FORUM Magazine / Fall 2021

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Herring Protectors | Far North Quilt Trail | Creative Writing Contest Winners | Taking On Racism


A Different Path for Rural Alaska Education

421 W. 1st Ave., Suite 200, Anchorage, AK 99501 (907) 272-5341 |

BOARD OF DIRECTORS Judith Owens-Manley, Interim Chair, Anchorage Ben Mallott, Interim Vice Chair, Anchorage Laci Michaud, Interim Secretary, Anchorage Aminata Taylor, Treasurer, Anchorage Don Rearden, Member-at-Large, Anchorage Thea Agnew Bemben, Anchorage

By Kameron Perez-Verdia

Stephen Qacung Blanchett, Juneau Bruce Botelho, Douglas


ast fall I visited a friend of mine in Utqiaġvik, where I grew up. Because I’m always interested in the relationships between educators and local communities in Alaska, I asked her, over coffee, how the latest group of new teachers in the local schools were doing. Her reply was that she hadn’t gone to the trouble of getting to know them. She was burned out by the neverending turnover. She said, “I’ve just gotten tired of investing in teachers, when I know they’re just going to leave.” That same day, I met with one of the new teachers, and I asked her how it was going. She said, “I love it here, the kids are great, the natural beauty is amazing, but I just don’t feel welcomed by the community. So I don’t think I’ll stay very long.” And I thought to myself, “Uh-oh. We have a disconnect here.” That disconnect is part of a problem with deep historical roots, and one I can relate to personally. My heritage is both European and Indigenous. My mom and dad, Jess and Shirley Holloway, worked in rural Alaska for more than 30 years, both as teachers and administrators, so I grew up a half-and-half kid living in teacher housing in Utqiaġvik. This was before we had flush toilets, back when TV was just flip cards of community announcements set to elevator music. But even then, as a child of White educators, as well as a friend and fellow student of local Native kids, I was well aware of a disconnect between educators in rural Alaska and the communities they serve, a disconnect that continues today. I have clear memories of White teachers poking fun at kids in my class who came to school smelling like they’d been out hunting—a mixture of blood, sweat, and seal oil. Think about that. Before my classmate was ridiculed once he walked through the school doors, he’d been out learning to be a “real person”—an Inupiat—by providing for his community and carrying on traditions. But once he

Leave behind this false separation and develop grounded, capable students.

continued on page 24


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Keneggnarkayaaggaq Emily Edenshaw, Anchorage Anne Hanley, Fairbanks Peter Metcalfe, Juneau Jeffrey Siemers, Soldotna Sheri Skelton, Anchorage Moira K. Smith, Anchorage Jeannine Stafford-Jabaay, Hope Sharon Thompson, Anchorage Mead Treadwell, ex officio, Anchorage

STAFF Kameron Perez-Verdia, President & CEO Malik Allen, Operations Coordinator Emily Brockman, Youth Curriculum Manager Megan Cacciola, Vice President of Programs Jazmine Camp, Education Program Coordinator Amanda Dale, Director of Cross-Cultural Programs Oliviah Franke, Conversation Programs Coordinator Nancy Hemsath, Grants Officer & Board Liaison Helen John, Youth Program Coordinator Kari Lovett, Operations Manager Emily Lucy, Youth Program Coordinator George Martinez, Vice President of Communications and Community Engagement Helen Poitra-Chalmers, Vice President of Operations Chuck Seaca, Director of Youth Programs Emma Siegel, Loewenstern Fellow Alejandro Soto, Youth Program Associate Taylor Strelevitz, Director of Conversation Programs Cheryl Williams, Leadership Programs Coordinator

FORUM MAGAZINE STAFF Jann D. Mylet, Editor Dean Potter, Art Director Nancy Hemsath, Copy Editor Contributors: Carly Dennis, Lila Hobbs, Lee House, Brendan Jones, Carolyn Kremers, Maka Jinaatlaa Monture, Olivia Phillips, Addie Studebaker, Joe Yelverton


4 Fostering Just Communities R.O.C.K. Mat-Su takes on racism in the Mat-Su Valley

8 With Vision as Deep as the Ocean K’asheechtlaa’s approach to protecting the herring

14 Piecing It Together Somer Hahm and the Far North Quilt Trail

19 DONOR PROFILE Rev. Shelley Wickstrom From slime line to synod office

20 Form and Function The work of Kake artist Robert Mills

26 A Copper River Almanac Flying the mail along the Copper River reveals changing times and timelessness

34 ALASKA V3 CREATIVE WRITING CONTEST Meet the Winners 35 ALASKA V3 CREATIVE WRITING CONTEST Field Trip to the Future— Fairbanks, Alaska An essayist looks toward 2099

37 ALASKA V3 CREATIVE WRITING CONTEST Octopleb Don’t believe everything you hear about East Alaska

39 ALASKA V3 CREATIVE WRITING CONTEST We, the Tongues Winner of the poetry category

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40 ALASKA V3 CREATIVE WRITING CONTEST Queen of the Harbor Of a cat, a library, and the Constant Spiced Peach Corporation

43 AFTER IMAGE Black Lives in Alaska Anchorage Museum and Rasmuson Foundation team up for a new exhibition Robert Mills stands in his sculpture depicting a Tlingit canoe, split down the middle and rendered in aluminum. See page 20. PHOTO BY MICHAEL PENN


K’asheechtlaa Louise Brady is a leader of the Herring Protectors movement. See page 8. PHOTO BY LEE HOUSE


FORUM is a publication of the Alaska Humanities Forum, supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities, with the purpose of increasing public understanding of and participation in the humanities. The views expressed by contributors are not necessarily those of the editorial staff, the Alaska Humanities Forum, or the National Endowment for the Humanities. Subscriptions may be obtained by contributing to the Alaska Humanities Forum or by contacting the Forum. No part of this publication may be reproduced without permission. ©2021.

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R.O.C.K. Mat-Su takes on racism in the Mat-Su Valley through “Braided Stories”



vincing a permeable boundary between present and past and transecting landscapes, braided rivers evoke an intersection of place, identity, and history in Alaska. These rivers require a broader viewing perspective in order to understand their interwoven, ever-changing structure fully. Up close, their intricacies are not apparent. Both the rivers and those that view them provide a salient metaphor for the integration of Western and Indigenous knowledge streams and the navigation of what is seen and unseen within them. This familiar and fluid imagery prompted the name for an emerging community workshop in Alaska’s Mat-Su Valley. Raising Our Children with Kindness, also known as R.O.C.K. Mat-Su, is a diverse group of community members working collectively to promote family resilience and end child maltreatment. At the heart of this organization are its steering committee and various working groups. Driven by a collective impact framework, R.O.C.K Mat-Su utilizes locally relevant approaches, convening people to create shared vision for solving complex issues. Its work includes 16 synchronous strategies that support the overarching goal of making systematic change to reduce child abuse while increasing family resilience.


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Creating Space to Explore Forgotten and Erased Histories

At R.O.C.K. Mat-Su’s inception five years ago, the steering committee wanted to turn its focus to the issue of racism. Few things are more insidious and widespread than racism when it comes to barriers preventing children from having opportunities to thrive. Working group members grappled with how to address racial disparities, given the multifaceted and engrained complexities of the topic. They knew that in order to work toward shifting the culture of the community towards equity, first they would need to create space for bringing light to systemic racism and racism in the Mat-Su as a whole. Deliberately exploring and transforming racism would involve a precursory process of unearthing, examining, and unlearning it. Working group member and Project Coordinator for the Knik Tribal Council, Isha Twitchell, describes this undertaking as, “Giving light to the untold history of the area and recognizing that the lands that we are on are lands that people have resided on since time immemorial, for thousands of years. It is important to understand that the history that is told or really highlighted is a colonist history. Many people believe that no one resided in the Cook Inlet region/Dena’ina territory before the colonists arrived.”

“My hair represents my history, my past, everything that has gone before me...”

ts my my past, g that has ore me...”



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Naid on Id

"The word colony, orgive, “We butcan forgive, but we can’t our community, orget forgetinbecause that’s what made us who we are.” permeates hat’s what who we everything."


“I w eno the girl.

“I was not Native enough... I was the White city girl.”

1 “The word colony, in our community, permeates everything”



Lisa Wade on Colony 10

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A Brave Space to Share, Listen, and Learn

R.O.C.K. Mat-Su’s work to address racism originally was planned as a two-day, in-person, pilot workshop. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the workshop was adapted, shifting to a four-day, virtual format. Working group members quickly tackled many unknowns determining how they would build trust and cultivate an honest space for participants even from afar. Kameron Perez-Verdia, workshop facilitator and President and CEO of the Alaska Humanities Forum, said, “Our approach is very different from what you might think of as a traditional training or class; there is very little ‘teaching’. Most of the learning comes from participant discussions. Each person brings their ideas and life experiences to the group as content for the workshop. Our goal is to build trust and create a brave space for participants to understand and explore racism within their own history, culture, and current perspectives, as well as the history of our country, state, and specifically the Mat-Su Valley. We want them to begin to see the power structures and built-in oppression that exist all around them: in their families, churches, schools, health care centers, and communities. These systems can show up as organizational structures, policies and laws, or simply embedded ideas within dominant culture that are often accepted as being the norm. Participants finish the workshop by discussing examples of systems change and developing actions and ideas for making change within their own workplaces and community.” Developing a Culturally Responsive Workshop

As R.O.C.K. Matsu began to collectively address systemic racism, they engaged with national platforms and curricula. The Outside trainers and their messaging, however, did not resonate with participants or speak to our state’s unique perspectives or history. Isha Twitchell notes, “In the past, there were many trainings brought up from the Lower 48, which didn’t accurately depict our diverse community here in the Valley, particularly Indigenous culture. The Valley doesn’t necessarily go through the same issues as the Lower 48 does because Alaska is so different, and our demographics are different as well.” To overcome this dissonance, R.O.C.K. Mat-Su thoughtfully approached how it would move forward, translat-


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GENERATING MOMENTUM R.O.C.K. MAT-SU’S VISION is to expand upon the efforts of this pilot workshop eventually. This September (dates TBD), R.O.C.K. Mat-Su will hold a Train-theTrainer event for those interested in being part of this vital antiracism work. R.O.C.K. Mat-Su hopes to fully launch the Braided Stories: Building Equitable Communities for Alaska’s Children & Families workshop in 2022. If you would like to learn more:

Go to Or email

ing big questions into a hyper-local context, enabling participants to see history through the lens of their own. What came about was a workshop format featuring four layers of stories intertwined together: personal stories, history from our nation, from Alaska, and a robust history of racial issues in the Mat-Su. And, out of this workshop, “Braided Stories: Building Equitable Communities for Alaska’s Children & Families” was born. One aspect of the workshop’s distinct methodology is incorporating a historical timeline of Mat-Su that parallels a statewide narrative and a national narrative to show how our country, state, and community were formed. One of the workshop’s facilitators, George Martinez, Vice President of Communications and Community Engagement for the Alaska Humanities Forum, explains, “It goes to show that keeping the curriculum as local as possible is going to be more effective in terms of relevance, context, and language. We have an opportunity here, and R.O.C.K. Mat-Su is really invested in that opportunity, not to have to be cookie-cutter or rely on just national platforms. There’s value and learning opportunities from all sorts of sources, so that’s not to diminish. Still, when we are talking about what connects with people in real-time and in a way that will drive local outcomes, it has to be relevant to the culture and history to bring people along.” Engaging in Meaningful Dialogue and Taking Actionable Steps

With one essential question at the forefront of the workshop, participants consider, “How do we strengthen Mat-Su families and keep children safe by creating equitable and just communities?” From that central inquiry, the workshop encompasses activities and materials to expand participants’ historical framework, hone their critical consciousness, and identify tangible steps to practice antiracism in their lives and communities. At each session, new focus questions emerge, such as, “How do communities develop resilience?” These questions encourage participants to reflect on identity and racism and how those aspects of daily life interplay with re-

silience, empowerment, and well-being. As the discussion encompasses the past, present, and future, participants gain a more comprehensive understanding of systems and patterns of oppression and their impacts in the Mat-Su. Participants also come to recognize patterns of resistance and resilience, which enable them to realize behaviors and actionable steps that will help them move from current reality to desired reality. Embedding Safety into Storytelling

Sharing stories can be a transformational process for both storytellers and listeners. But behind its transformative power lie nuances and sometimes uncertainties relating to safety, vulnerability, trust, and re-traumatization. R.O.C.K. Mat-Su’s Director Betsy Larson acknowledged the responsibility to be mindful about planning projects involving storytelling and observed, “We learned that when People of Color (POC) attend racial equity trainings, often the onus is on them to share their stories and make the point that racism exists and has impacts. It can be a painful process for POC at the expense of trying to help White people understand what they experience,

“IT CAN BE A PAINFUL PROCESS FOR POC AT THE EXPENSE OF TRYING TO HELP WHITE PEOPLE UNDERSTAND WHAT THEY EXPERIENCE, AND THIS HAPPENS AGAIN AND AGAIN.” and this happens again and again. The word ‘re-traumatizing’ has been used to describe it.” To build more safety into how people shared, R.O.C.K. Mat-Su conducted a number of hourlong interviews with POC in the Mat-Su. All of the individuals consented to share their stories and the impacts of racism on their lives. In the end, everyone that participated volunteered to do so, shared only once instead of multiple times, and allowed their stories to be made available to the workshop going forward. R.O.C.K. Mat-Su also created diptychs (photos of each individual paired with a pulled quote) and linked their recording to the PowerPoint. Like many stories, this one is still being written. The workshop and its pilot participants generated a confluence of ideas, histories, paradigms, and personal stories. Though braided rivers surprise us with change, they continue to flow; their powerful torrents able to transport and transform whatever they touch. It remains to be seen whether the model of “Braided Stories” will prove to be a catalyst in other Alaska communities, moving them in the direction of healing and justice, hearing and being heard. ■

Cecelia Andrews & Alice Frank Demientieff, Deg Xit’an Athabascan


Xit’an Athabascan traditional practice that instills a responsibility toward the welfare of others in the community and beyond. Other cultures in Alaska may have similar versions of this practice. Elders and parents connect tea partners together, someone older with someone younger, and a male with a female. They are described as friendships, mentors, and thinking partners. The spirit of the tea partner means that you share your best food with your partner—king salmon, moose, fish ice cream—that you help your tea partner and offer them support when they come to your community, and that you gift them with things like beaver mittens or a warm marten hat, and in turn they will share their catch with you. It is about sharing and caring for others, about reciprocity and balance, and survival. Your tea partner is someone you will honor throughout their lifetime and in turn they will honor you. It’s about responsibility for others. You can imagine the strength these connections create. Tea Partners build a grassroots safety net into and across communities.

