During summer in high school my older sister and I worked at the fish plant in town. We earned our own money to order clothes for the following school year. We practiced dialogues in German for fun. I still remember the words and what each word means. Sometimes after a long work day, we would walk the circle around our village. We laughed and giggled and shared stories. Treasured moments that what would seem like hours, was only five minutes, as if time stood still from our laughter.
Growing up in a village we had to use our imagination a lot or find things to do for fun. When I was a very young girl, everyone had access to gugeelee Lake, which is by the airport landing strip next to the bridge that is now in Unalakleet. I would use an old coffee can and catch gugeelees and watch them, then let them go into the river. I thought they were being set free but I was actually disrupting their natural cycle. A fish will always return to where they were born, to lay eggs and start the cycle of life again. It is amazing. If I had known better I would not have captured them. There is a lake near the village that is by the first hill going up the river. This lake is at a higher level than the river and each year the fish that return to where they were spawned have to make a jump from the slough to the lake via a small water fall. It is awesome to watch fish! I get captivated by so many intricate details of so many things found in nature and it really makes life more enjoyable to truly appreciate the beauty in everything.
Jack and Sarah went up a hill
To pick a bucket of berries
Sarah fell over
Brother Jack helped her up
Together they filled their buckets
And blueberries came trickling over
Their Mom and their Dad
Were so very glad
They ate their berries in winter
I grew up in an isolated village in “bush” Alaska called Unalakleet. To lead a healthy life in High School I participated in Volleyball, Cross-country running and Basketball. Every day, except on Sundays, the school opens the gym for recreation. I loved being active. A lot of girls on the basketball team were mean to me but that did not stop me from trying my hardest. The ones who thought they were better than everyone did not try to make others better instead they made fun of girls like me. I gave up basketball in middle school because of misconduct so I wasn’t as talented as the girls who spent a lot of time in the gym. My determination to be the best I can be led me to “good sportsmanship” awards at the state basketball tournaments. When the older girls that were mean to me graduated I blossomed in basketball. Not so much my offensive skills but my defense skills were unmatched. I was a fierce defender and always encouraged girls who others were not nice to, to keep at it. My coach was also my teacher, youth pastor and later in life my College Professor. He made up a play called “Red.” This play was made specifically for me. It was only used as a last resort if we were loosing by a few points in the end of a game. My four team mates positioned themselves in each area of the corner of the key and guarded that area. My job was to be on the ball, no matter who had the ball, I followed the ball and did what I was best at, defense. Our coach always told us offense wins games and defense wins championships. We didn’t win a State Championship but every year we made it to the state level. It was a bigger court and we had to work very hard as a team. I always kept in my heart that there is no I in team. Perception of the game instills ethics in life subconsciously, as a coach you are tasked 1. Don’t take the love out of the game it is not about winning it is about having fun and competing in a healthy manner 2. don’t ever tell a team they are better than the next because when a game is started it’s the same playing field 3. Build a team up in unison and they will respect and love each other, not one player is better than the other but there are people with natural born talent, use it.
We learn a lot from the people we grow up with or at least I take the best of each person I know and apply that to my life. I like to see the very best in people and when you stop looking for faults in people, your mind heals and your heart grows. Be nice to children and always encourage them. Life is not a sport it is a gift and we all should treat it as such. Bless and be blessed.
Way up in the Northern regions of Alaska is a small Inupiaq and Yu’pik community of Unalakleet. Growing up I was told the meaning of our town is “where the east wind blows.” Our community has been a hub for surrounding villages for a long time. A major trading village in the days of old. The old town site is historical and my mom took me there once, fascinating to imagine old sod houses where the ditches in the earth are now covered with tundra. We did not disturb the old home sites just carefully picking cranberries around the area. The village can be a good thing or a bad thing and I’m hoping to shed light on some of the dangers of living in such a small, isolated community. Most of all to portray the goodness.
The village of Unalakleet is nestled in a valley at the drainage of the Unalakleet River where it meets the Bering Sea. Growing up the road to the hillside was along the airport road which aligns with the beach. This was after the old bridge was gone and before the new bridge was built on the Gwethluq slough. The dike separating the slough from the two lakes in the village was man made but built to help with flooding. This is a sand spit and eventually the village will have to relocate, something those who are capable are already doing by building homes up on the hillside. There used to be the old army hill where there were run down buildings from an old army base. A road travels 11 miles parallel on the left side of the river and ends at the old White Alice site. There used to be three towers there and the view from our cabin growing up allowed us to watch first hand the explosions that tore the towers down. The land used to be riddled and may still be today with PCBs. Our land will heal as our people are continually healing as we strive for a better future for our children.
