Canku Ota

(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America

November 4, 2000 - Issue 22

AFN Brings Old-Home Week to Natives Living in the City
by Nellie Moore Anchorage Daily News (Published October 22, 2000)
artwork by Helen Kalvik

Until I moved here, I had always been intimidated by Anchorage. I came from Kotzebue, 550 miles northwest, on the Arctic coast. We only had a few miles of gravel roads, virtually no traffic and little that relates to our largest city.

After living here for seven years, I don't notice things that stood out when I arrived. The smell of exhaust and the roar of traffic, the neon lights, the huge buildings and stores, fast food are all second nature to me now. I even drive like an Anchoragite, if you know what I mean.

It's the Alaska Federation of Natives convention that takes me back home. Not the serious issues and business conducted during a long weekend in October, but the people and faces so very familiar.

When I walk through the lobby of the Egan Center, I put my Anchorage pace on hold and walk the village walk. I see lots of Native faces with familiar features, some I haven't seen for years, some months or days. Friends stand around the lobby, leaning against the railings or sitting on the benches, the same way they hang out at the post office back home.

Even if we don't always remember each other's names, we recognize one another and embrace. I hug grandmothers in fancy parkas with wolverine ruffs I love to smell and strong men who smell of wood smoke and caribou. There's nothing like it. They are my favorite cooks, seamstresses, mushers, hunters, trappers and Native leaders.

They all bring back snapshots of different eras in my life: living in Noatak, learning to make my husband a warm hunting parky; scraping a wolverine skin and learning how to tan the hide; being in high school; or finally making a good batch of sourdough hotcakes. They always tell me how I have changed, more gray hair, more or less weight. Others exclaim when they see my children, how big they are now and how they resemble me, my husband, my mom or dad. They don't care if my kids don't remember them; they just want to tell them a funny story. I just hope they don't think of a story that embarrasses me.

It's a week when I spend time to take my kids downstairs at the Egan, to where artists and craftspeople are selling their work. This year, the money they make is even more important because of the salmon crash all over rural Alaska. To accommodate the need, the Alaska Federation of Natives expanded the arts and crafts section, cutting back on displays by police departments and universities. The change may make a difference for someone trying to make it through a winter in Shishmaref, where gas for hunting is well over $3 per gallon. God only knows what heating oil costs in a village with no timber for firewood.

I tell my kids that looking at the tables is a lesson in geography. People from the coast have ivory carvings and clothing made from sealskin; from upriver where there's wood, birchbark baskets and caribou leggings. From the Interior, incredible beaded jewelry and moosehide gloves, slippers and vests. From Southeast and the Aleutians, beautiful bentwood boxes, button blankets and wonderful visors made of wood.

I have finally learned that it's this week that invigorates me and recharges my soul. Even with decades of experience covering the convention for radio stations, I spend weeks complaining to my husband about the amount of work it is going to be, again. Then when people start gathering and I walk the Egan Center lobby, I can't wait to come home and tell him who I saw and what they said, along with all the latest gossip from home.

He gets a knowing smile on his face and with a little laugh reminds me: You can take the girl out of the village, but you can't take the village out of the girl. Anyway, not as long as there's the AFN convention.

Broadcast journalist Nellie Moore is an associate with Native Voices Communications and has covered Alaska Federation of Natives meetings for many years.



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