Lila Hobbs works throughout Dena’ina Ełnena and is the founder of Wild Voices, which utilizes storytelling as a medium to build community, inspire activism, and enhance stewardship of a wilder world. To learn more about her work, visit: A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 1




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K’asheechtlaa’s approach to protecting the herring by Lee House


Kiks.ádi women in Gaajaa Heen, known also as Old Sitka, where they were part of filming for the documentary Yáa at Wooné (Respect for All Things) . PHOTO BY LEE HOUSE

a hei Yaaw hei Yaaw hei” K’asheechtlaa Louise Brady sings across the waterfront lawn in downtown Sheet’ka Kwáan (Sitka, Alaska). She is calling out to the Yaaw (Herring) in chorus with her fellow Kiks.ádi (Frog) Clan members of the Point House. “Yee xatulatsee (we cherish you),” they continue dancing to the beat of the drum. They are singing K’asheechtlaa’s newly composed herring song. The group is joined by our voices, a hundred or so allies, volunteers, and Elders, who are gathered to honor the herring with them. “Aa hei Yaaw hei Yaaw hei” we all sing as the wind and snow whisks the song from our lips out to the schools of herring at sea. It’s a bitter cold day in April and instead of gathering inside the historic Alaska Native Brotherhood Hall like years past, we are gathered on an outdoor lawn just down the road. All of our faces are adorned with masks as a precaution against COVID-19. In spite of it all, we are here—friends, families, and neighbors together again. “If you’ve been to the beach in the last couple of weeks,” K’asheechtlaa addresses the crowd, “you’ve seen and heard the joyful cacophony of the birds and mammals brought together by the herring.” She pauses. “This gathering is our version of that. It’s an opportunity to come together to share the joy of what herring really mean to us.” Herring are the foundation of all things we love in Lingít Aaní (Tlingit Country), which is also known as Southeast Alaska. Starting in late March, the herring school up along the protected shorelines of Sitka Sound to begin their annual spawn. Whales, seals, sea lions, gulls, and eagles congregate to feast on these oil rich and nutrient dense fish. The bays awaken with frenzied symphonies of bird calls and flipper splashes. It is an upwelling of energy and life that marks a new year after a long, dark winter. Gaax’w (herring eggs) provide the people of these lands with the first fresh Indigenous food in months after the previous season’s harvests of fish, berries, and deer. Since time immemorial, herring eggs have remained a long-awaited critical food that arrives in spring. When the herring begin to spawn, the ocean mixes into an iconic turquoise with the milt of the male herring. Kelp, rocks, sea grasses, and other smooth, intertidal surfaces are coated with adhesive eggs deposited by the females. Any eggs that don’t adhere, wash ashore and end up in

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Protestors outside of the Alaska Department of Fish & Game offices in Sitka. PHOTO BY LEE HOUSE

the bellies of bears, or decay into the soils of the coast, sending nutrients up to the trees and down to the smallest invertebrates. It is an integral and holistic spawning event. In the midst of it all, egg harvesters will submerge haaw (hemlock tree branches) to soak in the spawning waters. It is a process of exactness that takes into account the location, the tides, when spawning began, if it will continue, and what type of ocean floor lays beneath. If everything aligns, the harvesters can hope to pull their branches up later with dense layerings of eggs coated onto them. The eggs are shared among friends, family, and community as a staple food. They are served at potlucks and ceremonies. They are eaten fresh or blanched lightly on stove tops with a side of soy sauce, seal oil, or hooligan grease. Eggs are also shared further afield, as trade for foods from elsewhere. For such small fish, the herring play an enormous role spiritually, culturally, and historically. K’asheechtlaa recounts the Lingít oral tradition of the herring lady, a story that reaches back thousands of years and serves as the original instruction that bonds the Kiks.ádi Clan to the herring. She begins, “It was the start of spring, and all of the people in the village were coming out to prepare, but there was one young Kiks.ádi woman who would not be working. She would go down to a rock at low tide and sit in the sun while everyone else was busy.” “The villagers all thought she was being lazy,” she continues with a knowing smile, “and one day, she fell asleep on that rock, and the tide rose, and the herring came in, and when she woke up, she discovered that the herring had laid herring eggs in her hair.” “But,” she says with a twist, “it turns out she wasn’t being


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lazy at all. It turns out she was singing to the herring each day. Asking them to come back. Respecting them, and the herring honored that respect—they came back to her.” This original relationship solidified a union between the Kiks.ádi and the herring. K’asheechtlaa continues, “That is why Kiks.ádi women are known as the Kaxátjaa Sháa, the Flipping Ladies or the Herring Ladies. From then on, we were to always respect and take care of the herring so that they can take care of us.” K’asheechtlaa’s concern is that our relationship with the herring is out of balance, and she is not alone in that concern. “For the last three decades, Elders, culture bearers, and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska have been speaking out on the decline of the herring in Sheet’ká, in Sitka Sound,” she explains, describing that less herring has translated to increasingly difficult and sparse harvesting conditions for those crucial eggs. Since the 1920s, Pacific herring have been under heavy commercial fishing pressure in Southeast Alaska when they were originally fished and reduced to oil. It was not until the 70s that the Sitka sac roe fishery began targeting the eggs in response to the needs of the Japanese herring egg (Kazunoko) market, which could not be sustained due to herring population declines in Japan’s own waters. The sac roe style of fishing is particularly wasteful as it gathers enormous net-fulls of male and female herring, kills them, takes the eggs of the most mature females, and grinds the rest up. The Sitka Tribe of Alaska worked to organize testimony from tribal citizens for a 1997 Alaska Board of Fisheries meeting. Mark Jacob, Jr., a since-passed Elder, summed it

up well in that meeting, “Sac roe is one of the worst kinds of waste for the purposes of commercial greed,” he said to the board members. “It’s worse than taking a whole herd of deer, killing them all, and taking only the liver—from the doe only.” K’asheechtlaa was involved in helping with that 1997 advocacy effort. She has seen, time after time, many of her people levy their concerns in sweeping critical testimony. She has seen commercial herring fisheries throughout Southeast Alaska and beyond collapse and close. Despite this, the Alaska Department of Fish and Game continues to manage a commercial fishery that pulls tens of thousands of tons of herring from the waters of Sheet’ká each spring. “This, like so many extractive industries, is an extension of colonialism.” K’asheechtlaa makes clear. “The herring, which mean so much to our culture and our ecosystem, are being depleted all for what? Money? Greed?” She pauses. “Without herring there is nothing supporting the ocean. The whales. The salmon. Without herring, there is nothing supporting us.”

“The herring, which mean so much to our culture and our ecosystem, are being depleted all for what? Money? Greed?

Without herring there is nothing supporting the ocean. The whales. The salmon. Without herring, there is nothing supporting us.”

The turquoise waters of herring spawn in Sitka Sound. PHOTO BY LEE HOUSE

Today, K’asheechtlaa continues her work towards restoring balance in our relationship with the herring. That’s what brings us to that chilly waterfront gathering in early April 2021. It is the third herring event that K’asheechtlaa has poured her heart and soul into creating with the help of many supporters, and her fellow Kiks. ádi Clan members. Tents with info booths, catered food, and artist displays are spread across the field rippling in the breeze. “Protect the Herring” banners fly taught overhead. People bustle around a large table full of donated herring eggs with a sign reading, “Take some eggs!” The Kiks.ádi are in their traditional regalia dancing at the front. In the center, six Kiks.ádi herring women dip and swish in bright blue robes. These robes are newly crafted at.óow (ceremonial objects) of the Kiks.ádi Clan that have just been revealed. Five of the robes are the Kaxátjaashaa X’óow (herring lady robes) and one is the Kaxátjaa X’óow (herring robe). They feature the shapes of herring, cut from metallic fabric, and designed by a local Northwest Coast Formline artist, Charlie Skultka, Jr. The entire composition of fabric, buttons, and cutouts is the design and layout work of the Lingít artist Jennifer Younger. She composed the shiny school of herring to span across the robes in an intertwined double helix, referencing that herring are a part of Lingít DNA. The herring converge on a portrait of the herring lady on the middle robe. Her head of hair resembles a forest of kelp, with pearl beads adorning the locks in reference to the eggs laid in the hair of the Herring Lady. A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 1


Kiks.adí Herring Women display the new Kaxátjaashaa X’óow (Herring Lady Robes) created in 2021. PHOTO BY CAITLIN BLAISDELL

The robes wouldn’t be possible without the help of countless, loving volunteers. In the weeks leading up to the gathering, Carol Hughey, a local ally and textile artist, opened her apparel studio for volunteers to assist in assembling the robes. Through the work of Carol’s textile craftsmanship, the artistic vision of Jennifer Younger, and hundreds of hours of volunteer time, the robes came to be. Jennifer Younger shares on the robe making process, “I was at a loss of how to support the cause, but being asked by the Kiks.ádi to use my art to help create these robes and bring more attention to the issue is such an honor.” She continues, “It goes to show that it takes all of us. We all have something we can contribute.” And it’s true. As the volunteers are busy at Carol’s studio, another house a couple miles up the road is full of volunteers working away at making gifts for the attendees of the upcoming gathering. In between those two houses, another group picks herring eggs off recently harvested branches to freeze in zip-lock bags and share with Elders later on. The sum of our parts add up to a flowing amalgamation of people known as “Herring Protectors,” all of whom share the concern for herring and the Indigenous ways of life that are at risk. The Herring Protector efforts have spanned over four years and have included protests and demonstrations. We have assisted in getting resources to harvesters, be it people to help pull branches or some money to fill up the gas tank. In 2018, the group organized over one hundred people to deliver pro-herring testimonies at that year’s Alaska Board of Fisheries meeting. The group was founded by K’asheechtlaa with a few early members in late 2017. We sat in a downtown community space circled up over potluck dishes. We had just recently wrapped up co-organizing a community fund-


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raiser in support of the Standing Rock movement. “What do we do next?” one of us asked. It was K’asheechtlaa who eventually responded “A Koo.éex’—we should do a Koo.éex for the herring.” Those of us less acquainted with the Lingít term asked what a Koo.éex’ was. She said—again with that knowing smile—“you’ll just have to wait and see.” It turns out, the Koo.éex’, a traditional Lingít ceremony meaning ‘to invite,’ has become the keystone of Herring Protector efforts. K’asheechtlaa’s contemporary vision for these gatherings that last deep into the night has been an “all are welcome” invitation for Natives and non-Natives to come together in ceremony and share in honoring the herring as a whole community. “By sharing food, serving Elders, and dancing together,” K’asheechtlaa explains, “we are caring for each other deeply, and in doing so, we are enchanting our relationships with the land, the herring, our ancestors, and each other.” “It is the act of ceremony as sovereignty,” she says, reflecting on the years of inaction by the Alaska Department of Fish and Game and the Board of Fish. “There comes a time when you haven’t been listened to for three decades, and you understand that you need to do it on your own terms. Instead of having three minutes to testify on the importance of herring, we have as long as we need.” “So,” K’asheechtlaa says before posing the only question that remains, “it’s not a question of if there will be a Herring Koo.éex’ next year, but instead, it’s a question of ‘will you be there?’” ■ Lee House lives and works with gratitude on Lingít Aaní. He shares stories of social and environmental good through writing, video, and design. House has been a Herring Protector member since the creation of the group.

