Thinking of Alaska, grizzly bears, epic mountains, and quite possibly, a rugged life might come to mind. But have you ever wondered about the local tribes and the people who are native to these wild lands? Or what skills and traditions they carry on today to keep them in relationship with the land?
Many are familiar with Denali, the highest mountain peak in Northern America, located in the Alaska Range. Deenaalee is the mountain’s original name in the language of the indigenous, Dene, Athabaskan. The native peoples of this area are a resourceful people that glean many resources from the land.
Summer days are much fewer than the long winter nights, and in order to make it through another winter, there are many activities throughout the summer to support the winter plight. Three women, proudly preserving these traditions, are Amanda and Elaina, both born to the Dene people and their friend Abigail who is Hispanic. They are often found traversing the land that their ancestors and friends roamed for hundreds of years. Alaska provides beautiful trails, glaciers, and mountains to explore and waters to fish in.
You will find these friends carrying on the wisdom and resourcefulness of the people they come from as they pick berries along the trail; berries to can and preserve for winter months, berries for making pies, or berries simply popped in the mouth for a snack on the way home from a long day of foraging. And you will find these friends out on the water fishing for salmon, converted later into dried fish strips, salmon dip, or smoked salmon. Salmon with everything! That is the Alaskan way.
When you are with Amanda, Elaina, and Abigail, it’s immediately evident that nothing is wasted. Moose and caribou provide meat, their hide provides warmth added to clothing, and bones become jewelry, utensils, or handles for the tavash (Deg Xinag). Everything has a purpose, a duty, a task. This resourcefulness is born of respect for the gifts from the land and the water. It is this relationship between people and nature that gives a sense of balance and harmony.
These are modern native women. Always adventuring and enjoying the outdoors. You will usually find these friends out on trails, making memories, laughing and taking pictures. They stop to fuel up with salmon dip that a mother packed for them. Then the adventure presses forward, journeying to catch that certain light in a place where light is either abundant or scarce depending on the season. They go exploring with sons and mothers, the mountain air always promising joy.
When you see Alaskan native women out in the sun, laughing together, and enjoying the land of our Creator, you see a glimpse of the past and peer into the future. If you pay attention, you can hear and see their mothers, grandmothers, and ancestors that came before them. You’ll see them in their faces, their hands, and within the iris of their eyes. You will see strong women who have endured the land, endured hardships, and through all of this, you will see beauty. It is that great beauty that these three women represent.
Strength and beauty will always follow them. It flows in their veins, through their children and grandchildren. There is nothing too hard for them. For if they can’t do it alone, they have their community to support and help them. Alaskan life, full of strength and beauty in all ways.