First Alaskans Logo
Runner on path
“The stories of our Ancestors trekking across the harsh Arctic lands inspired me. We come from a long line of strong and resilient people.”
Fall 2020
First Alaskans logo
Volume 18, Number 3
THE MAGAZINE OF Native peoples, communities, and ways of life
tl’eł | connect
5
From the Ground Up
Gardening as a connection to the past
10
Tips for Our Times
Stay up-to-date on COVID
12
Subscribing to Native Art
Podcasting is a contemporary medium for telling Native stories
viye tr’ixidinli’an | focus
14
Virtually Speaking
2020 FAI Elders & Youth Conference
16
Learning the Tlingit Language in a Pandemic
Adapting to the times and empowering each other through culture and Lingít Yoo X’atángi
19
Bridging Alaska’s Digital Divide
Slow and expensive internet is a barrier to education, commerce and culture in Alaska.
22
Kilgaaqu
A long distance run
xidingiłq’oyh | catalyze
26
How Do You Save What You Love
Award-winning film about Bristol Bay seeks to catalyze action
32
Connecting to Culture
And natural heritage during a pandemic
35
Flu Vaccines
More important than ever
xinotthi tasoł | inspire
36
Ałixi / TOGETHER
Face Mask Fashion Show
At the Alaska Native Virtual Gathering Place
40
Gala of Artists
Highlights from 2019 Howard Rock and Ted Stevens Gala
42
Shining a Light
2020 Smokehouse Gala Awardees
44
Lifting Up
New tribute to influencers who advance Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation
46
Xan’ilił / IMAGINE
“I Miss Catching Them Flights.”
this issue’s language: Section and department titles are in the Deg Xinaq Athabascan language. Each issue of First Alaskans features a different Native language in this role. Thanks to the Deg Xinaq Learner’s Dictionary, published by the Anvik Historical Society.
First Alaskans logo
FIRST ALASKANS INSTITUTE
BOARD OF TRUSTEES
Willie Iġġiagruk Hensley (Iñupiaq)
Chairman

Sam Kito, Jr. (Tlingit)
Vice Chairman

Valerie Davidson (Yup’ik)
Secretary/Treasurer

Sven Haakanson, Jr. (Sugpiaq)

Albert Kookesh (Tlingit)

Sylvia Lange (Aleut/Tlingit)

Oliver Leavitt (Iñupiaq)

Georgianna Lincoln (Athabascan)

Morris Thompson (Athabascan)
In Memoriam

To the family of Byron I. Mallott, we extend our love and condolences to you.

STAFF
Barbara Wáahlaal Gíidaak Blake
(Haida/Tlingit/Ahtna)
Alaska Native Policy Center Director

Karla Gatgyedm Hana’ax Booth (Ts’msyen)
Indigenous Leadership Continuum Director

Melissa Silugngataanit’sqaq Borton (Sugpiaq), Indigenous Advancement Director

Eliabeth Uyuruciaq David (Yup’ik)
Financial Director

Angela Łot’oydaatlno Gonzalez
(Koyukon Athabascan)
Indigenous Communications Manager

Kacey Qunmiġu Hopson (Iñupiaq)
Indigenous Knowledge Advocate

Colin Tass’aq McDonald (Yup’ik)
Indigenous Advancement Manager

Elizabeth La quen naáy / Kat Saas
Medicine Crow (Tlingit/Haida)
President/CEO

Abra Nuŋasuk Patkotak (Iñupiaq), Special Assistant to the President/CEO

Ella Sassuuk Tonuchuk (Yup’ik)
Indigenous Leadership Continuum Coordinator

Ayyu Qassataq (Iñupiaq)
Vice President
& Indigenous Operatons Director

First Alaskans Fall 2020 cover
ON THE COVER
Carol Seppilu (Siberian Yupik) tells her story of resilience, perseverance and a run from Teller to Nome. Page 22.
photos courtesy of Carol Seppilu
First Alaskans Institute logo
First Alaskans Institute is an Alaska Native non-profit organization. Our mission is: True to identity, heritage, and values, Alaska Natives are informed and engaged in leading the decisions that shape the future.
606 E Street, Ste. 200
Anchorage, AK 99501
(907) 677-1700
Fax: (907) 677-1780

[email protected]

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First Alaskans Magazine is published by
First Alaskans Institute. © 2020.