Our Native Corporation store was once a larger scale operation than what it is today. The Post Office is now located in the old store building. The post office used to be near the Alaska Commercial Company store that is located “downtown” or at the point of town where the mouth of the river is located. Along with the fish plant and Brown’s lodge. Once in it’s hay day of civilizing our culture there was a boarding school for students called Covenant High. In the middle area of town there is “the Igloo” a snack shop and hangout for locals.
Growing up we had Bill’s video, that was a VHS rental in Bill’s home then was moved to the back of the Igloo. There used to be Maggie’s shop next door to the old house, she also rented out VHS tapes and had snacks and soft serve ice cream. Before there was peace on earth pizza there was a man who made pizzas out of his home, if I recall correctly his name was Dan Masters.
Near the airport side of town there is Happy Valley, a subsection of homes that are similar to hud housing. I liked to think of it as the suburbs but that was far from the truth. A lot of my cousins and friends grew up in that part of town. The Tiqasuk library used to be close to the Unalakleet Schools. There was a headstart program in the building that is now a coffee shop. My first teachers were Millie, Margie and Kermit. I would ask my mom for “potato soup” because that’s what I loved to eat at headstart. It took my mom awhile to figure out that I was actually referring to tomato soup. I had to go to school with a pair of dark blue Velcro shoes and I was not happy with that. Some of the activities I loved were building with brick looking cardboard blocks, the reading nook not to read but to look at pictures in the children’s books and going outside to do the dome game where we worked together to fill a dome parachute looking contraption with air and going under to create a dome. My teacher Millie always had beautiful marks on her face like my mom, beauty marks. My teacher Margie was a delightful soul always so happy. My teacher Kermit had one finger missing but I was never scared of him because he wore the same white tee shirts my Grandpa Johnson wore. There were substitutes here and there but I remember these three teachers very well. I thought of Headstart as a play program where I got to do cool projects, learn how to brush my teeth properly and actually not get my way.
The classmates you grow up with are almost an every day part of your life. We had a pretty chill class. In Kindergarten I would pluck out one of my classmates hair to tease him and say “I’ve got your hair.” I did not like nap time but I loved anything having to do with “it’s time to line up” I remember Mrs. Brown and Ms. Haugen and mainly being interested in arts and crafts or play time. I do remember a puppet in a tool box that I loved when Ms. Haugen would teach us lessons through him. The bilingual teachers would stroll a cart to our classroom for our heritage learning. Mrs. Mary Ann Haugen and Mrs. Charles. They both wore glasses so I tried to always be in the front so they could see me better, silly for thinking they couldn’t because that is what glasses are for. There was a day our class invited our siblings for part of our day and I was taken back at one of the girls making rough movements on the corner of her chair. I asked the teacher to help her thinking she had an itch or something. She was more than likely one of so many little girls who were molested. Something prevalent today in the rural villages. This will no longer be swept under the rug. Part of my testimony is that I am a survivor of sexual assault, sexual molestation and later in life rape. It’s a harsh reality to come to terms with, let alone to heal from. It literally has lifelong effects but there is always hope for a better future. To create change we must identify or expose the problem, then it no longer becomes acceptable or hushed behavior.
In such small communities I do not know how our women can sit idle. It happened to them and they don’t care if it happens to their daughters? That is the worst mentality to be occurring. We can create change and hope. Most adult problems and depression stem from early childhood trauma. This trauma can be overcome.
School was mandatory and so was summers spent at our cabin but that was the best part of my childhood. There is such a deep love for nature in my heart because my summers were spent in nature. We were poor, so we had to work very hard to gather enough food to last us through the winter. Five children is no easy task when it comes to keeping our bellies full for the majority of the year. One of our main staples was fish, every sort, caught during it’s run and cut and hanged to dry on our fish rack. Berries in the order of salmon or cloud berries first, then blueberries, raspberries, crow berries, cranberries and currants. With each coming in to season after the other. We put away masu in the spring and that is a root from the tundra, reminiscent to me of carrots but sweeter and of white flesh. Our greens gathered included Elephant ears we dipped in milk and vinegar sauce was always a special treat around the time we would gather sourdock leaves, something sour that my mom magically turned into something sweet called achathluk. Sura was a willow leaf collected right after bloomage and it was sour but nutritious. We stored the picked leaves in seal oil. Beach greens were so easy to gather and fun because we could look for sea shells at the same time. My mom would have us pick rosehip petals sometimes for jellies or to mix in with our ayuu tea. Our meats consisted of Moose, Caribou, Beaver, Porcupine, Seal, Ducks, Geese, Swan, Crane and Muktuk (whale). All these riches gathered by our hands from the land to help sustain us through the winter months. It was the good life.