Proud Supporter of the Alaska Humanities Forum






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PIECING IT TOGETHER Somer Hahm and the Far North Quilt Trail by Addie Studebaker


hen thinking of a hand-sewn quilt, you might think of grandmas, aunts; family heirlooms passed down. A feeling of hominess, coziness, comfort, caretaking; a sense of the old-fashioned juxtaposed with timelessness. Quilts are ubiquitous across several cultures, but at the same time incredibly personal and unique to the individual creators, with the designs tailored to their specific experiences and heritages and even becoming historical records and artifacts over time. Somer Hahm of Fairbanks, Alaska, has dialed into all of these themes in her eyecatching geometric quilt paintings, part of a larger project, The Far North Quilt Trail Project. Though the project is rooted in her home community of Fairbanks, it is now gaining traction and visibility statewide, joining a number of established quilt trails in the Lower 48 and Canada. Barn quilts and self-guided “quilt trails” began and first took off in Ohio in the early 2000s and it works like this: Colorful geometric patterns reminiscent of hand-sewn quilts are painted on large wooden squares. Those painted squares are placed as long-


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A Flying Geese pattern at Creamer's Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge. PHOTO BY SARAH MANRIQUEZ

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“Once I started expanding my idea of where art could live, I saw Fairbanks itself as a gallery space.”

Somer Hahm.


term installed artworks on the side of barns (traditionally) or other large, visible buildings and structures. When several are installed in a community, a trail of public art emerges; one that is free to the public, often accessible year-round, 24/7, and visible from the road. A recent New York Times article on barn quilts by Jackie Snow (that mentions Somer Hahm’s project, among others), sums it up as a “home-grown art form that combines a few aspects of traditional Americana: barns, quilts, and road trips.” Beyond their visibility and attractive aesthetic appeal—bold, colorful, and murallike—the artworks also proudly represent aspects of a family, organization, or even an entire region’s unique character and culture in their design; utilizing traditional quilt patterns but also experimenting with geometric representations of nature and other forms. In this way, barn quilts also celebrate the meaningful tradition of quilting itself,


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which, as Hahm points out, “speaks to the domestic labor that often goes unnoticed,” but also to the joy and creative expression that can exist and persist alongside it. The immediate communal benefits of this form of public art are two-fold: They both increase public interest in these lesstrafficked areas where they are installed and, in Hahm’s words, “build community around the visual language of painting—barn quilts can highlight an area not normally visited or shine a light on places that might be overlooked within a community.” Hahm offers the Fairbanks area and Interior Alaska as examples, noting that there is an increasing interest in family farms in that area engaging in sustainable agriculture for the benefit of the local community and beyond. The quilt trail serves as a highly visual way to link these locations and their shared mission and values. In terms of building community, a task

that in Alaska may be both especially vital and challenging, quilt trails encourage this both in process and product. “Fairbanks is spread out, with many little offerings tucked away in our stark industrial landscape,” says Hahm. “Once I started expanding my idea of where art could live, I saw Fairbanks itself as a gallery space.” This means the art is accessible to all in the community, containing images that are hyper-local and recognizable to those both visiting and living in that community; like the “Juncos,” “Sunflower,” and “Flying Geese” painted quilts that Hahm created and installed for, with, and at the Fairbanks Community Garden and Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, respectively. The projects are highly collaborative, bringing many in the community together, from securing funding to initial design to installation and even celebration. “This is the great strength and value of this project,” says Jess Peña, Executive Director of Fairbanks Arts Association. “Whereas some public art is commissioned and then designed and made by small teams with expensive materials, this project has community engagement at its center where the design and location decisions, implementation, and—most importantly—intentions, circle around community inclusivity.” For her part, Hahm has lived in Fairbanks since first working toward her MFA at University of Alaska Fairbanks, which she earned in 2008. “After my undergrad in Montana, I was accepted into several graduate programs but was offered a teaching assistantship from UAF, so I moved to Fairbanks in 2005 without ever having set foot in Alaska before. My parents drove me and dropped me off.” During and after her graduate program she worked in various

contexts within the Fairbanks art community, and regularly painted and exhibited locally for several years before her daughter was born. The idea of initiating a quilt trail in Alaska came at the pivotal point of re-entering the workforce after having her second child. She worked as an exhibition technician for the Fairbanks Arts Association, and when the association partnered with the Alaska State Council on the Arts (ASCA) to host the Interconnect Art Conference, Hahm attended. It was through this conference that she was exposed to a breadth of tools and resources available to working artists. “That weekend was life-altering for me,” Hahm says. “I learned about installing public art from Enzina Marrari of Anchorage. I took a session on how to write winning grant proposals from another Anchorage artist, Maria Shell. I had help from Keren Lowell of ASCA in building my first website. Ernestine Hayes read from her book The Tao of Raven, a most inspiring open address. Daka-Xeen Mehner, in the final keynote speech, asked us all, ‘How do arts, culture, and creativity activate networks and communities to move towards an innovative and inspired future for Alaska? What roles do each of our individual voices play in this challenge?’ The Far North Quilt Trail Project was my answer to that.” Empowered by this newfound working knowledge and contact base, she left the conference motivated and inspired to create a sustainable arts career for herself and her family. “I began asking myself, How do I gain experience in making public art? How can I make large scale paintings and get paid to do so? How can I create community around art? How can I utilize my skills to build something extraordinary? How can I expand my audience? How can I create my own opportunities to do projects that I envision?” These questions, and the acquisition of affordable studio space for the first time— both on her property (in a brilliant silver 1954 Clipper Airstream) and off (in a guiding company’s small, dry attic apartment), depending on the season—led to time and space that had previously been inaccessible to her as a parent of two young children in Fairbanks. In these studio spaces she created a large and cohesive body of work she titled “The Painted Quilt,” expanding her portfolio and opening up her options. “Before ‘The Painted Quilt’, I painted small works and created a series of educa-

A Rising Sun pattern at Boreal Sun Charter School. PHOTO BY SARAH MANRIQUEZ

“This project has community engagement at its center where the design and location decisions, implementation, and intentions circle around community inclusivity.” tional botanical posters for children and did this all on my kitchen table for six years,” Hahm says. She exhibited “The Painted Quilt” in 2020 at the Fairbanks Art Association’s Wandering Bear Gallery and was wellreceived, and began applying for grants. In 2020 she was awarded several grants, including a Community Arts Development Grant from the Alaska State Council of the Arts, as well as the prestigious Rasmuson Individual Artist Award. She has since partnered with many businesses and nonprofits, completing or overseeing the installation of over a dozen barn quilts across the Interior and Southcentral Alaska in 2020-21. “My kids have been with me for every installation and most of the weeks before while I’m painting, and I enjoy exposing them to the process and to my work,” Hahm says. “But motherhood has fundamentally changed my approach to making visual art. A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 1


The Folk Quilt at The Folk School located at Cabin 66 in Pioneer Park/Alaskaland.

Carving out time for the work now requires a concentrated effort in short periods of time. I’ve learned there’s no one way to be an artist.” Philosophically, her experience as a mother-artist contributed to Hahm’s interest in painting quilts. “I do enjoy the formal elements—the patterns are templates for abstraction. Playing with color transitions is an integral part of my process. But I’m also very inspired by histories and patterns that are embedded in handmade quilts and I often try to incorporate the restraints of motherhood in my practice. Quilts speak to the domestic labor that often goes unnoticed. What does it mean to paint a quilt? I find the process of painting them to be meditative and soothing.” Hahm cites the Encyclopedia of Quilt Block Designs as another starting point for inspiration. First recommended to her by fiber artist Maria Shell of Anchorage, it contains several thousands of quilt patterns and descriptions. Hahm owns two copies of this text and lends one out to community members when they express an interest in painting a barn quilt. This highly-collaborative approach— from connecting with her local community to securing partnerships and painting sites— requires a great deal of creativity and flexibility. Each of her barn quilts is unique to the location and client, requiring “research, brainstorming, and team-building” with


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partnering organizations and local businesses. Hahm says some of the more challenging aspects of the process, aside from the actual art-making, have been managing the many moving parts of both the funding and installation processes, as well as undertaking the many hours of research, grant-writing, branding, and website management that includes keeping an up-to-date list of quilt trail sites on her website. If an Alaska resident is interested in painting or registering a barn quilt, they simply contact Hahm through a form on her website. Registration is free and Hahm follows up to offer support and clarification. Locations can be private residences or public buildings (with the necessary permissions) and can be placed on the public website map or simply shared through photos, with the location remaining private. “I offer advice and recommendations to community members free of charge,” Hahm says. “These helpful tidbits range from how to source and select the lumber to purchasing the appropriate materials. I’m enthusiastic about sharing my knowledge and expertise.” In addition, Hahm has been teaching workshops related to her work through Well Street Art Company and The Folk School, both in Fairbanks: “It’s my objective to grow, nurture, and cultivate renewed interest in the quilt trail over time by teaching painting workshops in which I share my techniques and invite participants to add their own works to

the trail. My goal is to continue to offer the access point for my community to engage in being creative.” Looking forward, Hahm is building on her grant wins and the project’s increasing visibility, while also continuing to learn how, where, when, and who to ask for help and also how to manage rejection—two distinct areas where this endeavor has pushed her as a professional artist. More specifically, she hopes to establish a more robust relationship between UAF and the Fairbanks community through the Far North Quilt Trail Project, and is interested in exploring locations in the highly agricultural Mat-Su Valley. She also has a solo exhibition of new works that will be on display in May of 2022 at Well Street Art Company. “My proposals are grounded in listening and utilizing visual art to create connections in my community,” Hahm reflects. “Growing and nurturing the quilt trail enriches my professional development by requiring collaboration from the participants and, in turn, fostering positive working relationships between myself, other artists, art enthusiasts, and the broader community.” It’s a path—a trail—that will be exciting to watch. ■ Addie Studebaker is a writer, artist, and English professor in the Mat-Su Valley. Find her at or connect on Instagram @whatamilookingatt.


Rev. Shelley Wickstrom




grateful for the work of the Forum and how you’re tending to civil society, one person at a time.

How did you first come to connect to the Forum and why do you support our work?

From Slime Line to Synod Office Rev. Shelley Wickstrom is Bishop of the Alaska Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She grew up as one of four kids in the Spokane Valley. Her younger sister came up to Valdez for a summer job that lasted more than a year, ending in a drive up the Alcan. Shelley followed for a summer job on the slime line and the egg room in Kasilof. After college in California and seminary in Iowa, she interned in Seward, then spent a number of years in churches in Dillingham and North Pole, followed by congregations in Billings and Bozeman, Montana. She worked for a regional synod office before her call to Alaska as the Bishop of the ELCA Alaska Synod in 2012.

Through the FORUM magazine. A copy of the magazine came to the synod office for the former bishop, and I picked it up to read. Now financially supporting the Forum and reading the magazine are regular practices. What I appreciate most is the quality of writing that allows Alaskans to tell their own story rather than read an author’s interpretation of it. That takes skill and respect on the writer’s part. I remember in particular the article about Alice Qannik Glenn (Fall 2019) and her Coffee & Quaq podcast; the idea of having an idea, taking a risk, and letting it grow. I pay attention to the many ways the Forum serves Alaska. I’m grateful for the work of the Forum and how you’re tending to civil society, one person at a time. We are all human beings. What’s one Alaskan story you’ve heard or read that you would recommend to others?

The story of Mary Huntington from Shishmaref, who’s the Coordinator of Cultural Programs for the Bering Strait School District. She’s building creative curriculum, including videos of children’s songs in Iñupiaq on Facebook. Her talk to a Multicultural Youth Leadership workshop was deemed one of the best anti-racism presentations he’d heard by the Vice President of the church. What’s one thing you have been curious about lately?

What question do you wish more people asked you?

How has growing up as the daughter of a U.S. History teacher, for whom English was a second language, impacted your approach to life? My father was the second youngest of eleven children born to a Finnish household in South Dakota. He didn’t speak English until he entered first grade, where he was reprimanded for not speaking English. Fortunately he was a quick learner and became the first in his family to go to college. His experience gives me a little perspective when speaking with rural Alaskans.

An open question for me is intersectionality and climate—climate change affects those who can least afford the impacts. What conversations do we need to be having (or having more of) in Alaska?

What are we each willing to do to build a more civil and just Alaska? What are we willing to do to heal from the unequal trauma of this pandemic? What are the next steps to support the teaching of critical thinking skills in our schools and to expect those skills to be used by our leaders? Who are our partners in joy? ■

An open question for me is intersectionality and climate—climate change affects those who can least afford the impacts. Look at Shishmaref, for example. Despite millennia of adjusting to a changing world, the climate is now changing faster than the residents can adapt.

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Form& Function The work of Kake artist Robert Mills by Brendan Jones


rowing up in the Southeast Alaska village of Kake, artist Robert Mills recalls sewing together scraps of seine netting to catch salmon from a creek near his house. With a population of less than 500, in a town that lacked a hardware store, Mills described Kake as a town where people improvised constantly in order to build things that worked. His father, a member of the original Was’ineidi clan (Mills is of the Tsaagweidí), encouraged him in his projects. “I’ve always been making or creating something,” Mills said. “That need to improvise I think was a large part of where my creativity came from. You’re so connected to nature. It’s such an intimate setting.” It was this innovative approach, of using objects at hand, that led Mills to build a 20-foot Tlingit canoe sculpture from aluminum—a project for which he was awarded $37,250 in spring of 2021 from the Juneau Arts & Humanities Council. “There was so much research and development it wasn’t even funny,” Mills said of the project—on which he collaborated with Alaska welder Brian Crapo. “I had to bend the aluminum to the rough shape, otherwise there would have been too much tension. All those pass-throughs were welded all the way around. We made so many cardboard cutouts because we didn’t know what it would look like, until it was there. It was a lot of doing things over and over.” Mills describes the end result by using the Tlingit word Yaadachoon—the “amalgamation of two divergent worlds juxtaposing the marginalized and muted ethos of the Tlingit.” While the canoe itself won’t hold water, Mills says it calls up a forgotten past—Tlingit and otherwise. The piece is “a vessel of humanity, which highlights opposing sides by bisecting the canoe in half.”


