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Merry Christmas in Central Yup’ik By the first week of January, most Americans are taking down their Christmas decorations, but for Alaska’s thousands of Orthodox Christians, who, in keeping with the Julian calendar, celebrate Orthodox Christmas on January 7, the holiday season is just getting started. The Orthodox Church in America lists over 90 active Orthodox parishes in Alaska. Most are along the coast from the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta southward through southeast Alaska. They are a legacy of early Russian Orthodox influence, with Alaska’s first Russian Orthodox mission established in 1794 at Kodiak. Today, Orthodox Christmas celebrations include the Ukrainian practice of “starring,” where groups travel among homes and villages to sing folk and religious songs while spinning a crafted star that represents the story of the Three Wise Men. These and other practices are often mixed with Alaska Native foods and traditions. On Saint Paul Island, for instance, Slavonic songs…

A hidden gem on the Middle Kuskokwim by John Chythlook Note: This article is reprinted with permission from the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s ReelTimes newsletter. Additional species information is also from ADF&G. Ever thought of fishing a little-traveled river in the middle Kuskokwim River drainage? If so, a trip on the Hoholitna River should near the top of your list. The Hoholitna River is a tannic, clearwater river that flows 165 miles north from its headwaters in Whitefish Lake in the Nushagak Hills to eventually join the lower Holitna River. There is excellent fishing for Dolly Varden and arctic grayling, as well as large, voracious northern pike in the lower river and sloughs all summer long. King and chum salmon are available late June and July, while coho salmon are present during late August and September. Anglers normally access the lower Hoholitna by chartered boat from the village of Sleetmute.…

Reluctant Alaskan hero by Ray Cavanaugh Wrangel Island was never a place people would visit unless they had a really good reason. Technically part of Russia, it’s some 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle and almost as many miles away from the Alaskan coast. It tended to attract young men seeking adventure, danger, and perhaps some personal glory. For the first two, the island was a safe bet. The glory part, however, proved rather more elusive, often fatally so. This hostile piece of territory, with far more polar bears than people, had managed to become a source of international controversy, with Russians, Americans, and Canadians at different points making claims for their homeland. All this was far outside the thoughts of Ada Blackjack, until a set of life circumstances placed her directly on Wrangel’s icy surface and forever linked her name to its formidable legacy. An Alaskan Inupiat, Ada…

Chef Amy Foote and the Traditional Foods Program of Alaska Native Medical Center As executive chef at the Alaska Native Medical Center in Anchorage, Amy Foote is determined to provide the hospital’s Alaska Native and American Indian patients with traditional foods that are both healthy and culturally meaningful, which Foote says can aid healing. Foote’s kitchen provides 5,000 meals a day to inpatients, outpatients, and visitors at the campus hotel. “Our traditional foods program accepts donations, but we also collaborate to see what can be hunted, fished, gathered, or grown. We have Alaska Native-raised reindeer, wild-caught salmon, and seal donated by Alaska Native hunters. I also work with farms and Alaska Pacific University to grow traditional plants, including hydroponically, so we can get the foods that really heal and comfort our patients. I love my job. It requires building partnerships and sometimes getting people to think differently, like when we…

Real people are in all those unnamed photos  In this photo taken by my mom when we lived along the Iditarod trail at Farewell Lake in 1974 and ’75, musher Ken Chase takes a break from the race to chat with us and rest his dogs. An Athabascan from Anvik, Chase ran the Iditarod 16 times, most recently in 2002. He placed in the top 10 three times. Hear his recollections about racing on photographer Jeff Schultz’s Faces of Iditarod site: faces.iditarod.com/ken-chase. Something that has always made me uncomfortable as an editor is using photos of people without naming them. Historical photos of Alaska Natives are notoriously nameless; the caption typically reads along the lines of “Native man in a boat,” or “Tlingit shaman in full costume.” So I’m particularly excited to share this issue in which nearly all of the images of individuals include names of Alaskans living (or…