EDITOR
Vera Starbard
(Tlingit/Dena’ina Athabascan)
CONTRIBUTORS
Richard Perry (Yup’ik/Athabascan)
Penny Gage (Tlingit)
Leona Long
Carol Seppilu (Siberian Yupik)
Apay’uq Moore (Yup’ik)
Matt Carle (Haida)
Samuel Johns (Gwich’in/Ahtna)
ART DIRECTOR
Dean Potter
Due to the COVID19 pandemic, First Alaskans Magazine has gone digital. We apologize to our readers, advertisers, and subscribers for this interruption in publishing as we work through the technical aspects of going online. We look forward to when we can print hard copies once again, so you can share with family, friends, customers, and all others who love the experience of holding the magazine and enjoying the connection to our amazing Native peoples. Gunalchéesha, Háw’aa, for your understanding and continued support!
tl’eł | connect
Gardening as a connection to the past
By Richard Perry (Yup’ik/Athabascan)
From the Ground Up title with tree roots growing beneath

W

hen Annette Erickson first put up a fence on their Unalakleet property, there was a bit of a stir in the village.

“You’re putting a barrier up between yourself and the community,” said Annette. “People aren’t used to fences here.”

While the local Native corporation had initially approved the fence, they formed another meeting after the community response. So why was a fence so important to Annette? Simply to encourage a healthy food garden.

“We explained that we wanted to inspire people and see what we can do with 6,800 square feet next to our house,” said Annette. “Maybe even help feed our community and answer questions.”

tl’eł | connect
Tips for Our Times title
By Vera Starbard (Tlingit/Dena’ina)
By now we are all familiar with the basics of what we need to be doing to keep our communities as safe and healthy as we can — wear a face mask, keep socially distanced, avoid crowds, follow health advice from experts. But with the fast pace and new studies of COVID-19, what more can we be doing as individuals, and as communities, to slow the spread?

We don’t need to live in fear. Just as our Ancestors have done for thousands of years, we will learn to adapt with a changing environment to keep our people strong.

tl’eł | connect
Inupiaq host explores a contemporary
medium for telling Native stories
By Richard Perry (Yup’ik/Athabascan)
Subscribing title
To Native Art title
Alexis Sallee , host of the new Native Artist podcast.

A

lexis Sallee (Iñupiaq), who is also Mexican American, is the host of Indigefi, a weekly one-hour radio show featuring Indigenous music that includes emerging and popular artists and music. More recently Alexis has ventured into a new podcasting media endeavor. In May, her podcast “Native Artists by Indigefi” premiered.

Alexis grew up in Anchorage and joined KNBA after graduating high school. While at KNBA she worked as a sound editor for the radio program, Earthsongs for two years. While there she worked alongside Shyanne Beatty (Athabascan), a local radio personality, learning about the technical aspects of producing radio.

Shyanne worked with KNBA for more than seven years as the Network Manager for Native Voice One (NV1) which distributes Native radio programming nationwide. The experience for Alexis had an influential impression, urging her to learn more about the radio business.

viye tr’ixidinli’an | focus
Harold Esmailka on video chat
Harold Esmailka (Koyukon) from Ruby and Fairbanks, speaks during Coffeetime with our Elders at the 2020 Elders and Youth conference.
Harold Esmailka on video chat
Harold Esmailka (Koyukon) from Ruby and Fairbanks, speaks during Coffeetime with our Elders at the 2020 Elders and Youth conference.
Virtually Speaking
First Alaskans Institute holds 37th Annual statewide
Elders and Youth Conference
A

pproximately 1,100 people registered for 37th Annual First Alaskans Elders and Youth Conference from Oct. 11-14. The virtual conference was the first of its kind, and hundreds of participants attended daily from all over Alaska and the world.

