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INNOKO: A Week Long Lesson in Athabascan Traditional Skills and Values
Alaska Region, March 14, 2011
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A student from Takotna, AK tries skijoring for the first time. (Photo by Holly Sloan)
A student from Takotna, AK tries skijoring for the first time. (Photo by Holly Sloan) - Photo Credit: n/a
Refuge Manager, Bo Sloan, teaches a group of students how to set up a snare. (Photo by Holly Sloan)
Refuge Manager, Bo Sloan, teaches a group of students how to set up a snare. (Photo by Holly Sloan) - Photo Credit: n/a

Howling huskies and children’s laughter drowned out the soft shushing of skies through the snow. “Do you think my beagle could pull?” one child asked. “Can I borrow her?” said another, while a black and white Siberian husky licked the child’s smiling face.  “We had a husky once,” a young girl enthused as she helped one of her classmates into the skijor belt. Thirty students at the McGrath School were learning to skijor, a winter sport where skiers are pulled by one or two dogs. It has long been popular in Scandinavia but is growing in popularity in the US.  The students helped each other into the special skijor belt and attached the long bungee to the dog’s harness and then yelled, “Mush.”  The huskies took off, with a yelp of excitement from the kids. The brilliant blue March skies and springtime temperatures made the outdoor activities popular at the McGrath School’s “Native Traditions Week”, an annual event sponsored by the McGrath Native Education Committee and Innoko National Wildlife Refuge.  Skijoring was one of many events that Refuge employees assisted with or instructed; others included rabbit snaring, preparation of traditional Native foods, archery, ice fishing, and skin sewing.

Native Traditions Week aims to teach students the many traditional skills that were once a part of everyday life for the Athabascan people, providing an opportunity to learn about the local culture. Included in the program were more contemporary activities like skijoring, archery, and hockey, which introduced traditional values using modern techniques; values such as teamwork, respect, cooperation, self-sufficiency, and confidence.  The Refuge also uses the event as the perfect opportunity to get kids outdoors.

Over 70 students, kindergarten through 12th grade, from three local communities were able to participate in the event, thanks to the many volunteer instructors from the McGrath. Clara Demientieff, Refuge Information Technician and McGrath Education Committee member, spent countless hours planning and preparing this week long event. The week concluded with a community potluck and dance, where students were able to share the traditional dances and foods they had prepared.


Contact Info: Dara Whitworth, (907) 524-3251, dara_whitworth@fws.gov



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