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According to legend, over ten thousand years ago the Tlingit migrated to Southeast Alaska in canoes built with a high prow and a deep keel. The most rugged were able to take the waves of the open North Pacific, working as the mode of transportation for gathering food, harvesting wood for shelter, and trading—and making war—with neighboring tribes. Tlingit haul-outs, marked by crushed shells, are still visible today in the bays and inlets throughout the Alaska panhandle. Traditionally, Tlingit canoe carvers felled Sitka spruce and red cedar, then sliced the tree in half. The trunk was hollowed out using a tool with a perpendicular hooked blade called an adze. Rocks heated over a fire brought water poured into the hollowed-out core to a boil. Steam softened the wood, and thwarts were inserted. Finally, the wood was sealed with hot seal oil. The dug-out canoes were used to hunt, fight, and put up food—shrimp, halibut, salmon, berries—for the winter. Anthropologist Frederica de Laguna wrote of the Tlingits, “They came and went through the dangerous entrance to the bay, transporting not simply the members of the household but their stores of dry fish, household effects, and even the planks which formed the summer shelter.”

The Strength That Resides In Us All. “All too often, Tlingit narratives are often disregarded as legends or myths, not taking into account the thousands of years spent discerning humanity,” writes Robert Mills. “From those thousands of years spent observing humanity, came to fruition chronicles that were implemented to help generations progress. One narrative was the history of Dukt’ootl’ (Blacksin).He was our “strongman” who is frequently remembered for tearing a seal lion in half; what is often forgotten is the strength he enacted by overcoming the barrage of insults and mockery from his own people. Being an outcast could have easily overcome him with bitterness and low self esteem. But perhaps his greatest strength of all was the mental fortitude to overcome the ridicule and convert it into strength. Resistance comes in a plethora of forms. It always exists and is universal to humanity. The Ancient ones knew this and left behind a wonderful illustration of how we can use resistance to strengthen ourselves for any endeavor.”

Acrylic on red cedar, horse hair. PHOTO BY MICHAEL PENN

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By the early 18th century, there were over 10,000 canoes along the coast of the North Pacific. But by the early 20th century, the canoe culture had virtually disappeared, replaced by steam, then diesel and gasoline-powered engines. For his award-winning work, Mills departed from the traditional Tlingit canoe not only by building out of a lightweight, silvery metal instead of wood—but also by halving the canoe itself. By splitting the canoe down the middle, Mills said he wanted to call attention to the importance of seeing—and valuing—that which you oppose. “This piece allows us to take a further look into the binary selfgovernance structure of the Tlingit, the Eagle and Raven, and the civic duties to always care for and uphold your opposites. The body of the canoe is void, as it leaves a very sizable negative space that is indicative of the political and social unrest of today.” While he recalls his youth as being deeply tied to Lingít aaní, the Tlingit homeland, Mills said that the inspiration for the canoe came from a well of pure creation, rather than any distinct cultural awareness. Which makes sense, Mills said, as he didn’t encounter so-called “Native art” in Kake until high school. Fishing happened earlier. At the age of ten, Mills started purse seining. At 23, he began to fish professionally, making a permanent living out of the fisheries. From 2006 to 2016, he fished out of Kake, then Petersburg, and finally out of Sitka. Over the years, along with seining, he has crabbed, long-lined, herring seined, and worked as a sea cucumber diver. “My path wasn’t a direct one,” he says, laughing. “But I would say being out amongst nature and seeing so many different creatures of the sea filled up this reservoir. I artistically tried to express that via formline design or sculpture.” During his time fishing, in 2010 Mills traveled to Guatemala, where he recognized that he was “seeing Indigenous people from an objective perspective.” This realization, coupled with a hands-on, crash-course education about Mayan civilization, one of the most advanced in the history of mankind, led him to return to Alaska,



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and re-focus on his creativity, except with a postcolonial approach. “That trip was so eye-opening,” Mills said, “Just this process of unpacking the colonial impacts in Guatemala, then in Southeast Alaska.” Around this time Mills began conversations with Sitka-based artist Yéil YaTseen, who also goes by the name Nicholas Galanin. Galanin recalled Mills walking into his studio 15 to 20 years ago, and announced that he wanted to learn. He said Mills was caught between fishing and “the uncertainty of leaping into what was clear to me, his passion for learning, pursuing Tlingit art, continuum and culture. “I don’t know what I was able to offer him but I had always encouraged him to cut the cord that kept him from pursuing the work he is now doing. I’m happy to see him doing well.”

“My ultimate ability is to express indigeneity today. That is what I’d like to pursue.” Mills recalls his stint with Galanin as critical. “We had a common ground. It was encouraging to be treated like an artist. Quite frankly, there weren’t many people saying that to me.” Mills, who had also trained with panel carver Jonathan Rowan, a Tlingit master carver from Klawock, and Scott Jensen, a non-Indigenous artist who lives in Bellingham, Wash., soaked up the knowledge. He continued to search for mentors, encountering Ben Davidson, a Native artist in the islands of Haida Gwaii (formally called the Queen Charlotte Islands, in Canada’s British Columbia) in 2014. “I went out to the Haida Gwaii in 2014 to work with [Davidson] and learn from him. I was absolutely blown away with what he was able to do. He really showed me what is required to be a professional and demanded my best everyday. And his work was so good that I couldn’t escape it anymore, I was compelled to do it.” During this move from fishing to art, Mills also bought a float-house in Kake. Following in the footsteps of people before him, he brought the float-house onto land and worked on the structure until 2017, finishing the building with a tribal house façade. Mills calls the structure a “modern twist of how they used to build clan houses back in the day.”

ABOVE LEFT : The aluminum canoe sculpture that Mills describes as Yaadachoon— the “amalgamation of two divergent worlds juxtaposing the marginalized and muted ethos of the Tlingit.” PHOTO BY MICHAEL PENN


Thunderbird Panel. PHOTO BY ROBERT MILLS


Fog Woman.


This border between work and diversion, between hobby and art, between hand-work and mind-work, is one that, in Mills’ universe, is consistently being blurred in a way that seems increasingly pleasing to judges of awards and competitions. In 2018, Mills was the recipient of Best of Formline and Best of Painting for his bentwood box, Raven’s Portal, at the Sealaska Heritage Institute Juried Art Show. He also won Best of Division and Best of Wood for his mask, X’átu. “Robert’s art—decorative, functional and testimonial—is always grounded in this truth, this earth, this Lingít aaní,” wrote the Institute. In addition, Mills was asked to teach a formline class at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe. More recently, he was the recipient of a Rasmuson project award to study Northwest Coast transformation masks at museums in the U.S. and British Columbia, after which he will create one himself. He is collaborating on a design project with a Native-owned denim company, and completing another public installation that will go into the Juneau International Airport. “My ultimate ability is to express indigeneity today,” Mills said. “That is what I’d like to pursue.”

Mills describes his future as “bright.” He reflects: “I’ve been doing this for a relatively short time and just learning what it takes. I’ve got more to say and I want to bring awareness to the complexities of indigeneity today. What it means to process all the histories and atrocities of yesterday, and bring light to today and make it relevant for the future. I have some larger things in the works, and look forward to having an exhibition or two. I’m not done yet. I’m still turning over stones. I’m going to keep exploring. This is all just a start.” ■ Brendan Jones is the author of The Alaskan Laundry and Whispering Alaska. He has written for the New York Times, NPR, and Smithsonian magazine. He lives in Sitka, where he is a builder. A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 1


A Different Path for Rural Alaska Education, continued from page 2 passed through that portal into this other world, he was subject to an entirely different set of perceptions. Such disconnects are part of a vicious cycle. They are both caused by and result from what I perceive to be a certain “either/ or” mindset when it comes to public education in rural Alaska. According to this either/or mindset, for students to do well they either need “reading, writing, and arithmetic” or they need to know their traditional languages and the ways of their people. I believe there is a different path—one leaves behind this false separation and still develops grounded, capable students. That one-time classmate of mine who came to school with blood on his clothes came from a long line of ancestors who were all teachers. The traditional systems of transferring information from generation to generation in his community had persisted for thousands of years. He was a part of an intricate system of education based on collective community knowledge and wisdom of the land, a system that empowered students to survive, adapt, and be resilient. By comparison, the Western education model is just several hundred years old and came to Alaska barely a century ago. Western public schools were originally created primarily to teach people to read so they could read the Bible and other religious texts. They were based on manufacturing systems that value consistency and standardization over adaptability. In Alaska, public schools in remote places were introduced to civilize, convert, and assimilate. In the beginning this was accomplished by boarding schools, English-only policies, and the enforcement of Western codes of conduct. As it eventually played out, classroom education was intended to make children less of whatever they already were and more like the White teachers standing in front of them. This is not ancient history. The mindsets of the past still inform learning today. As Oscar Kawagley, a Yup’ik scholar, said, “The modern public schools are not made to accommodate differences in the worldviews, but to impose another culture—their own. This has had a confusing effect on the Native students.” When we understand this history we can better create the change we want. By seeing clearly this arc of history, we can bend it. My favorite teachers when I was a kid in Barrow were Fanny Akpik and Martha Stackhouse. They were caring, compassionate, and loving to kids. They believed in the importance of reading, writing, math, and vocational education, but also passionately believed in teaching the Iñupiaq language and traditional ways of living. They believed in the importance of both. They knew that language is connected to culture and culture is connected to succeeding and living well. We learned traditional Inupiat songs and dances, learned to sew and harvest seals—and as kids, we thought we were just having a lot of fun. But looking back, the amount of learning taking place was incredible—and had nothing to do with text books or a misplaced concept of trying to turn us into cookie-cutter kids. And they came back every year. They were consistent. All of my other teachers were outsiders. They talked about where


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they were from with a certainty that it was better there. Where we were, Utqiaġvik, was an outlier, an oddity—and the people in the school needed to be conformed to their default if we were to be able to “make it in the real world.” Their attitude was evidence of the same old conflict that dates back to Alaska’s territorial days but it persists today. According to one side of the debate, the greatest emphasis in public schools should be placed on ensuring that future generations speak their Indigenous language, know their customs, their traditions, their history, and feel a sense of connection and pride in who they are and where they come from. The other side argues that what’s actually more important than language, traditions, and cultural pride is reading, writing, and arithmetic—that preparing kids for success in the modern world means instilling in them the skills and information measured by standardized tests. I would argue that by seeing this as an either/or question, we are doing neither especially well—that through being pulled into the

orbit of this either/or mindset, we have given up our own gravity, our ability to hold both sides as true; to stop seeing them as opposing sides but instead complementary parts of a well-grounded whole, in which we fully embrace the values of the community while at the same time preparing kids for the future. We can do better. We can deploy a vision that is “both/and” instead of “either/or.” Children can be culturally connected and still be prepared to make their way in the world in 2021 and beyond. These are not mutually exclusive concepts. In my experience, schools are too often seen as disconnected from the community. Families may feel perfectly comfortable coming into the school for a basketball game or community meeting, but how about a parent-teacher conference? Again, there is certainly a historical basis for these realities. As we follow these historical threads into the present, we can see that while students are no longer struck for speaking their Native language, nor are they usually being educated in that language within the school. It’s progress and stasis. A product of a manufacturing system that’s built to last. Durable and resistant to change. An old image of schooling that hasn’t evolved or adapted much since it began here in Alaska. At the Alaska Humanities Forum, we work with rural community leaders and schools through a program called “Creating Cul-

tural Competence,” or “C3.” Its goal is to reduce teacher turnover, but at its heart it’s about building the right kind of relationships. It’s about empowering communities to play a key role in new-teacher orientation and preparation, well before they set foot in the classroom. Guided by Elders, we design meaningful activities in which the teachers not only learn about the local culture and people, but also learn about themselves, and their own culture, and how to build a relationship with the community, on the community’s terms. Creating that environment for success—everyone’s success— means that when educators arrive in a community they have to build a relationship with that community. But it also means that communities have to give new teachers the opportunity to do so. This is hard work for everyone involved, but so valuable. My hope is that we can envision whole students, whole people, who bring who they are, who their ancestors are, into the classroom every day, and everywhere they go in life. A vision that prepares them both for the future and helps them remember the past. A vision that values both academic and traditional knowledge together. In this vision they do not have to choose between worlds. They have what they need to make their own choices, and to live the lives they want. ■ Kameron Perez-Verdia is the President & CEO of the Alaska Humanities Forum


Working together with the

Alaska Humanities Forum to connect our community

Thank you for being a great neighbor and helping to make this such a wonderful community to be a part of.