Dr. Rev. Traditional Chief Trimble Gilbert (Gwich’in) from Vashrąįį K’ǫǫ (Arctic Village) was the Elder Keynote speaker and Kiley Kanat’s Burton (Eyak/Aleut/Iñupiaq/Koyukon) was the Youth Keynote speaker, while Conference Guides were Dustin Unignax Newman (Unangax̂/Deg Hit’an) and Andrea Ts’aak Ka Juu Cook (Haida) moved the event along.

viye tr’ixidinli’an | focus
Learning
the Tlingit Language
in a Pandemic
Adapting to the times and empowering each other through
culture and Lingít Yoo X̲ʼatángi —the Tlingit language
By Penny Gage (Tlingit)
S

ince the COVID-19 pandemic began, you’ve probably used video conferencing programs a lot more than normal. Perhaps you’ve held a meet-up with friends and relatives, tuned into a community meeting, or jumped around in an exercise class. But have you helped revitalize an Indigenous language?

This summer, 681 people enrolled in a Tlingit language massive open online course (MOOC) conducted via Zoom, a video conferencing platform. MOOCs are common worldwide, offering learners from disparate regions an opportunity to learn together online. The 38-hour, five-week course was offered by Outer Coast College in Sitka, in partnership with Sealaska Heritage Institute. It met online Monday-Friday evenings, offering beginner, intermediate, and advanced conversation and language instruction.

viye tr’ixidinli’an | focus
Mammoth line graphic
Bridging Alaska’s Digital Divide
Slow and expensive internet is a barrier to education, commerce and culture in rural Alaska.
By Leona Long
S

HIRLEY ESMAILKA-SAM remembers sitting outside the Koyukuk Tribal office building to access the internet for her distance education classes.

“Sometimes it would be raining, sometimes it would be cold, sometimes it would be hot,” said Shirley (Koyukon Athabascan), who is now completing her master’s degree in rural development at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. “I would have to sit outside the Tribal office building or in the washeteria so I could log into my online classes.”

Shirley’s story isn’t unique. Sluggish bandwidth speeds in rural Alaska make it necessary for some students to sit outside the entryway of their schools and Tribal offices at night to get Wi-Fi reception on their laptops to complete their homework and access their courses. Many of them work until their hands become numb from the cold making it almost impossible to type or log into online classes.

viye tr’ixidinli’an | focus
T

he famous Chinese proverb by Lao Tzu says, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Those words ring true to my story. My journey from Teller to Nome began long before it started.

On a fateful night in September of 1999, I found myself on an ambulance stretcher almost lifeless. All of the screams and the scenes of people trying to save my life faded away into absolute nothingness. I couldn’t hear and I couldn’t see. It was in this dark moment that I begged earnestly, with a simple yet powerful thought, “Dear God, save me.” I was sixteen years old, depressed and intoxicated. A hunting rifle blew off point blank in my face in an attempt to end my own life. But in the midst of the unknown I wanted to live. Miraculously, I survived. Alive, but legally blind and unable to speak.

As I was struggling to breathe in the intensive care unit I fell into a vision. A thick fog rolled into the room as an old village appeared. It felt so peaceful and there was no pain. My late great-grandfathers were sitting on the ground in their bird-feather parkas beckoning for me. As their eyes beamed with pride they greeted me silently. In our Native language they explained that it wasn’t my time yet and that I needed to go back because I was going to do great things. They gave me a blessing and I returned with a new sense of purpose. I knew everything would be okay, despite the pain of surviving with severe facial wounds.

