My job allows me to visit a lot of Alaska on a yearly basis. I wanted to capture the trips in one location!

The most southern community in Alaska, Metlakatla on Annette Island!

Oct. 16-18, 2013

As I prepared for my trip to Metlakatla (matt-la-Cat-la) I was trying to remember a past visit(s) there, and recalled that my first trip ever for my job with AASB was to Metlakatla in the spring of 2002.  It had been a quick visit but non the less I was able to notice some big changes while at the same time, noting that some things never change.  Once in Metlakatla I also was reminded that in the late 1990’s, as I was in charge of Elderhostel trips, a small cruise ship I was on had stopped here for a day, so indeed I had been there twice before!Image

Metlakatla moved to its current location sometime in the 1890’s  before that Metlakatla was in British Columbia near Prince Rupert.   The word Metlakatla comes from the traditional Native Tsimshian (sim-See-in) word meaning “Salt Water Passage”.  A lay minister in 1886 went to Washington DC and asked the US government to give a group of Natives land in the United State.  The then US President Grover Cleveland selected Annette Island for its calm bays, water sources, and seafood accesiblity.  

One of the most interesting things that makes it different from the rest of Alaska Native communities is that it is a Reservatin.  In 1888 the same lay minister that had asked for it to be moved to the US asked if Metlakatla could be come an Indian Reservation and in 1891 it became one.

I flew to Ketchikan on Alaska Airlines then grabbed a quick flight to Annette Island on Pacific Airways, on a small float plane.  It took less than 15 minutes to fly the 16 miles. 

Typically you hear on the nightly news that Metlakatla was the warm spot in the state.  It is one of the warmest communities in Alaska with only about 3 feet of snow falling in the winters.  Image

Another thing that is unique about Melakatla is that it is a growing rural, Native community in Alaska.  With many other communities losing people to more ‘hub’ communities, Metlakala is not losing but rather gaining individual. 


Tsimshian dolls by Vivian Benson (sister of one of my friends in this community) they are made of red cedar, yellow cedar, sea otter fur, hide, abalone buttons, mother of pearl buttons and human hair.


in 2001 the AISU established the Healing Arts Project in order to promote relationship between health, community and culture by supporting the creativity of local Native Artists.


Chikat and Raven Tail Leggings with the Tsimshain Lightning design, made of wool, yellow cedar, leather , copper, bone feathers, glass beads and sea otter fur.


The designs on the sides of this bentwood box refer to two important aspects of Metlakatla’s history. One side is the symbol of ancestors conversation to Christianity and the other show the migration from Metakatla, BC to the current community in 1887.


the Moon Mask by Aaron Horne, red cedar, abalone, and acrylic paint


Killer Whale Mask made by Wayne Hewson, red cedar, abalone, and acrylic paint

I had a great time working with the community and enjoyed visiting the Annette Island Service Unit, a local medical facility for the community.  The artwork inside the building was amazing, and I have attached many photos of the traditional Native Artwork.  ImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageImageIMG_0719 IMG_0718 IMG_0717 IMG_0716 IMG_0715 IMG_0711 IMG_0707 IMG_0700 IMG_0699 IMG_0698 IMG_0697 IMG_0696 IMG_0695 IMG_0694 IMG_0693 IMG_0692

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Sitka, Home to Mt. Edgecumbe High School; Alaska’s Largest Boarding HS

Sept. 6/7, 2013

Sitka by the sea is a beautiful community in SE, Alaska and I know I have written about it before.  This trip I thought I would highlight Mt. Edgecumbe High School (hereafter, MEHS) which is a boarding high school in AK. What makes it unique is that it is run by the state and is public for anyone that applies and is accepted.  Currently there are 400 + students from over 100 Alaska communities are in attendance there.  Image

The name comes from the beautiful mountain, Mount Edgecumbe that is located on Kruzof Island, within eye site of Sitka.   It was a volcano that lies dormant now, but on most days you can see it from the school.   Historically MEHS is one of the oldest schools in the state.  In 1947 the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) established this and other boarding schools to offer opportunities to Native Alaskans.  Many great Alaska Native leaders are graduates of MEHS including several Senators and Legislators.  Image