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A Copper River Almanac Flying the mail along the Copper River reveals changing times and timelessness Photos and text by Joe Yelverton

Unmoored, a fish wheel rests on a Copper River gravel bar, nearly 40 miles down-river from where it was once used by subsistence fishers near Chitina.

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Joining forces, the confluence of the Chitina and Copper River. RIGHT: Bush pilot Rick Snow at the Gulkana Airport

amed by Athabascans for the metal they discovered in the Wrangell Mountains, the Copper River, or Ahtna, is actually gray in color, resulting from hundreds of silty tributaries connected to a vast network of glaciers spanning four different mountain ranges. Every day from spring through fall, the Copper flows with a staggering volume of water, carrying glacial flour and sediment, much of it in the form of nutrients, toward the mouth of the river and the Gulf of Alaska. The Copper is part of an intact ecosystem that still supports wild salmon, presumably sustaining Alaska Native subsistence for hundreds if not thousands of years, long before our relationship with salmon became so problematic. For all the life the Copper supports, the place is equally rich in history and stories, where the human element inextricably intersects with the landscape. The Copper exerts the kind of raw power that transcends human limitations; at the same time shaping humans who occupy the surrounding country. During all of my trips exploring Copper River country, many of them floating down the river, I’ve experienced the humbling power of the place, often leaving me with a deeper


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understanding, but also many questions, about our relationship with the natural world, with each other, and the meaning of our values. On one particular trip with my longtime adventure partner Steve Johnson, we were thirty to forty miles downriver from Chitina when we found the vestiges of the old railroad grade from nearly a hundred years ago. Tall wooden pilings once formed a bridge across a giant eddy in the river. But ice jams and previous floods destroyed it, shearing off the pilings like broken toothpicks. The remaining railroad tracks spanned the gap, about two-hundred-feet across, but were hanging in the air—solid steel, completely unsupported, but bent violently, manifesting the destructive forces of the river. The Copper is so powerful it often seems inalterable by humans. Indigenous people living along the Columbia River may have once believed the same thing, perhaps unable to fathom the consequences when a million yards of concrete began flowing in 1933, when the first dam was constructed as part of the march toward progress, resulting in a wide-reaching electric grid that was undoubtedly created with copper from the Kennecott mines in the Wrangell Mountains. In 1938 copper prices plummeted about the same time the rich ore ran out at Kennecott, signaling the closure of the Copper River Railway. The valley would have begun reclaiming the affected land soon after that. The Copper River is often studied and many of the river’s qualities are measured. Hydrologists calculate discharge in cubic feet per second and they even use electronic sensors to evaluate nutrients carried in the river. NASA scientists look at the river’s sediment plumes and dust storms, both arriving at the Gulf of Alaska on such an enormous scale that these events can really only be appreciated from space. Biologists and fish managers use sonar to count the number of salmon in the river and, when harvested, their numbers and economic value are measured. But the Copper River has other qualities that are more difficult and perhaps even impossible to measure—in the way it affects people, shaping their identities. In the aftermath of the Exxon Valdez oil spill, social scientists focused on the connection between coastal

Alaskans and their environment, attempting to quantify the psychological impacts resulting from the devastation, especially the loss of both subsistence and commercial fishing activities. Apart from discussing the tangible economic losses, this research yielded a far more complicated issue—how sacred values are sometimes tied up in a Gordian knot, leaving a question unsolvable by conventional means: What is a way of life worth? The spill also exposed a paradox. A lot of people made a really good living immediately after the catastrophe, many working for the oil industry. I was among them. The tradeoffs we make sometimes look like Faustian bargains. It’s similar to realizing my own hypocrisy in my love for wild places, wishing them to remain pristine, but available for my own enjoyment; at the same time knowing that tangible forms of work and the alteration of nature (in other places) is what makes that enjoyment possible. “Work that has changed nature has simultaneously produced much of our knowledge of nature,” writes historian Richard White. But if nature is treated only as a resource, and especially if fish are seen only as a commodity, then our knowledge merely preserves the status quo. For example, a volatile commercial fishing industry is being threatened by a growing abundance of farmed salmon, by changing environmental influences we don’t fully understand, and by our tendency to think we can outwit mother nature, rather than learn from her. In conflicts with nature, as in our conflicts with other people—we often meet the true enemy. Perhaps we aren’t distinct from the river. Maybe the river is us. If that idea sounds familiar, it should—it’s thousands of years old. The sound of the river is something that many people hear, but fewer people actually listen to, like the language of the river that few modern people even know exists. “A language older than words,” is how author Derek Jensen describes this phenomenon. “It is the language of dream, gesture, symbol, memory. We have forgotten this language. We do not even remember that it exists.” And this is the way the Copper River and the country around it haunts me, in its forgotten language. Standing on its shores, it’s as if I have one foot in the present and the other in the past. And when I’m floating down it, watching the country pass by, and being carried by the river’s energy, I think about the possibility of human memories transcending generations and cultures, but also overlapping, woven together in the tapestry of a common landscape, a Copper River almanac telling a story about how intertwined we are with the landscape. During WWII, the Gulkana Airport was built in the southern Interior, a hundred miles upriver from Chitina.

“People used to talk to each other,” he replied. “When the mail plane came in once a week, everyone would meet at the Post Office and have conversations. That doesn’t happen as much anymore. People are busy.” “Now people text on their phones and communicate on social media. It’s not face to face as much anymore,” he said ruefully. The next morning I watched Rick load the mail plane completely full with packages. Aside from other general air taxi functions, Copper Valley Air holds a government contract flying mail out to “One day it occurred to me that remote communities. Afmillions of people in the world have to ter the plane was loaded, I joined Rick for a route he haul their own water every day.” flies at least twice a week, even during the winter. A mile and a half west of the airport the Copper River Buckled in, we took off down the runway and lifted off. passes by, its braided channels meandering through an “Copper Valley one-one-zero off with two souls on immense plateau of taiga forest. board and three and half hours of fuel en-route for McIn early spring of 2021 I traveled to Gulkana to meet Carthy,” Rick said over the aircraft radio. with two bush pilots familiar with the region. Martin Gaining altitude, we passed over the Copper River and Boniek is a 61-year-old “cowboy at heart” and the owner after just a few minutes we traded the formalities of comof Copper Valley Air Service. Rick Snow, 70 years old, is mercial bush flying for a sense of being the only airplane one of Martin’s pilots. in a giant sky. The evening I arrived, I joined the two pilots and MarDespite being a full time Alaskan, Rick possesses a tin’s family for conversation around a big spaghetti dinner. quintessential Midwestern demeanor, his furrowed feaBefore moving to Gulkana, Martin lived with his wife tures reflecting a lifetime of experience, most of it on the Laura in the historic town of McCarthy, settling there farmlands of Illinois. His aviation career began as a crop long before its official population of “two dozen or so” duster, then later on he worked in agricultural manageexpanded with a growing tourism industry. In the early ment, helping farmers become more efficient. 1900s the town supported mining at nearby Kennecott, “Technology changed everything in this world,” he also the terminus of the Copper River Railway. told me. “And it changed the people.” “We hauled our own water to our cabin,” Laura told He went on to describe the sea change he not only witme. Fifty-eight years old, she’s the mother of two adult nessed but helped usher in, professing, “There’s a caliber kids and manager of the family’s flight business. of men and women we lost with the technology.” “I used to think it was hard work,” she said with a self“The harder the land, the better the people. The less deprecating laugh, “until one day it occurred to me that they have, the harder they work, the more understandmillions of people in the world have to haul their own ing they are, the more giving they are, and the more hoswater every day. We take too many things for granted.” pitable they are.” Having visited McCarthy during the 1970s and 80s, “It’s one thing to preserve history, another to preserve before it became a destination, I asked Martin how it the ideology and the values of the people who made hischanged. tory,” he claimed.


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Rick Snow loads the mail plane at the Gulkana Airport.

“It’s one thing to preserve history, another to preserve the ideology and the values of the people who made history.”

A humble man who chooses his words wisely, Rick has an affinity for rural people, sharing a similar affection for bush pilots. He admitted, “Flying has to have purpose.” Curious, I asked what that might be. “Helping people,” he answered.

After landing at the McCarthy airstrip, Rick unloaded the plane and then left me behind so he could pick up another load of mail back in Gulkana. Knowing I had three or four hours, I wandered around, inadvertently crossing someone’s wooded property, where I met a barking, three-legged poodle who ran faster than most able-bodied dogs. After exploring for a while, I found my way back to the airstrip, completely deserted until a local showed up. Driving a four wheeler followed by a familiar, threelegged dog, he pulled up to me as I rested on a giant snowplow, waiting for my plane ride. “So,” he said with a hint of vigilance. “You just hanging out?”

His question seemed loaded with the kind of suspicion you’d expect from a resident living in a place that doesn’t see a lot of outsiders during the shoulder season, except misfits, television producers, and journalists from the Lower 48, and I suspect he thought I was one of these. “Waiting for the mail plane,” I replied. “I think I might have accidentally crossed your property earlier.” “Yah, I saw you,” he said, “when I heard my dog barking.” I explained what I was doing, telling him I last visited McCarthy in the late 1980s. Nodding, he pushed back into his seat and relaxed a bit. “That’s Odie,” tilting his head toward his energetic black poodle. “He had an accident with a truck, but as you can see it didn’t slow him down,” he said with a laugh. I soon learned I was talking with an affable longtime local, Malcolm Vance. The 60-year-old entertained me with stories about his arrival in McCarthy in 1982. In 1983, Malcolm and his then-girlfriend were two of the five surviving residents left in McCarthy after the A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 1


Leah Grace Rowland inside the McCarthy Post Office.

infamous mail-day murders. The experience was so traumatic his partner abandoned her rural life, leaving Malcolm behind, then 21 years old. “The murders were too much for her,” he told me. “But I stayed, I had already begun carving out a new life for myself.” The following years provided a clean slate for Malcolm, with the harsh winters and wilderness lifestyle a steep learning curve. He persevered and ended up becoming a bit of a renaissance man, part of McCarthy’s more modern history, also a summer Bristol Bay commercial fisherman. I asked Malcolm what McCarthy was like with the newfound attention. “You know,” he answered, “my old man once said to me: Don’t be that guy who says—remember the good ole days.” “If you don’t like the changes you’re seeing,” Malcolm’s father said, “you better just pack up and leave.” “I stayed,” he admitted. “I may not agree with my neighbors about things,


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politics or whatever, and we might even fight about stuff, but if my house burned down, they’d be the first to help me start over.” “So yeah, some things have changed, but that sentiment hasn’t,” Malcolm said. While Malcolm and I were still talking, Rick landed, and the three of us unloaded the mail plane. Flying back to Gulkana we detoured toward the confluence of the Chitina and the Copper River, where all my river trips exploring the lower valley have begun. One of these was in the early summer of 2013, when Steve and I floated downriver and camped on a gravel bar about ten miles south of Woods Canyon. A sunny evening, we traded our tent for the open air, both of us stretched out in the sand next to a driftwood fire. Before long, my partner dozed off, hypnotized by the poetry of popping embers and the constant sound of the river. About that same time something got my attention in

Malcolm Vance at the McCarthy airstrip.

“You know, my old man once said to me: Don’t be that guy who says—remember the good ole days.”

a nearby back eddy, a hundred yards away. Slowly emerging from the silty water, a black head as big as a bowling ball, followed by a pair of round eyes. A large harbor seal. Seconds became minutes while I held still on the gravel bar, and it did the same in the lazy current. I found myself wondering about its history, and its ancestors. Did they watch Athabascans dip netting for salmon, long before the Russians came, before Henry Allen? Did its ancestors watch the construction of the railway, curious about noise and the dynamite explosions? Did this particular seal have these memories in its DNA? Down on the Copper, I’ve come to expect these sorts of experiences—the oddity of a large marine mammal swimming more than a hundred miles from its home, up a freshwater river, following salmon. Eventually, it seemed to lose interest and dove back into the current, doing what it needed for survival. And that’s when the dichotomy struck me. I wondered then if contemplation is a luxury or a curse, endeavoring to grasp something intangible, then watching it elude you. As I watched alpenglow forming on the peaks high above us, the seal was off eating salmon, whose animated

bodies breaching the surface of the water were followed by a big mouthful of teeth. With my partner still sleeping, I drifted off to a much different time, when trains moved up and down the valley more than a hundred years before. I could hear it coming up the valley, emanating from around a mountainous corner, the distant steam engine chugging and hissing. The squealing of steel wheels grinding against the tracks. It was a rhythmic sound, carried by the wind. And then it got louder, and louder, and closer, and even more unmistakable. And then it was gone, replaced by the ever-present rumble of the river, so constant it forms a strange kind of silence. The immediacy of hard ground shook me from my daydream and it was then when I looked over at Steve and noticed he was wide awake, his gaze set on the river. “Did you hear the train?” he asked. “Yes,” I replied. “I heard it too,” he said. Neither of us elaborated on the experience more than those simple words. That glimpse into the past belonged to the place surrounding us as much as those steel rails we saw on another river trip, bent by the powerful forces of the river. The Copper River may be so powerful, it can bend time as well. ■ Joe Yelverton is an Anchorage based writer and photographer. A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 1



INTRODUCING THE NEXT ALASKA Alaska Version 3 (AK V3) is a grassroots effort interested in supporting the work of Alaskans who want to strengthen Alaska’s communities, people, and opportunities—resulting in a vibrant, selfsufficient, and globally relevant Alaska that supports its rural and urban citizens and economies for generations to come. AK V3’s steering group meets weekly and welcomes individual and organizational guests to join the discussion. The desire is to compile, contextualize, connect, and create materials that will assist in bringing Alaskans together to explore the questions: What is next for Alaska’s civic and market economies? How will we get there? In the winter of 2021, AK V3 invited the Forum to partner in hosting a writing contest that would harvest community members’ fresh views and wild new ideas for what the future could look like. The contest was open to Alaskans of all ages to submit an entry in three categories— essay, short story, or poem—describing the Alaska that the next generation will live in: the “Next Alaska” of 2050 and beyond. In the following pages, we share the winning entries. Congratulations and thanks to all the writers who participated! We also want to thank the writing contest’s community sponsors: Ky Holland/Holland Consulting, Kitty Farnham, Meredith Nobel/Learn Grant Writing, Stephanie Holthaus, Ryan Witten/Streamline, and Sarah Katari/Katari Creative. Learn more at


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2021 WINNERS Essay CAROLYN KREMERS Carolyn Kremers writes literary nonfiction and poetry and spends as much time as possible outdoors. She moved from Colorado to Alaska in 1986. She dreams of the day when the majority of Alaskans choose to think and act with regard for the seven generations and the interconnectedness of all things.