Real people are in all those unnamed photos mething that has always made me uncomfortable as an editor is using photos of people without naming them. Historical photos of Alaska Natives are notoriously nameless; the caption typically reads along the lines of “Native man in a boat,” or “Tlingit shaman in full costume.” So I’m particularly excited to share this issue in which nearly all of the images of individuals include names of Alaskans living (or who did live) authentic, complex lives. I attribute it to astute historical and contemporary photographers who either knew their subjects well or took the time and effort to record details. That’s not to say that unnamed pictures are products of lazy artists—anyone who’s photographed an event or even a family portrait in a public space knows it’s practically impossible to gather the names of everyone on stage for a performance or to run after…

Alaska Native Historian Holly Guise on the Value of Oral Histories Alaska Native historian Holly Miowak Guise (Iñupiaq) reflects on how recorded oral accounts connect Alaskans and incorporate Indigenous voices into today’s historical narratives. “Oral history is a powerful way to reach students, academics, and the public, enabling listeners to connect with a speaker, hear about their life, and perhaps more readily empathize with them. It’s also important for integrating Indigenous perspectives missing from Western archives. Oral histories are meant to be listened to. Even when a transcript is available, it’s best to listen to the audio, which offers human voice, character, intonation, and the interactions between the interviewer and interviewee. Today, websites or YouTube channels allow people to hear oral histories from their homes or classrooms. I created a website, ww2alaska.com, during a postdoctoral year at the University of California Irvine that hosts testimonies from Unangax̂ survivors of relocation…

Alaska’s complex relationship with fossil fuels by Larry Persily Oil and gas production —and the good-paying jobs that come with it—have helped fuel the Alaskan economy for decades, and likely will for the near future. The far future is less certain. The industry’s tax and royalty revenues to the state treasury have allowed Alaskans to enjoy life without a personal income tax or a state sales tax—plus, they receive an annual dividend from investment earnings of the state’s 46-year-old oil-wealth savings account. But there are a lot fewer of those jobs. And there is a lot less oil flowing through the trans-Alaska oil pipeline, putting a strain on the state budget. Still, the industry is an essential part of Alaska’s economy. Pay is still good, but fewer jobs Oil and gas jobs are among the highest paying in Alaska. State Department of Labor statistics put the average oil company wage…

8 Reasons to Visit Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area by Robert Manning When President Ronald Reagan dedicated America’s first National Heritage Area in 1984, he announced that this and other NHAs to come would be “a new kind of national park.” The purpose: to preserve areas of the United States that reflect distinctive regions’ sense of place, including natural and cultural history, and offer outstanding visitor attractions, recreation, and educational opportunities. Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area (Kenai Mountains) is the only national heritage area in Alaska, established in 2009, and is located on the Kenai Peninsula. Extending 150 miles, the peninsula is bordered on the west by Cook Inlet and on the east by Prince William Sound. While national parks are generally large areas of public lands managed by the National Park Service (NPS), NHAs are a mix of public and private lands, run by partnerships that usually…

Backcounty Ski Racer Embraces the North Shalane Frost has won  pretty much every ultra-distance ski race in Alaska. In March alone this year, she cleaned up in the Homer Epic 100k, the Chena River to Ridge 50-miler, and the 45-mile Tanana River Challenge, closing out the month by defending her title in the White Mountains 100. The 100-mile ski, bike, and footrace is held in the White Mountains National Recreation Area outside Fairbanks, a one-million-acre wilderness whose fairly modest exterior disguises sweeping valleys, jagged limestone mountains, and clear-running creeks, all tied together by groomed trails and 14 public use cabins. In her last two years in the race, Frost has finished first among skiers (women and men) and set a women’s course record at 12 hours 42 minutes. While she won’t deny being ultra-competitive, she says the real draw of racing in Alaska is getting outside, seeing new country, and—every…