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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 21, 2004 - Issue 107


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Cox, Dauenhauer Among Winners of Indigenous Literature Awards

by Mike Dunham Anchorage Daily News
credits: Loretta Outwater Cox speaks during an Alaska Federation of Natives workshop in October as her parents listen. Her book about her great-grandmother, "Winter Walk," was published last year. (Photo by Jim Lavrakas / Anchorage Daily News)

Loretta Outwater Cox speaks during an Alaska Federation of Natives workshop in October as her parents listen. Her book about her great-grandmother, "Winter Walk," was published last year. (Photo by Jim Lavrakas / Anchorage Daily News)The fourth annual Alaska Indigenous Literature Awards presentation was Tuesday night at the Sheraton Anchorage Hotel. Among the honorees on hand to accept their awards were veteran Tlingit historian, folklorist and playwright Nora Marks Dauenhauer of Juneau and Loretta Outwater Cox, originally from Nome, whose tale of her great-grandmother's harrowing trek for survival, "Winter Walk," was published last year.

Sidney Huntington of Galena was honored for his recollections of Interior life, "Shadows of the Koyukuk," which has gone through six printings to date. The spry 89-year-old addressed the awards audience with an impassioned plea for education. Places where, in his youth, fewer than 10 people lived now have hundreds of residents, populations too large to be supported solely by subsistence means, he said.

"We can't go back to living what we call 'off the country,' " said the former member of the Alaska Board of Game. "There's no way we can keep taking food out of the woods like we used to do."

There's no need to be nostalgic about that, he added, dismissing younger people who romanticize the old way of life. "They don't know what they're talking about! Thank God those days are behind us."

Huntington could speak from long experience. He recounted an early trapping trip during which he enountered minus-72-degree cold and barely made it home alive. At that time he promised himself, "If I ever have children, they won't be going through this."

Better schooling was the solution, he determined, and he spoke proudly of the achievements of students from Galena, where he served on the school board for many years.

Education was also on the mind of another award winner, storyteller Mike Andrews Sr. of Emmonak. He has spent 20 years working with students in the Lower Yukon School District, where he has been a leader in the effort to preserve the Native language and life ways. But he remembered having to wake up at 6 a.m. to fuel stoves in the dimly-lit, two-room mission school at Akulurak.

Speaking in Yup'ik, he noted that "today you don't have to freeze in the classroom. Why is it students aren't interested in going to class? In the old days, it was the opposite."

In accepting her award, Dauenhauer said it should include the names of her husband and collaborator, Richard, and many other people who have contributed to her life's work. She thought back to when she first began to collect and publish the memoirs of Tlingit elders, creating a ripple that she hoped would spread "farther and farther and farther."

"Well, it did," rejoined Joanna Wassillie, who followed Dauenhauer to the podium to introduce Andrews. Wassillie said that as a young Yup'ik student, she was overwhelmed when she first encountered Dauenhauer's books. She had not thought there was such a thing as Native literature, and to discover it was a revelation.

Kodiak elder John Pestrikoff, honored along with his late wife, Julia, was unable to make the flight to Anchorage because of a storm. A niece, Anchorage artist Helen Simeonoff, accepted the award on his behalf, observing philosophically, "We know that in Alaska you fly according to weather, not according to reservations."

Other honorees included the late Belle Dawson of Grayling and Robert Cleveland of Shungnak, whose stories and oral histories were recorded on tape before their deaths.

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