There is an awakening occurring in the rural villages of Alaska where the sin of man will no longer be swept under the rug, and that is hurting little children and those who cannot fend for themselves. It is going to stop. We are the generation of healing and forgiveness, both go hand in hand. But the wounds must be ripped open as to no longer fester but to be cleaned through Jesus and to heal through Him. I am on a mission of Love and it is so very simple, all I am required to do is smile each day and all else will follow. We work with what we have and what all of us have that are saved is love and a smile. Please pray for the Rural Villages of Alaska. There is such goodness in the people but we are healing from the loss of our cultural identity and that identity will be restored. A learned behavior is hard to break, a lot of hurt and suffering comes hand in hand with colonization and our blood is not used to the effects of alcohol. Our bodies are allergic to it in a sense that we are basically infants trying to consume alcohol. All this is relatively new. Retaining our knowledge of the land and the subsistence lifestyle will go hand in hand with healing of not only the people but the land as well.
Flying for His Kingdom
By Gertie Ann
Don Irving was a missionary in his own right, flying for the missions of rural Alaska through the Mark Plane Ministry. He was a significant pilot to me because he was willing to lay down his life each and every single day for Jesus. His wife was beautiful inside and out and the type of woman who respected her Husband and took care of her children in a loving manner. I babysat Jodi and Bradley up at the Unalakleet Covenant Bible Camp their older brother Brandon didn’t need one, and they were all a joy. Children have a tendency to make anyone smile, especially Jesus Himself. That is a love all people are capable of to put the future of our Children in the forefront of decisions for they are the ones who will carry on in the works of our Father. When roots are burrowed in the foundations of love even the strongest wind will not cause uproot. Swaying in the wind, standing firm and continuing each day as the blessing it is. You’ve heard the story in prior post of the CORE trip and the miraculous events that that saved a group of High School Students serving the Lord through Missions work in rural Alaska. Don was our pilot. He had a woodman’s look with his beard but it was never out of control. His gentle eyes were passed down to his children, and they are oh so beloved, as you and I are. I often think of his wife and how she might be doing. Only to remember she is in the best care and that is God’s care. When I attended University in Fairbanks I was blessed to see them at their home. I felt the sense of loss and inner hardship and continually pray for them. Not once did God stop loving you. The Mark plane had engine issues. On a solo flight just after take off Don crashed into a lake and passed away. I remember hearing about Don’s passing while on our boat up the Unalakleet River. My heart sank as if it was down on the river bottom, being rallied with the currents, then I remembered, Jesus is in control and His will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven. Death is not a bad thing, it is a part of this worldly life. When we change our world perspective to an eternal perspective it is impossible to loose hope. Do not deny the love that Jesus has for you, do not dwell in self pity for that is a trick of the evil one. Do be a light that shines in the darkness, and whatever your calling of love in life and that is the will of God, be loving and kind and selfless and always willing. Willing to hug those hurting, smile in delight for those who exhume joy and also be joyous. Our Father in Heaven is watching, taking note of all, do not be afraid, be yourself and be the person God created you to be. We lift up the Irving family and remember those who fly for His Kingdom. Seek ye first the kingdom of heaven and that is what lies in the heart of your heart beyond reasoning and understanding it is what your heart beats for. To further advance His Kingdom on this earthly plane, when that one person He loves beyond compare is saved, all the heavens rejoice and exclaim His strength and power over all. That one is you, no more so than I or those who have come before us. It is louder than thunder, deeper than the depths of the earth, and expands further than the ever expanding universe that is His creation. We are not all called to be pilots, but when we do what we are capable, we are more than capable. It is so very simple, so very comprehensible, simply put, Love Him and in turn you become a ray of His love. It is only through love where we find Hope, and Only through Jesus where hope is found. Amen
The first time I felt true panic was up the Unalakleet River by my Uncle Doug’s camp site, one of my mom’s favorite salmonberry patches. My baby brother Chad was two and all bundled up in warm gear for the boat ride. The boat we used was an aluminum 16 footer my dad built in his brother’s shop, Gert and Gals was our boats name. The siding was raised enough to where you would think we were safe looking over the edge at the water. We were watching gugeelees or what you call minnows. As fast as Chad fell over the swiftness of my mom could not be matched by the swiftness of the current that was sweeping him away. She was our hero. We call it guqamuk when someone falls into the water. The instant it happened my heart missed a couple beats in sheer fright of loosing him but that was quickly relieved by our mom. Her love for her children will endure as long as the earth endures.