Maka is an Indigenous author, campaigner, scholar, storyteller, poet, and ceremonial performer from Southeast Alaska. Tlingit (Łingit), Mohawk, Filipina, and Canadian Kanien’kehá:ka, she was born in Anchorage and is from Yakutat, of the Raven moiety, Copper River Clan, House of the Owl. Her Tlingit name is Keixé Yaxtí meaning “Morning Star.” Her idea of a perfect Alaska is one where Indigenous histories, peoples, and cultures are honored—as we create what it means to be Alaskans in the contemporary world together. @moon.ture |

Youth Short Story OLIVIA PHILLIPS My name is Olivia Phillips. I’m not quite sure what title I’d give myself, but I suppose my friend once called me a “human calculator.” My idea of a perfect Alaska would be one where it didn’t snow for like half the year.

Short Story CARLY DENNIS Carly Dennis is a student and community organizer. She is forever grateful to have grown up on Dena’ina lands in Eagle River. She is currently studying politics at Pitzer College in Los Angeles, and works for the Sitka Conservation Society in the summer. She loves harvesting, cooking, and eating wild foods, and believes that nothing is perfect but listening is good.





FIELD TRIP TO THE FUTURE— FAIRBANKS, ALASKA field trip—a group excursion for the purpose of firsthand observation, as to a museum, the woods, or a historic place (



’m riding in the back seat of a brandclean, navy blue Chevy Suburban, owned by the University of Alaska. The eight of us here (plus two other truckloads of artists and scientists) are headed on a field trip from Fairbanks (population 32,000) into the Bonanza Creek Experimental Forest, then down the hill for lunch by the Tanana—that broad, silty river whose cocoa-brown water flows relentlessly, with power and ease, toward the ocean. Sitting next to me, quietly, is ecosystems scientist Terry Chapin (a.k.a. Dr. F. Stuart Chapin III). I’m trying to think of a way to ask about his work. “You mentioned this morning that your current research is centered around fire. Does your work focus mainly on North America? Or do you also study fire in Siberia and the Russian Far East?” “No. Right now it’s just Interior Alaska.” Such a simple statement, I’m thinking— “just Interior Alaska.” A huge stretch of land, and yet, only one small part of the Circumpolar North. “Were you always interested in fire?” “No. I started out by studying the physiology of a particular plant.” A plant!? This surprises me. Did this man begin his career, then, as a botanist? Later I discover that the “particular plant” is Alaska cotton grass—that wily, woolly little cotton ball: 14 species in Alaska. It thrives in small patches or whole meadows— a frolic of pure-white fuzzies on sturdy green stems that sway in the breeze like tropical island dancers, beckoning to any human who appears. Terry’s voice continues: “Then I realized I couldn’t understand the plant without

studying the particular environment of the plant. So I studied that…Then I realized I couldn’t understand the environment without studying the ecosystem, and the place of the plant and its environment within the ecosystem. So I studied that.” This scientist, I realize, is telling me a story. In his humble voice, he’s telling a story. “Then I realized I couldn’t understand the ecosystem without studying the relationship between the ecosystem and disturbance. So I studied that…Then I realized I couldn’t understand the ecosystem and disturbance without studying the relationship between humans and the ecosystem and disturbance. So I studied that…And that is what interests me most now: the relationships between humans, ecosystems, and disturbance. “You know, we used to think, as scientists, that the best way to learn about and understand an organism—such as a plant, or a place—was by seeking it out and studying it in its most natural state. But maybe now we’ve come to see that nothing is ‘natural.’ Or rather, everything is. Including humans. And disturbance.” 2050 Forty years from now, in 2050, I may turn 99. More likely, though—like my father and my mother now—I’ll be gone from this Earth. But what of my small cabin on the northwest side of Chena Ridge? What may become of it by then and of its habitat—its 1.98 acres of birch forest and the 90 quiet wooded acres, beside it and below? Well, I’ve studied the findings* of forestry

scientists Scott Rupp and Anna Springsteen, of the University of Alaska Fairbanks, as well as the work of other scientists and social scientists. Based on “moderate” emissions models, here is what I’ve learned about my home… It seems likely that, by 2050, the pond and wetlands on the 90 acres adjacent to mine will disappear. And when so much wet habitat dries up, much or all of the Alaska cotton grass found there will also disappear. It’s possible that the log walls of my cabin will become more vulnerable to damage from carpenter ants and perhaps from species currently located further south, such as carpenter bees or powderpost beetles. Increased rain and sleet, when flung at the logs by increased wind, may also help lead to my cabin’s demise. The birch trees, too, may become more susceptible to changes in climate. Warmer, longer, drier summers may encourage birch defoliators, including the birch skeletonizer, the birch leafminer, and that destructive beauty currently found in Alaska: the spearmarked black moth. Defoliation alone may not kill the trees, but it can weaken them and make them susceptible to other threats, including the most serious insect pest of the paper birch: the bronze birch borer. As if that weren’t enough, micro-organisms may also flourish and enter my trees, including more stem cankers, decay-causing fungi, and root-rotting fungi that cause cracks— called “collar crack”—at the base of the tree. The projected increase in average annual temperature in Alaska’s Eastern Interior of

*Projected Climate Change Scenarios for the Bureau of Land Management Eastern Interior Management Area, Alaska, 2001-2099. T. Scott Rupp and Anna Springsteen, University of Alaska Fairbanks. Prepared for the U.S. Department of the Interior / Bureau of Land Management, October 16, 2009.

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about one degree Fahrenheit per decade, coupled with a projected increase in winter precipitation by as much as 25%, suggest that by 2050 my forest will no longer experience fluffy white snow, stillness, deep cold, and lack of wind. Instead, each winter season may bring a mixture of heavy snow, frequent melt, pelting rain, cold sleet, and ice, as the temperatures and the weather fluctuate. Scattered permafrost lenses beneath the topsoil in my forest may melt and cause the collapse of trees. And frequent ice storms could break and topple many birches. By 2050, though, most likely fire will have come to this forest and my cabin. Fire—and almost certainly days and weeks, possibly even months, of smoke. Lightning may cause that fire. Or perhaps one day a person, hurrying up the futuristic Parks Highway in a futuristic vehicle, will flick a futuristic cigarette butt out the window—and a fire will be sparked in the invasive green and yellow grass, the purple vetch and white sweet clover. Fire burns quickly uphill, especially on a hot, windy day. 2099 If a human were present, she could open a notebook and write down what came true about the cabin and change. But up on this fire-cleared ridge there is no longer a cabin nor any house, and not a person for miles. The people of Fairbanks have migrated to the other side of the Tanana—which flows, as ever, toward the ocean, although with less water and no more silt, for the glaciers of the Alaska Range melted long ago. The water, once cocoa-brown, now runs clear. And on calm days, rainbow trout can be seen, flicking in the shadows. April has become the single month of spring, September part of summer, and October the long and lovely month of fall. The land on the city side of the river—the south


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side—is flat and sunny-bright, well-drained at last and freed of smoke. The permafrost has melted and the spindly black spruce have toppled, or else they have burned in the great peat fires that smoldered for many years. Out on that broad sweep of land, the human population of Fairbanks has tripled in ninety years and people grow crops—food to help nourish themselves and the billions of hungry humans crowding the planet. Like Saskatoon once was—the largest city in central Canada’s prairie province of Saskatchewan—the landscape of Fairbanks, at the center of Alaska’s Interior, is now characterized by grassland and the leafy highlights of deciduous shrubs and trees: willow, aspen, maple, mountain ash. Gone are the thousands of acres of spruce trees, alpine tundra, and cold-climate blueberry, bearberry, and black crowberry. Instead, fields of wheat, barley, canola seed, and several new breeds of grain flourish in the long growing season and midnight sun. Northern-bred cattle, sheep, and goats feed on the forage, and animals formerly found at lower latitudes—including raccoons, skunks, coyotes, wild horses, and white-tailed deer—inhabit the expansive savanna. In April, the tall shrubs that took root decades ago, when the climate warmed, bedeck themselves in star- shaped white blossoms—transforming, with summer, into the delicious violet-colored berries called serviceberries, better known as saskatoons. Here in Fairbanks, in 2099, the people work in one way or another for the production of food and the health and advancement of their large city. Each adult has a government-issued, carbon-and-methane rationing card, which helps to regulate the rate of emissions. Carbon and methane are traded as a virtual currency, and people swipe their cards whenever they pay money for transportation, home energy, food, or electronics. Gradually a low-carbon, low-methane society has evolved, as each individual and family has made changes, knowing that everyone else is making changes, too. The gentle ridge by the Tanana River is still called, by people and on maps, Chena Ridge. The asphalt road along its top has cracked and crumbled, and the large and small houses in all its neighborhoods have fallen back into the soil or been dismantled—to be rebuilt and re-visioned on the river valley floor. With the city of Fairbanks now lo-

cated south of the Tanana, the ridge and the old Parks Highway north of the ridge have turned into green space: huge, unfenced areas dedicated to wildlife and plant species protection, foot-powered recreation, and scientific research. Long ago, before outsiders, a small group of Lower Tanana Athabaskans roamed this place. Their name for the small river that joins the Tanana was Ch’eno’—“river of something”—an indirect reference to the presence of caribou here. Now this fabled ridge is once again returning to itself and to the animals. And on this particular September day, the green-gold grasses of late summer tremble in a breeze. If anyone were to dig down, here on the northwest side of Chena Ridge beneath the tall grass, decaying plant life, and increasing topsoil, he or she might find these: the charred and insect-chewed remains of a few eight-inch, three-sided spruce logs, used to construct a cabin in 1983 on one of the parcels subdivided from Frank Dewey’s homestead. Also found might be a scrap or two of corroded metal roofing. It is unlikely, though, that a note has survived— written in round, neat letters with black ballpoint pen on a sheet of white paper, then folded into a straw-colored envelope and tucked by a middle-aged woman deep into the insulation of her newly renovated, green metal roof. April 30, 2005, the note said— Dear Dad, This new dormer and skylight and roof are dedicated to you. I know your favorite color was red, but I think you might have liked this green, too. Since I didn’t get to see you before you passed away… Just now in sunlight, a two-year-old moose is ambling the savanna and nosing the shrubs, stepping on this 1.98 acres and munching on willows and saskatoon. Flicking an ear in the humming warmth, the young moose moves further up the ridge— preparing, in its ancient brown self, for the return of darkness, snow-cover, moonlight, and ice. ■









is stomach growling loudly, Kelsey glanced behind him, facing a line of people waiting to get their food. His legs felt slightly weak as he glanced between all of the options on the table in front of him, and he pressed his hands on the warm metal to avoid collapsing. A mix of the heat in the room and his own anxiety had him working up a considerable sweat. A gentle tap on his shoulder sent shockwaves through his entire body as he spun around to face the perpetrator. His little sister, Kim, looked up at him, her hand gripping her hip hard enough to shatter Kelsey’s bones. She pointed at the tray of mac and cheese in front of him. “Get that,” she hissed. She pointed her thumb over her shoulder. “There are plenty of people behind us and I’m not willing to get publicly embarrassed on my birthday.” The older brother nodded, his throat too closed up to squeak out an apology. He picked up the ladle that sat on the tray of food and carefully counted out three scoops, his hands shaking enough to double as a massage chair. Kim pushed past him, picking out foods with ease, her tray filling up at an alarming speed. “I don’t know why you get so anxious over these things,” Kim muttered. “I thought that if we went to a buffet, you’d ease up a bit.” Kelsey clicked his tongue. “Be lucky I’m not wasting some poor waitress’s time, at least.” “But you’re wasting mine.” Kim looked over at Kelsey’s near-empty tray and sighed, her tense shoulders falling as her expression evened out. Kelsey felt ever so slightly more at ease, still sensing the angry crowd of buffet-goers behind him. Kim looked over at him, waving her hand dismissively. “Go

sit down, I’ll put some food on your tray.” As bad as Kelsey felt for annoying his sister on her birthday, he felt a weight fall off his shoulders as he sat down with his parents at their table. Mom pursed her lips as she saw him sit down without a tray. “You’ve gotta learn how to decide for yourself, Kel,” she scolded. Kelsey had gone through the same lecture time and time again, so he simply prepared himself. Mom seemed to notice his resignation, but she went on anyway. “One day, you’re going to live on your own, and you’ll have to stop relying on other people to make your decisions.” Always his saving grace, the birthday girl sat down next to Kelsey, passing him a tray piled with food. Her own tray had a considerably larger amount of food, enough to make Kelsey feel full just looking at it. “I hope this isn’t too much,” Kim said, stopping Mom from going on with her repeated lecture. “I figured since it was allyou-can-eat, I’d take it literally.” Mom tore her eyes away from Kelsey to look at her now-teenage daughter, a smile appearing on her face where it wasn’t before. “Of course not, dear. It’s your birthday, you can get as much as you want.” She glanced over to Dad, who was silently shoveling food in his mouth at alarming rates. “Not to mention, your father got far more than you did.” Kim smiled. “I can never be surprised he won a hotdog eating competition when he eats like that.” “What is that supposed to mean?” Dad whined, wiping his mouth. “I am eating like any man should.” Mom placed her hand on Kelsey’s shoulder, a solemn look on her face.

