This past week we celebrated Athabaskan culture. It is a rich culture, sparkling with music and dancing, bead work and nature. For half of each school day the students learned from the tribal elders, villagers, and guest musicians. This year, Dancing With the Spirit visited and taught the children how to fiddle and play the guitar. Athabaskans love the fiddle and some are famous for their music. It was a rare treat to have them with us and at the end of the week they joined our students to present a concert for the village.
Of course, music and dancing go together, so for the final half hour of each day the older children jigged and danced as Trimble and Mike and Chester and Ben and Wilbert played for them. It was a marvelous time for me, watching my students joined hand in hand having so much fun. Look at them in the picture above. You are witnessing a kind of intimacy unknown to larger schools. This is the entire middle and high school, all holding hands and enjoying each other’s company.
Athabaskans are known for their bead work and the elementary students spent much of their time refining their beading skills and making beaded clothing and sun catchers. The week was filled with traditional Athabaskan games, artwork and history.
The students learned about orienteering, or steering by a compass, which they used to find real hidden treasure outdoors. And of course, they were trained in subsistence skills. Sammy Roberts, one of our village elders, took the 7th and 8th graders out into the woods down by the slough and said, “Okay, three minutes. Build a fire.” Well, we had half a dozen fires going in two! Sammy taught the children how to make rabbit snares, snow shelters and lean to’s. He also demonstrated how to skin a muskrat. All the students were going to skin their own, but it has not been a good spring for muskrat.
So, what did David learn? He learned he must be prepared if he ventures out in winter away from the village. Never go out unless he tells somebody responsible where he is going and when he expects to return. If he stranded, he must build a snow shelter and wait for help to arrive. He should line the floor of the shelter with spruce bows turned upside down and weave bows together on the exterior above and around the opening. And he must be sure to run a stick through the roof and into the interior to create an air hole that can be kept open by moving the stick. If he doesn’t, he will suffocate. He learned to always carry picture wire to make his snares, to use a dry branch about an inch in diameter as the cross brace from which you hang the noose above the rabbit trail. He learned to plant smaller dry twigs on each side of the noose to make sure the rabbit does not go around the snare, and to use dry twigs so the rabbits won’t eat them. He also learned to dance a jig very badly. David didn’t learn to play the fiddle or make a sun catcher this year, but maybe next year he will!