My Mother’s Shield. Some of my earliest childhood memories are of me shielding my mother’s face with my body. All the while she was taking blows to her body, begging me to call the cops. 911. I knew their number. I was three or four and I ran for the telephone mounted to the wall that seperated the living room to the kitchen. Before I could reach it my dad threw it on the floor in front of me. When the phone shattered my little heart shattered right along with it. I was a daddy’s girl who loved both my mom and dad the same. I hated alcohol. I Prayed to a God I did not know and begged for delivernace which was a word I didn’t even know. That same year my dad got sick. He was told by the doctors that if he drank again he would die. His liver could no longer handle alcohol. That was a miracle. My mom continued down her path of alcoholism and still is an alcoholic today. That is ok because I will love her still.
I’m not the first or the last to come from a broken home. I’d later on in life hear the harsh realities my mom faced and endured. She’s a most beautiful soul masked by alcoholism and depression. Something I’ve struggled with as you will come to find.
There is one thing that I have noticed, the more each generation strives for a better life than they had growing up, the more we see generational healing and spiritual redirection.
A part of who I am stems from being a daddy’s girl growing up. My love for my dad will never fade and no one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. I do not give up on my family and I never have. I threw fits so bad I had to hear about them as an adult. I suppose I was two or so and tired of walking. I threw myself on the ground whaling like the baby I was kicking my feet, hands and head on the dirt road. My dad tried to just keep walking but he didn’t get very far. He had to lay down on the dirt and position himself just so. I didn’t want to use not a single ounce of effort to pat-pat (backpack). He didn’t think anyone was looking, no one appeared to be around because he did the complete three sixty look around. Little did he know that a group of ladies were on coffee break at the district office and whitnessed the whole ordeal.
Growing up, if one of my siblings or I wanted something, I was designated to go ask dad. Later, if that failed, we sent our baby brother Chad to go ask mom. We all grew up in the same boat, literally and metaphorically, I mean this is Alaska. All were dedicated at the insistance of my mom, to the Unalakleet Covenant Church, Evangelical of course. We all accepted Jesus into our hearts. Pivitol times in our lives, no struggle aside, we were all each other had at times. OH, by all means don’t get me wrong. It’s a rough and tumble love, especially growing up. The best competition, biggest arguments, I had to win at all costs. My tongue was sharp before my heart was filled with love. It could cut grown men down to their knees.
For anyone, it will take a lifetime to learn to tame your tongue, it is then we can no longer speak. To shed light onto darkness it must be exposed. Something I’ve been praying for since October, for God to shed light on the darkness. Sweeping issues that are close to Our Father’s Heart under the rug will no longer happen. Jesus said Himself, “Harm not one Child.” The things my Savior put on my heart were only revealed to me after I was baptized.
That is to protect our children, in order to do that we need to protect our land and continue to pass down our traditional knowledge of the land. How to survive when big brother is no longer there. The way the world views love today is far from what Love is. Love is Jesus and God, and you will never know this love unless you accept Him into your heart.
Unalakleet is a small village, and I say village because it is only accessible by plane or boat, and I like to throw dog-team in there as well. As long as I can remember we always had a flush toilet and running water in town. Our family spent the school year in town and as soon as school was done for the year we were all ready to go to our cabin 11 miles up the Unalakleet River. Our childhood playground. Where we made up our own games hard enough to showcase our competitive nature. Obstacle courses were constrewed of sticks linned up that you had to jump over, crawl under and run as fast as you can. We were all fast but Axel and I would usually win. We did our best to win that day, but did not give up hope if we didn’t win because we could race again tomorrow. We would all have a chance at doing better. Sometimes your worst competition is yourself. It’s what holds most people back from interacting with strangers, sharing a simple smile, the every day simple acts of kindess that show love.
Don’t give up your smile, don’t give up your story. Let your story shine and give all the Glory to God! His strength is not fully revealed in this world because we all are not saved. The warfare that is going on in this day and age is like that of no other. One smile can make a difference, one smile can change the world. A mother’s love will change the world. Bless and be blessed. Love and be loved for you are beloved. We are all highly favored people it simply starts with accepting your new destiny that awaits you by accepting Jesus as your Lord and personal Savior.