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KANUTI: The Lesson of Moose Soup
Alaska Region, February 7, 2011
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Allakaket and Alatna residents line up for the community dinner during “Winter Celebration with Kanuti.”  Local traditions honor elders by allowing them to be first in line. January 20, 2011. FWS photo.
Allakaket and Alatna residents line up for the community dinner during “Winter Celebration with Kanuti.” Local traditions honor elders by allowing them to be first in line. January 20, 2011. FWS photo. - Photo Credit: n/a
Allakaket and Alatna students, Kanuti Refuge staff and
Allakaket and Alatna students, Kanuti Refuge staff and "Friends" member Betty Siegel enjoy a visit with the Blue Goose during “Student’s Night Out,” the kick-off event for “Winter Celebration with Kanuti.” January 19, 2011. FWS photo. - Photo Credit: n/a
Students in
Students in "bird masquerade" present the mural they made during "Winter Celebration with Kanuti" to their communities. January 20, 2011. FWS photo by Betty Siegel. - Photo Credit: n/a

As he set the steaming, heavy pot down onto the table in front of me, he merely nodded with kind and smiling eyes, then slipped away into the gathering crowd without saying a word.  I peeked into the pot, wondering what was inside, and found a delightful and delicious smelling homemade moose soup.  I quietly considered how much effort had gone into hunting the moose and making the soup, and felt appreciation stirring in my heart.  As people from Allakaket and nearby Alatna continued arriving on this cold, -58° Fahrenheit evening in January, several community members added to the dinner in the same modest way.  I noted the additions to the table; a large tray of dry meat, a big chunk of muktuk (whale meat) diced into enough pieces for everyone, a tray of hearty burritos, and the biggest bowl of dinner rolls I have ever seen. 

I was in the school gym in Allakaket with almost all of the Kanuti Refuge staff and a volunteer from Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges (Friends), and we were preparing the community dinner we had brought to share as part of “Village Night Out,” the second day of our annual outreach event, “Winter Celebration with Kanuti.” The event was created to honor and thank the communities that lie nearest to the Refuge for their stewardship of Kanuti Refuge resources.  We hadn’t anticipated that the community would contribute to the dinner that we were bringing to them.  Life in the remote villages of Allakaket and nearby Alatna for the Koyukon Athabascan and Kobuk Eskimos, who rely heavily on subsistence activities to survive, is expensive.  Moose harvest has been up and down in recent years and with the cost of gas having risen to nearly $8 per gallon in an area with just a handful of jobs, just driving to the event was costly for most. 

Dinner commenced with a local elder giving a blessing.  After eating, people browsed our information display, enjoying the giant posters that featured our key biological projects, maps of the refuge and winter moose hunting areas.  People also enjoyed the migratory bird calendars, brochures, and other outreach materials we brought to share.  After dinner, the crowd moved to the bleachers to watch presentations about the work we do.  To help community members “get to know Kanuti better,” each staff member presented a short talk about who they are and their job with USFWS, an activity that was also provided in classrooms for students earlier that day, to introduce students to a variety of conservation careers. 

In the spirit of providing a bit of good old fashioned fun, refuge staff and students held a special parade featuring students wearing bird masks that they made during events the day before and presenting a mural they created as a gift to the community. Everyone was delighted when “the Blue Goose” arrived at the end of the line of masqueraders. The evening concluded with an awards ceremony to honor individual community members’ contributions toward good stewardship of the refuge.  As people departed into the cold night, I kept thinking about the gifts of food people had brought, struggling to understand how a community with so many people in need, could be so willing to share.  Perhaps what moved me the most wasn’t just the way people gave, but why. 

The subsistence life-way emphasizes sharing and has been part of Athabascan and Eskimo cultures for untold generations, but it’s a special kind of sharing.  Sharing means “giving some of what you have to others who don’t have,” but it’s also about kinship.  It’s a way of honoring ancestors and the past, and it’s a powerful way of passing on traditional native knowledge and showing the younger generation how to live well.  Each contribution to the community dinner, then, was a meaningful act of leadership, providing children with a valuable opportunity to learn traditional native ways, and reminding adults of how to get along well with each other.  I was reminded of the power we all have to create positive influence with a single, thoughtful action.  The moose soup lasted just a moment, but the lessons that were given along with it are seeds, and with watering, will grow.

Kanuti Refuge staff thanks the people of Allakaket and Alatna.  We look forward to an enduring partnership with both communities, and as we continue to extend the hand of friendship to each other, we are reminded again of the immense value of working together.  Kanuti staff would also like to thank Friends of Alaska National Wildlife Refuges volunteer Betty Siegel, for her efforts during the event, and the Friends group for their generous support of “Winter Celebration with Kanuti” events for the past two years. 

Written by Kristin Reakoff, Kanuti Refuge Interpretive Park Ranger.


Contact Info: Joanna Fox, (907) 456-0330, joanna_fox@fws.gov



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