“Kel, dear. Don’t listen to your father.” Kelsey smiled. “I wasn’t planning on it, Mom.” “Hey!” All the tension from earlier had subsided as Kim struck up a conversation, her natural charisma making up for any gaps that Kelsey’s social ineptness or Dad’s mouthstuffing made. Kim was in the middle of teasing dad about his failed garage band he had started back in 2024 when she slowly trailed off, looking over at Mom. “Mom, are you okay?” Mom was staring down at her food with an empty expression, her hands in her lap. She hadn’t eaten a single bite of her food since Kelsey had last looked at her, and she hadn’t spoken in a while either. She glanced up at Kim, her reaction delayed. “I’m alright,” she said, her voice hardly audible. She managed a weak smile as her head slowly dropped to the side. Kim only caught on in time to jump out of her seat and catch Mom from falling, her head inches away from hitting the ground. Mom curled up in her bed, her entire body

tense. Kim sat next to her, gently rubbing her arm. Kelsey sat on the floor, resting his chin on his knees in silence, his back pressed against the wall. The lights were off and the curtains were drawn. The door opened as Dad stepped in, letting light into the room. Mom tossed her blanket over her head, groaning slightly. “I spoke with a friend of mine, the doctor,” Dad said, gently closing the door. “He said that it’s probably just a fever.” Kelsey let out a sigh, closing his eyes peacefully. “That’s good.” A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 1



“Yeah, it’s great,” Kim said, her voice somewhat shaky. Kelsey kept his eyes shut tight, his head hurting from the pressure. “Is something wrong, Kim?” Dad asked. Kelsey dug his head into his knees. There was a momentary silence. Kelsey could feel Kim’s eyes on him. “No, it’s nothing. I’m glad you’re okay, Mom.” Kelsey opened his eyes and saw Kim crouching in front of him. “C’mon, Kel. Let’s let Mom get some rest.” Gently taking her older brother’s hand, she led them out of the room, shooting one last glance at Mom, her expression unreadable. “Hey, Kel?” Kim sat on the bottom bunk of their bed, texting one of her friends. Kelsey lay on the top bunk, staring aimlessly at the ceiling. “What’s up?” “So, Alaska was split into two because of a threat of war or something like that, right?” Kelsey nodded. “There were a lot of protests from people in different parties that turned into riots.” “Right,” Kim rolled over. “So what makes us the good guys, exactly? I mean, like, we only hear bad things about East Alaska, so what do they hear about us? And what about people who try to go to the other side without registration? There must be some people who do that, so why don’t we hear about them?” Kelsey lay on his side, his eyes shut tight. “I dunno.” Kim clicked her tongue. “Of course you don’t.” Life went on as usual after that. The kids

went to school and Dad went to work while Mom lay in bed, either asleep or in pain. Her skin had taken on a sickly pale color, and she gradually became thinner, no matter how much she ate. Around three months after Mom had fallen ill, Kim called Kelsey and Dad into


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the living room. She sat on the coffee table, wringing her hands. “Mom’s been sick for a while, now,” she said, looking only at Dad. Chances were that Kelsey wasn’t going to listen, anyway. “I don’t think it’s a fever.” Dad nodded solemnly. “What do you think it is, then?” Kim shifted in her seat ever so slightly. “I was speaking with a friend who moved here from East Alaska.” She swallowed, her eyes quickly darting over to Kelsey. “She said that there’s been an unnamed pandemic going around for years that West Alaska hasn’t been treating at all.” She looked at Dad earnestly. “It aligns with Mom’s symptoms. Chances are, if we don’t get her treated, she’ll die.” Kelsey thought it was crazy. There was no way he’d believe that Mom was suffering from some deadly disease that nobody ever talked about. It was just another one of Kim’s delusions. He looked over to Dad, hoping he would protest, but Dad was listening to Kim. He believed every word Kim was saying. Kelsey stayed quiet. There was a loud knocking on the wood of

Kelsey’s bunk bed. “Kel, get up,” Kim shouted from on the ground. “We need to go.” Kelsey curled up, keeping his eyes shut. “I don’t wanna go!” He protested. “If we don’t get the registration to move, we can’t get Mom the help she needs. Now get up.” Kelsey sat up, opening his eyes. The sudden light of the once-dark room burned. He looked down at Kim. “You really think I’ll believe some crap about a secret disease? Mom just has a fever, stop spouting your delusions and apologize to Dad already.” Kim’s eyes widened for a split second. “Have you ever listened to a word Mom’s said to you? You need to get out of your own head and think for yourself for once in your life. The truth is that Mom’s deathly ill and you just don’t wanna think about it because you can’t look past what you’ve been told.” Kim looked away from Kelsey, making her way to the door. “You need to suck it up before you get everyone else killed.” Kelsey stayed quiet. Dad drove them to the registration center that stood outside the unofficial border between East and West Alaska. Kelsey looked down at his legs, avoiding any eye contact

with Kim. Crappy music was blaring from the radio. “Hey, Kel,” Kim whispered, her voice far softer than earlier. “I’m sorry about what I said, I shouldn’t have gone that far.” “It’s fine.” Kelsey didn’t look away from his legs. The registration mostly consisted of what felt like a verbal Terms and Conditions page. They spoke about prohibiting any public speech that could potentially cause riots. After listening for about an hour, they were forced to pledge allegiance. Three hours after they arrived, the family left with registration forms in hand. Kim clicked her tongue. “They’re pretty much asking us to change our views or stay quiet,” she complained. “But I suppose it’s better than letting anything bad happen to Mom.” “Change my views or stay quiet, huh?” Kelsey looked away from his legs, making eye contact with his sister. “I suppose that’s what I’m good at.” Kelsey sat on the floor with his back against the wall, his knees pulled up to his chest with his chin resting on his knees. Next to him was his little sister, who was sitting with her legs crossed, tapping away at her phone. Around them, the movers put things in boxes and lugged them outside, having conversations among themselves. “Dad says he’ll get us separate rooms in our new house,” Kim muttered. “So we won’t be in bunk beds anymore?” Kelsey raised his head to look at his sister. “Nope.” The new house was big and empty. Mom

was in the hospital and Kim had already set up her new room. Kelsey got his new bed in place, but let the other cardboard boxes sit and collect dust. Kim had nagged him about this before, but she eventually realized it was pointless. He stared up at the ceiling, which was a lot farther away than he liked. The silence was deafening. “I hate it here,” he muttered. The room stayed quiet.

Kim patted Kelsey on the shoulder, her mouth full of cereal. “I know you hate school, but you’ve never been this nervous,” she commented, wiping her mouth. “What’s up?” Kelsey took a bite of his apple. “I’ve heard that East Alaska has a lot of poorer quality


schools.” He pursed his lips. “I don’t mean to be stingy at all, but...” Kim giggled to herself. “You really do believe everything you hear.” She chugged down her milk and stood up, slamming the bowl down on the table. “You’ll be fine, calm down.” It was 9 am and there was a boy yelling in

Kelsey’s face on his first day of school. “I heard you were from West Alaska,” he said. “Is it true that everyone there is super poor?” “Um,” Kelsey looked away, backing as far away from the boy’s face as possible, “no, not really.” “Man, I knew something was up with that rumor,” said a girl who sat next to Kelsey. “What about the schools? I heard the government puts a lot of money into West Alaskan schools.” “They’re the same as here. I mean, we’re a bit more forward into the curriculum, but that’s all.” Kelsey was bombarded with questions all day, most of them about completely wild rumors. When he left school that day, Kim by his side, he couldn’t help but feel a bit dizzy. “They got you too, huh?” Kim laughed to herself. “I guess you’re not the only person who takes everything at face value.” “It’s just weird to think that both sides of Alaska are so similar.” Kim adjusted her bag. “I always kind of figured our differences weren’t as dramatized as they seem to be. Even if we almost had a borderline war like 20 years ago, we’re all humans, you know?” “I guess so.”

As Mom got healthier by the day, Kelsey grew more accustomed to living in East Alaska. There were minor differences between the two halves of Alaska, like a less strict dress code and cheaper food. He began to really enjoy living there. One night, Kim and Kelsey decided to sleep over in Kim’s room. “Hey, Kel?” Kel was laying on his side, his eyes closed, but sleep not reaching him. “What’s up?” “I was just thinking,” she shifted and the mattress springs creaked. “All our lives, we’ve been told that East Alaska was a crappy place, and now we’re being told that West Alaska is like that. Don’t you think that’s a bit weird? And also, isn’t it weird that everything seems so perfect here? You think there’d be some kind of flaw, but there isn’t. Makes me think that the authorities are just good liars.” Kelsey squeezed his eyes shut, his entire body tensing. He felt Kim’s eyes on him. Kim clicked her tongue. “Forget it.” It had been a year and a half of living in

East Alaska. Mom had fully recovered and Kelsey had finally unpacked the cardboard boxes in his room. A new student had showed up at school and sat down next to Kelsey at lunch. “Hey,” she started off, pulling out a notepad, “I’ve been trying to research West Alaska, and I heard that you used to live there. So,” she leaned forward, “what was it like there?” “In West Alaska?” Kelsey clicked his tongue. “I hated it there.” ■



I cried an ocean At my grandfather’s feet when I was six years old. He was speaking With his friend Pearl In Tlingit about how the New people to our land treated them, how our language was Deteriorating. We, the peoples Whose tongues And languages Are vibrations, Reflections, Echoes of our ancestral environments. I cried for the Past, The present. I cry for a future In 30 years Where we are lifted out of this chasm. Where all Alaskans speak in In ancient prismatic languages We teach all Alaskans The names of the hundred personalities of Snow. I cry for a world Our native languages are thriving, not surviving. A world Where we laugh at our grandfather’s feet And when we chuckle, rainbows fall From Our tongues. A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 1









ei-Mei lived on a yellow sailboat in the harbor. It was a very small sailboat, low and dark and sometimes lonely in the water, but Mei-Mei didn’t mind. Mei-Mei belonged to a very old fisherman who also lived on the sailboat. It had been many years since the fisherman had caught anything, but he continued to introduce himself as a fisherman, and that’s what people continued to call him. In the evenings, Mei-Mei and the fisherman read children’s fiction, he with whiskey and she with milk. They liked children’s fiction because words were important to them, and after all, any good story is nothing more than anarchic bundles of words pretending to be knowledge. The fisherman liked words because they were just as lovely as the fish had once been, but far more reliable. Mei-Mei liked words because of the sounds they made coming out of the mouths of humans. The Constant Family came to town in the shell of a Chinese spaceship that had fallen back down to Earth. At that time, the most cutting-edge technology in the colonization of space included a state-of-the-art launch disposal system that sent all extraneous machinery back to Earth after takeoff. The Constant Family, as manual operators of the spaceship necessary only for its launch, were classified as “extraneous machinery.” They had operated the spaceship H.M.S. Prudence so that its primary passenger might continue on to Mars. They had been chosen for this role primarily because of their collective ability to receive instructions and push buttons. The Constant Family had not expected to crash in Harborville, but upon inspection, they were quite pleased with their new home. “Destiny,” cried Mr. Constant, “that we


