to snap this shot with my D80 at 18mm, f/3.5, 1/1250, ISO100.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


Many of the students are familiar with dancing.  They regularly travel to Fairbanks and other cities to compete in large dance gatherings.  Rarely to they all join as one unit and dance together.  Thursday of Culture Camp students dressed and danced about four dances together.  They did the "Caribou Dance", the "Raven Dance", and two other dances I wasn't familiar with.  Enjoy the photos.

 Parents and Elders played drums to keep the rhythm, everyone sang along.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Culture Camp & Spring Carnival

After months and months of cold, dark, inhospitable weather; spring is celebrated in royal fashion. This year Spring Carnival hosted by the village happened concurrently with Culture Camp hosted by the School District.  About twenty students from a variety of surrounding villages came for the week long event.  Days were packed with a many activities to learn about local cultural practices.  Each afternoon carnival activities occurred in the village.  Then nights were filled with BINGO and dancing.  It was nonstop fun all week.  
One of my favorite local traditions is the caribou head skinning competition.  Each participant gets a knife and caribou head.  The first person to skin the head in preparation for cooking over a fire wins.
At Culture Camp we were lucky to have Elders visiting from Fort Yukon, Beaver, Fairbanks, Venetie, and of course Arctic Village.  The students were constantly surrounded with elders to teach traditional knowledge, crafts, and skills.  Sewing was a big event.  Students could make beaded key chains, slippers, or hair pieces.  They also worked on moose skin boots or beaver hats to use in the cold months.
Mary enjoys working with patterns and helping students make boots.  That seemed to be here specialty, among many other things.
Lillian is our Gwich’in language teacher, and master beader.  She created many of the templates used for sewing beaded flowers.
In class students learned about many aspects of old Athabascan ways of living.  Gideon taught students about using snowshoes, long before snow machines were around. He also brought several maps to show the boundaries of the tribal land Venetie and Arctic Village own.
The key event each day was learning about caribou.  It seems no matter how far we progress into the future, subsisting will still be a part of life in Arctic Village.
Gideon removes the back strap, or as I like to call it, the filet mignon of the caribou.


So many beads, so many colors.

Students spent a morning learning how to make caribou meat.  Many of the students have seen family members preparing meat this way, but not many have had the opportunity to do it themselves.  The key ingredient is thinly slicing the meat.  It can be marinated for flavor, or just used as is.  The meat is typically hung over a drying rack for 2-3 days depending on the warmth of dryness of the space.  In summer months it is often smoked in shelters with a nearby fire in hunting camps.  I was given a package of my own raw meat to try this technique.  I will be posting a another story specifically about the process as it was my first time experimenting.

Charlie taught all the caribou butchering classes.  He has become upset lately seeing subsistance hunters using less and less of the animal.  A quick walk into the countryside and you will find multiple gut piles laying alongside the trail.  In most places they are piled alongside the caribou hides, also rarely ever used.  So the theme for Charlie’s class was the purpose for everything.  He demonstrated a variety of uses for the caribou guts.  The final day we had a garbage bag full of legs.  Guess what caribou legs are used for?  The hide is thickest around the caribous ankles, so the skin is striped and used to make boots.  Learning about caribou is a hands on experience.  Students always got messy.  
Paul Williams Jr., a Gwich’in Language Teacher from Beaver

The final day also meant wrapping up sewing projects.  Nearly all the elders got involved helping students put the finishing touches on boots, hats, and various sewing projects.

Despite a week of celebration and gathering, there’s always time for one last dance.  The community hall was a rockin’ place nearly every night.  Park your snow machine where ever you can find a spot, grab your dancing slippers, and come in.  

The gorgeous Brooks Range, still glowing around 10:30pm.

The Arctic Village Band with Wilbert Kendi plays blues, ballads, and jigs into the wee hours of the night.  As long as people keep dancing, they keep playing!

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Easter in Arctic

Spring is always a welcomed time in Arctic Village.  The sun returns.  The birds return.  The caribou linger around a little longer.  It’s just wonderful.  This year, Gretchen’s parents Mark and Lynette came to visit!
On the second day of their visit we celebrated Easter Sunday.  Reverend Trimble Gilbert gives the Easter sermon to a packed congregation.  
This Sunday we counted 40-50 people coming and going from the 11am service.  After the church service, nearly the entire village showed up for an easter egg hunt.  Dozens and dozens of eggs were hidden throughout the village main street for children up to age 18 to find.  There were also special plastic eggs with prizes inside!

The Sunday after Easter, Reverend Gilbert gave a special sermon about miracles.  He talked a lot about miracles surrounding the translation of the bible into Gwich’in and some of the first bibles in this part of Alaska.  

This is the old church in Arctic Village.  After worship we visited to show the beautiful beadwork to Mark and Lynette.  The church is about 100 years old.  Last year my students and I did a math project determining the number of beads in the alter.  We first estimated, then used computation to solve the problem.  After finding the total area we counted the number of beads in one square inch.  Finally we determined it had over 10,000 beads in this hand-sewn alter piece.

Friday, April 6, 2012