A long distance run
By Carol Seppilu (Siberian Yupik)
Kilgaaqu
Girl doing a hike
My late great-grandfathers were sitting on the ground in their bird-feather parkas beckoning for me.
A long distance run
By Carol Seppilu (Siberian Yupik)
Kilgaaqu
Girl doing a hike
My late great-grandfathers were sitting on the ground in their bird-feather parkas beckoning for me.
T

he famous Chinese proverb by Lao Tzu says, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” Those words ring true to my story. My journey from Teller to Nome began long before it started.

On a fateful night in September of 1999, I found myself on an ambulance stretcher almost lifeless. All of the screams and the scenes of people trying to save my life faded away into absolute nothingness. I couldn’t hear and I couldn’t see. It was in this dark moment that I begged earnestly, with a simple yet powerful thought, “Dear God, save me.” I was sixteen years old, depressed and intoxicated. A hunting rifle blew off point blank in my face in an attempt to end my own life. But in the midst of the unknown I wanted to live. Miraculously, I survived. Alive, but legally blind and unable to speak.

As I was struggling to breathe in the intensive care unit I fell into a vision. A thick fog rolled into the room as an old village appeared. It felt so peaceful and there was no pain. My late great-grandfathers were sitting on the ground in their bird-feather parkas beckoning for me. As their eyes beamed with pride they greeted me silently. In our Native language they explained that it wasn’t my time yet and that I needed to go back because I was going to do great things. They gave me a blessing and I returned with a new sense of purpose. I knew everything would be okay, despite the pain of surviving with severe facial wounds.

Discovering Running
It wasn’t until more than a decade later when I discovered my purpose. The sun was shining brightly through the curtains as I woke up at noon not wanting to get up. The dark pull of depression exhausted me and kept me in bed most days. But on that day I told myself to get out and do something. Go for a two-mile run. That didn’t seem like much, but at 233 pounds, it almost felt impossible. I couldn’t even run more than a couple of blocks. But I made the decision to walk the rest of the way. After an entire year of hard work and consistency, I fell completely in love with running. It made me healthier and happier.
xidingiłq’oyh | catalyze
Article Title
Rick Halford and Allanah Hurley.
PHOTO BY MARK TITUS
Vixiyo’ ngizrenh | Opinion
Award-winning film about Bristol Bay seeks to catalyze action
By Apay’uq Moore (Yup’ik)
F

or many Alaskans, our feelings for what our state means to us are as vast as the 375 million acres of land of which it is comprised. How do we begin to describe what is wordlessly amazing about the land and waterways we travel and people we experience? What is that feeling when we step into clear view and see a vista so beautiful, it seems unreal and out of this world? The thing is, it can’t be quantified into a single feeling. The feeling is the abundance of feelings. To what extent would we go to make sure this abundance of feelings is preserved and shared with as many humans as possible for the betterment of life on earth?

This is the question posed to us in Mark Titus’s film The Wild when he asks, “How do you save what you love?”

In this case, he is referring to roughly 27.5 million acres of feelings that make up the Bristol Bay region in Alaska. More specifically, the 12.5 million acres of feelings set aside for development by the Bureau of Land Management, known as the Bristol Bay Area Management Plan. Even more specifically, it’s the 98,000 acres of feelings that have been proposed for development of the largest open-pit gold and copper mine in the entire world—known globally as Pebble Mine.

Rick Halford and Allanah Hurley.
PHOTO BY MARK TITUS
xidingiłq’oyh | catalyze
Group of guys
…and natural heritage during a pandemic
By Matt Carle (haida) on behalf of sealaska Corporation
W

hen the 300-year-old red cedar log T.J. Young was recently carving was a seedling, a group of Haida people were making their first journey to Prince of Wales Island. The land around where Hydaburg now sits featured scattered villages behind sloping beaches, with wood smoke rising from large communal longhouses. Totem poles towered over dugout canoes parked above the tide.