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should land in such a productive and prolific land! This water, this earth—it will nourish our descendents for generations to come!” Mrs. Constant, having immediately decamped to the nearest boutique, found that there would indeed be a suitable supply of small-town gossip, and wasted no time in helping to maintain the intricate infrastructure of rumours, grudges, and prejudice. “The best thing about small towns,” she told her husband, “is that it is truly impossible for anybody to be anything other than ridiculous!” Even little Benny and Tommy Constant took to the new land. The old-growth forest was a playground for them, replete with waterslides and rope swings and balancing beams and swimming pools and treehouses, and even conveniently placed public snacks. Only moody Sadie Constant felt upset by this development. Young people are always particularly sensitive to change, despite what they tell themselves. At seventeen, Sadie was the only member of the family old enough to remember, but not yet willing to forget. After moving past their outrage at the recklessness of the Chinese Space Agency, the citizens of Harborville began to realize that the crash-landing might actually be a boon to the Economy. The travel agency immediately mobilized its top media consultants to organize a welcoming party, in order to photograph Mr. and Mrs. Constant shaking hands with the Mayor, and photographs were sent out to all the biggest news outlets in the world, the better to attract visitors and stimulate the tourism industry. The biggest retailer in town, Lee’s Sporting Goods, gave each of the Constants a pair of boots and a raincoat emblazoned with the Lee’s logo. The Manager of Lee’s hoped that one of the new arrivals might accept a job at

the store; he had been suffering from a dire shortage of employees, that was a result of the poor Economy. The Constants were also given a home of their own. If there was one thing the City of Harborville did well, it was the making of homes and the eating of food. Yes, the Economy might be in the dumps and the city might be broke, but the people knew how to keep themselves alive! The houses seemed as though they’d been built explicitly from and for the conditions of a temperate rainforest; the structures were small and humble and beautiful, and exclusively constructed from local materials that blended subtly with the colors around them. The fireplaces were placed exclusively in the centers of the houses, the better to keep out the cold and damp, and the better to welcome multitudes of friends and neighbors in the cold and dark months. Root cellars and smokehouses and greenhouses and gardens extended out from each home, because no house was complete without a vast supply of food, and this, too, was a great success for Harborville. The pride of the town—the wild peach trees—grew abundantly down the street and up into the valley and all across the island, and the people of Harborville explained proudly and reverently that all who lived on the island were free to take the wild peaches as they pleased. The Constants were given all these things; a home with a fireplace in the middle, and a freezer and a greenhouse and all the peaches they could eat. “I’ll warn you, though,” said the Mayor to Mr. Constant after the photographers had left, “Harborville is in tough times. No jobs and no workers. Making a living doesn’t come easy these days.” Neither Mei-Mei nor the fisherman felt that they belonged in Harborville anymore.

The fisherman didn’t belong because he was without work. He had money, plenty of money from the good years. But what he really wanted was work; good work; the kind that reminds you that you’re not too good to work with your hands, work that reminds you what you love and who you are. Mei-Mei felt she didn’t belong because nobody noticed her anymore. Back in the good years, when the harbor was the center of the town and everyone important had a boat, people would see the cat on the sailboat and smile. “Look at that cat,” they’d say. “Isn’t she beautiful? Isn’t she just the queen of the harbor?” Mei-Mei felt that that had been her job—to look out from her perch on the boat, and greet the fishermen and visitors and townspeople. But no one came to the harbor anymore; no one saw the cat on the sailboat. The Constant family declined to work at Lee’s Sporting Goods. “I don’t see why I need to work when we get so much from the city,” explained Mrs. Constant to the Manager. “At a certain point, you can pay a person as much as you like, but if the work doesn’t make them happy, you’ve got a problem. I’d rather work in the kitchen.” Of course, this meant that the family had no money. This worked just fine, for a while—Mrs. Constant’s homemade spiced peaches could buy just about anything that money could. But Mr. Constant soon began to feel restless. He felt like a bum without work! Though, he admitted, it wasn’t that he had no work—he had more work than ever, really, what with chopping wood and plowing the land and helping the neighbors. He just didn’t have a job; a job came with respect, with security, with status! Mr. Constant saw his wife’s spiced peaches flying out of the kitchen, and an idea sprouted in his mind. “Martha, quit giving away your peaches,” he said one morning at the breakfast table. Mrs. Constant did not like this. “The only reason Sally invited me to play bridge on Sunday was for my spiced peaches,” she said. “People like my peaches, so they like me.” And, as an afterthought she added: “Those peaches make people happy. It’s a public service.” “Well, don’t stop making them,” said Mr. Constant. “We’re going to sell them. This town needs some entrepreneurial initiative. Call that a public service!” So the three Constant children were sent out to the valley on their bikes to pack as

many peaches as they could into their baskets and trailers, and Mrs. Constant used the last of the money to buy an industrial pressure canner, and Mr. Constant contacted the manager at Lee’s Sporting Goods and said no, I don’t want to work for you, but how would you like to start selling the tastiest wild spiced peaches in town? And the Manager said why, yes that sounds just wonderful and congratulations, sir, on bringing some entrepreneurial initiative to Harborville! The spiced peaches were a hit, as Mr. Constant knew they would be. They flew off the shelves at Lee’s Sporting Goods, $12 a jar. As Director of Operations, Mr. Constant felt quite proud of his achievement, and hired his daughter, Sadie, and two other high schoolers to work in the kitchen with Mrs. Constant. They couldn’t cook fast enough to keep up with demand. Soon, however, the meek and finite reserves of cash in town began to run out. Or rather, they began to accumulate under the bedsprings of Mr. and Mrs. Constant. The neighbors who once traded their vegetables and meat could no longer afford the $12 peaches. Sally Goodwin offered daily bridge sessions for Mrs. Constant, if only she could have just a few jars of those spiced peaches for free! Others offered their vegetables, their wild game, their labor. But there was only one thing Mr. Constant wanted. “I’d like to buy some land,” he told the mayor. The mayor’s eyes popped out of his head. Cash? For the city to use? The city had stopped selling private plots years ago, when the population had stopped growing, and as a result no land sales had occurred in the past thirty years. “Land out in the valley,” insisted Mr. Constant. “Land with peach trees. The Constant Spiced Peach Corporation would like to own that land.” So for the second time in a year, Mr. Constant and the Mayor shook hands, and for the second time in a year, the Mayor thanked his lucky stars for the Constants. Back on the yellow sailboat, Mei-Mei and the fisherman agreed that the Constant Spiced Peaches were just about the tastiest thing that happened in the harbor for many years. At least, not since the fish had disappeared. “They say Constant will own the whole town soon,” said the fisherman. “He’s gon-


na put every single person to work makin’ peaches, and givin’ em’ the money to buy what they make. Whatcha think of that, cat?” Mei-Mei just looked out the window. She could see the Constants’ house, up in town on the hill, and she could see moody Sadie Constant sitting in the window and reading. Mei-Mei looked at Sadie Constant and smiled. One evening, after their shift at the Constant Spiced Peach Corporation, the three Constant children went walking down by the docks. The evening twilight stretched out across the sky, with broken clouds letting in late light off in the distance, and sheets of rain off to either side. Though it was late, Sadie wasn’t tired; she brought along her two little brothers at her mother’s request, to keep them out of the way of the pressure canner. The little boys didn’t care one way or the other, because they didn’t know any better. Sadie still missed her old life. She didn’t care for picking peaches, and thought the family business was silly. The evenings were the most acceptable time of day to her; evenings were a between-time; a time of safe and gentle change, with all the reliability of the daily setting sun. Sadie saw things on her evening walks that other people didn’t see. That evening while she walked through the harbor with her little brothers, Sadie saw an old cat on the deck of a painted yellow sailboat. The cat and the sailboat looked old and dilapidated, but Sadie liked old and broken things. She pointed out the cat to her brothers, who waved at the cat. The cat winked, and then spoke. The boys were not surprised, because they were young and they saw the magic in the land, and they didn’t know any better, anyways. Sadie was surprised, but she was also wise enough to keep quiet and listen. Here is what the cat said: A L A S K A H U M A N ITI E S F O R U M F A L L 2 02 1



“Good evening, children. Do you know why you’re here? No? I’ve been waiting for you. I saw you arrive, but I’ve been waiting long since then. Waiting for thirty years with my fisherman, ever since the fish went away.” The cat was Mei-Mei, of course, and she really had been waiting. “I can see you miss your home, child,” said Mei-Mei to Sadie. “As you should. We must never stop looking back.” The fisherman in his bed heard Mei-Mei speaking, and he nodded along. “Now, the only thing that is really wrong with Harborville is that there is no library.” Mei-Mei stood, and got to the point: “The fisherman and I would like to start a library. But the fisherman is old, and I am just a cat. What we really need,” she said, “is a librarian.” She looked at Sadie here, for Benny and Tommy really weren’t old enough to be librarians just yet. Sadie knew that Mei-Mei was talking to her, and she was pleased. It didn’t give her back her old home, or her old life, and it didn’t bring back the fish, not really. But like Mei-Mei and the fisherman, Sadie liked stories. And what’s more, she was lonely, and didn’t like working at the Constant Spiced Peach Corporation. Benny and Tommy giggled and pointed at the sun as it disappeared beneath the water, on its way to rise again. At the request of his daughter, Mr. Constant (of the Constant Spiced Peach Corporation) donated a parcel of land (bare of peach trees) to the new Harborville Library. He had wanted to make it the Constant Corporation Bookstore, but Sadie had been firm; they would have a library. Mrs. Constant approved; she knew libraries were perfect petri dishes of gossip—perhaps because they aroused so much emotion in the puny little human minds? Sadie liked working at the library, even though the pay was truly horrible. If she


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hadn’t been the daughter of the Constant Spiced Peach Corporation proprietors, she’d have had no way at all to acquire spiced peaches. She met plenty of new people, and she felt that people respected her. Mei-Mei and the fisherman, too, were pleased. They remained in the dark recesses of the sailboat, because cats and artists prefer solitude, but Mei-Mei could see the town from her perch, and she could see the people reading. The fisherman checked out The Old Man and the Sea, even though it wasn’t strictly children’s fiction. Mr. Constant remained skeptical. More and more workers were requesting time off, to read, of all things! For the first time since the spiced peach craze, production was down; it was down horribly. The Mayor, the Manager, and Mr. Constant called an emergency meeting. “We’ve simply got to put an end to all this reading!” fumed Mr. Constant. “I can’t find a single employee to hold down the Sunday evening shift! I built this town, you know, but sometimes I swear to God I wish the Chinese hadn’t accidentally crash landed me within hundred miles of Harborville!” The Manager was sympathetic; business had been wonderful thanks to the spiced peaches. But the Mayor wasn’t so sure. He’d recently discovered that a certain Sally Goodwin was a fervent fan of Shakespeare, and that reciting certain verses had a rather good chance of making her smile. “Why don’t you think on it, Constant,” said the Mayor. “You never know, maybe this library business will come to something.” So Mr. Constant went down the next morning to the harbor; he wasn’t one for walking, but he liked the mornings; mornings were a time full of promise, a time for thinking about the future, and all the splendid and staggering and astounding things he might accomplish in it. Mr. Constant was deep into his dreams for the future of the

Constant Spiced Peach Corporation when a small yellow sailboat caught his eye. But no; not the sailboat, the cat sitting on top of it. The cat was not remarkable; it was old and tired-looking. But goodness, how that cat looked out over the harbor! Almost regal in the morning light, Mr. Constant thought. And perhaps because of the strangeness of the morning air, he nodded to the cat as he passed, and the cat nodded back. Mei-Mei saw Mr. Constant come through the harbor, and smiled to herself. She nodded to Mr. Constant, and then stood, and stepped onto the dock, and moved her body in such a way so as to tell him that he might follow her, if he liked. Mr. Constant, confused with himself, followed the old cat to the end of the harbor. Mei-Mei sat down on the dock, and Mr. Constant stood, and together they watched the sun rise. It came up slowly from the water; from the water that had once so much promise, and shone on the town, on the people who continued to live. The lapping water reflected a million tiny suns onto Mr. Constant, so that his whole body shimmered, as though a school of fish were painted across his chest. Mr. Constant sighed and looked back up toward town, where the light fell on the peach trees and on the library. He stooped to stroke the cat, and then straightened in the dawn. Then he strode back down the dock, and Mei-Mei stayed and sat and watched him leave, walking with purpose back towards his Corporation. But as he passed the yellow sailboat, he stopped, and removed from his bag a jar of peaches, and set them down on the bow of the sailboat—freely. ■ This story was inspired by Sirens of Titan, by Kurt Vonnegut; One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel García Márquez; The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck; and Holes by Louis Sachar.



Black Lives in Alaska IN EARLY 2020, Rasmuson Foundation held convenings with African American leaders in Anchorage and Fairbanks in an effort to strengthen relationships and partnerships within those communities. The sessions generated the development of a multimedia storytelling project, Black in Alaska, that hopes to engage the public in civic dialogue and exchange, and also preserve the history of what it looks like to be Black in Alaska in 2021.The project promotes cross-cultural awareness and empathy, connecting members of the Black community to their fellow Alaskans through human connection. An exhibition, Black Lives in Alaska: Journey, Justice, Joy, is part of the project and is currently on display at the Anchorage

Museum in Anchorage through February. In early 2021, it received funding through an annual grant from the Alaska Humanities Forum. The exhibition’s introductory text states: “Generations before statehood and earlier even than the Klondike gold rush of the 1890s, Black men and women arrived in Alaska and have since participated in politics, economic development and culture. They patrolled the seas, built the roads, served in the military and public life, opened businesses, fought injustice, created art and forged communities. This exhibition, told through archival photos and collected materials, showcases the richness and resilience of Black lives in Alaska.”

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