Much has changed in the three centuries of that tree’s life. However — thanks to the careful stewardship and initiative of many passionate people — the bountiful natural resources of the area, and the proud arts and culture of the Haida, remain.

Over a period of four months, T.J. and three other artists have spent nearly 10 hours a day transforming that 27-foot, 30-inch-diameter log into a traditional dugout canoe.

Group of guys
…and natural heritage during a pandemic
By Matt Carle (haida) on behalf of sealaska Corporation
W

hen the 300-year-old red cedar log T.J. Young was recently carving was a seedling, a group of Haida people were making their first journey to Prince of Wales Island. The land around where Hydaburg now sits featured scattered villages behind sloping beaches, with wood smoke rising from large communal longhouses. Totem poles towered over dugout canoes parked above the tide.

Much has changed in the three centuries of that tree’s life. However — thanks to the careful stewardship and initiative of many passionate people — the bountiful natural resources of the area, and the proud arts and culture of the Haida, remain.

Over a period of four months, T.J. and three other artists have spent nearly 10 hours a day transforming that 27-foot, 30-inch-diameter log into a traditional dugout canoe.

xidingiłq’oyh | catalyze

Flu Vaccines:
More Important Than Ever

Louise Britton with a jar of salmon
Southcentral Foundation Elder Resource Specialist Louise Britton works through the flu season. Here, she packs a jar of salmon for food kits given to Alaska Native Elders in the Anchorage area.

Receiving a flu vaccine this winter may be more important than ever. The vaccine not only reduces your risk of getting the flu, but protects children, Elders, and those who are most vulnerable. The flu vaccine may also help prevent being infected with both COVID-19 and influenza at the same time, which may cause severe illness or death for those who are at a higher risk. Getting vaccinated also helps to preserve health care resources.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses for everyone 6 months of age and older. The flu vaccination can help prevent you from getting the flu or reduce the severity and duration if you do. Practicing hand hygiene, covering your cough, wearing a mask, and physical distancing from others with the flu may help slow the spread but the best way to fight the flu is to get vaccinated.

The CDC recommended that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October. Getting vaccinated too early (for example, in July or August) is likely to be associated with reduced protection against flu infection later in the flu season, particularly among older adults.

“Flu vaccines are safe and are the best protection to prevent getting sick from the flu, and to help protect others. Now is the best time to get a flu vaccination,” said SCF Senior Medical Director of Quality Assurance Dr. Donna Galbreath.

xinotthi tasoł | inspire
Erika Tripp with an octopus mask
Erika Tripp
Ałixi | TOGETHER
Face Mask Fashion Show
In the early summer, the Alaska Native Virtual Gathering Place hosted a mask contest on Facebook. Over 80 masks were entered in three categories: artistic, modeling and practical use. Beads were featured, and buttons and cedar and seal and sewing machines and paint brushes and formline. The diversity and craftsmanship impressed the thousands of people who viewed the contest. The project was supported by The CIRI Foundation and Tlingit & Haida. Perseverance Theatre helped host. Here are a few of our favorites. Names are those of the mask makers, with photos provided by Erin Tripp (Tlingit.)
xinotthi tasoł | inspire
In 2019, dozens of amazing artists donated their work and time to benefit First Alaskans Institute at the 8th Annual Howard Rock & Ted Stevens Smokehouse Gala. Below are a few of the artist highlights.
Gala of Artists
Bridget Kline: (Yup’ik), St. Marys, Alaska
Bridget Kline
(Yup’ik), St. Marys, Alaska
Ria Cinguyaralria Kline: (Yup’ik), Bethel, Alaska; may she rest in peace
Ria Cinguyaralria Kline
(Yup’ik), Bethel, Alaska; may she rest in peace
Bridget Kline (Yup’ik) of St. Mary’s and her daughter, the late Ria Cinguyaralria Kline (Yup’ik) of Bethel have donated a plethora of their time, skills, items, and culture to the Smokehouse Gala over the years. Each year Bridget donates a beautiful qaspeq or two, and in 2015 she set up her sewing machine and created a beautiful qaspeq for the silent auction right on the spot. The First Alaskans Institute qaspeqs that each staff member wears at events were also made by Bridget. Ria always donated her beautiful art pieces to the gala, and in 2019 was one of our live ‘Indigenous Artists in action’ for the live auction.
xinotthi tasoł | inspire
VAV | FOOD
Jace Wolfe (Tlingit/Haida) made a video on how to make fried halibut from his home in Yakutat.
Video courtesy of Gloria Wolfe (Tlingit.)
Fried Halibut
1 lb Halibut or other white fish, cut into large cubes
3 eggs
½ C. Milk
2 T. Flour
2 C. Bread crumbs
1 T. Salt
1 tsp. Garlic salt
1 tsp. Dill
Oil for frying

Heat oil to medium-high in a large pan. Whisk eggs, milk, and flour together in a shallow bowl or pie plate. Stir bread crumbs, salt, garlic salt and dill in another shallow bowl or pie plate. Dip the halibut into the egg mix, coating all sides, and then place in the dry mix, coating all sides. Cook halibut in the oil until golden brown, about five minutes.

Easy Tartar Sauce
1 C. Mayonnaise
1 T. Dill relish
1 T. Sweet relish
1 tsp. Lemon juice
1 tsp. Dried dill
1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce

Mix all ingredients well and serve with fish.

 
xinotthi tasoł | inspire
 
SMOKEHOUSE GALA
Shining a Light
2020 Smokehouse Gala awardees
First Alaskans Institute is honored to announce our 9th Annual Howard Rock & Ted Stevens Smokehouse Gala awardees. Each year, our Board of Trustees selects awardees that have shown through their quality of character and tireless efforts to be leaders of distinct caliber that work to help the Native community with significant and profound purpose. To each of these Awardees, we shine a light on you and know that it illuminates the people who lift you up, who work alongside you, who love, nourish, and guide you, and who paved a way for you to become the leaders you are, and we send our deepest appreciation to all of them and your Ancestors.
xinotthi tasoł | inspire
SMOKEHOUSE GALA
Lifting Up: a Tribute to Influencers Who Advance Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation
9th Annual Howard Rock & Ted Stevens Smokehouse Gala honors active work to promote racial equity

TRHT, which stands for Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation, provides for critical space for our untold truths to be shared in Indigenous-led spaces that center healing, and locally-driven transformation for a better Alaska. The time has come to grow Alaskans’ understanding of our true history, right the past wrongs that inhibit our true potential as a state, and advance an equitable future for all Alaskans. At this years Smokehouse Gala, the Trustees and Staff of First Alaskans are honored to create a new tribute for global media makers and influencers who are drawing critical light to our Native peoples here at home in Alaska and across the world.

Our peoples have always stood up for racial and social justice and our inherent right to live our ways of life, action that has taken many forms over the last century and even earlier. This special tribute to the following groups uplifts their active work to change the narrative around racial equity, uplift the brilliance of Indigenous peoples across the world, and catalyze a new understanding of the Indigenous lands upon which this country is built. These influencers use their tremendous global platforms to lift up Alaska Natives and other Indigenous peoples in solidarity, every single day; fight for racial equity; and uplift a loving and true image of our peoples and our ways of life. We honor their efforts, are grateful for their work and those that lift them up and created them. We are proud to call them our relatives.

xinotthi tasoł | inspire
Little girl reaching her butterfly net up to an airplane in the sky
Xan’ilił | Imagine
“I miss catching them flights!”
Aaliyah Johns (Gwich’in/Ahtna/Dena’ina) catches a plane in a new, COVID-era definition of the phrase.
Photo courtesy Samuel Johns (Gwich’in/Ahtna)
Thanks for reading our Fall 2020 issue!