In the 1980’s the doors were closed on the school after a 16 year old, Molly Hootch, sued the state of Alaska, stating that all Alaskans should be giving the chance to go to school in their home villages and NOT have to go to a boarding high school to be educated.  She won and in the 1980’s all boarding schools in the state were closed.   Over the next few years, over 100 schools were built and opened in rural Alaska.  http://right2education.wikispaces.com/Molly+Hootch

Why, you ask, do students choose to go to a school 100’s of miles from their home in an area of the state that is only accessible by boat or plane?  Well, there are several reasons including a top notched education, and opportunities to play many sports, join a variety of clubs as well as the fact that over 90% of graduates from MEHS go on for more education after they graduate.   Since 90% of the students are Alaska Native and come from rural “Bush” communities, Sitka is a huge community and 400 students is much bigger than some of their villages.   Image

For 6 years I worked closely with the residential staff at MEHS and the feel in the residence halls is much a family feel.  Many students are ‘adopted’ by local families and have places to go for holidays and on weekends or evenings.  There is a lot of effort put into the living environment and an attempt to make the place feel like home.  Students often walk over the bridge from MEHS which sits on  Japonski Island (along with the airport and the Coast Guard Base), to the main town of Sitka which sits on Baranof Island (one of the 3 ABC islands, Admiralty, Baranof and  Chichagof).  Image

One last funny, I’ve heard a story that on April Fools Day some years ago, some individuals took a boat ride over to mountain and climbed it, tossed in a bunch of old tires and started them on fire, making individuals back in town think the volcano was erupting again!

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Cordova again! I love this town!!!

Aug. 20-24, 2013

this was my 5th trip to Cordova in the last 18 months. Image

I have been there with a LOT of snow.https://timistravels.wordpress.com/2012/01/16/cordova-alaska-during-snowpocyolypse-2012/, as well as last Aug.  The weather changes often.  While we were there this trip it was quite rainy, which helped for #1 sitting inside at meetings and #2 the sales at Copper River Fleece, a business that makes beautiful rain resistant jackets/vests.  Many of us on the committee spent lots of $ at that store!  It is hard to see the designs on the trims from these photo’s but they are what ‘make’ the jacket in my opinion.


Another favorite of Cordova are Pete’s Treats.  Pete is a fisherman, active community member, dad, husband and most amazingly, a truffle maker!  We got a behind the scenes tour of his shop and how he makes his truffles.

Many are berry flavor based, and he spends a lot of time out picking these berries.  It takes almost 4 gallons of berries to make these condensed containers of the berry flavor.  Image                     From these, about 1/4 C of these flavors go into each batch (4 dozen) of the truffles.  We had the opportunity to sample 4 berry flavors.  In these condensed versions they are a bit different tasting than you might think.  ImageImageImage

Pete then showed us the different chocolates that he uses for mixing with the berry’s and the outside of the truffles.  The higher the # on the chocolate= the higher the cocoa mass.  He said that many don’t feel that white chocolate is chocolate, but I sure think it tastes good!ImageImage

Pete then gave us the REAL TREAT, we each got a box to fill to take home.  The ones he had to share were not his typical sized one (bigger than a golf ball) but rather smaller ones, more bite size if you will.  He offered, blueberry, nangoon (a berry) and caramel/seasalt/jalapeno!  Here we are filling our boxes.ImageImageImage

Each truffle has a distinct marking on top that correlates with a flavor. That is how you can tell what kind you are buying/eating.  This list shows what the symbols are and what flavors Pete offers.  I personally love the blueberry and caramel/sea salt/jalapeno so I had a hard time choosing what to put into my box.  Image

Cordova is also known for a few other things including fishing!  Some of our group went up river one night and caught a few salmon!  Others opted to go eat dinner at Baja Taco’s a wonderful, eclectic food joint down by the harbor.   Yes, they prepare your food in the bus 🙂


All in all, I continue to find something exciting about Cordova each time I visit.

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Barrow, the most northern community in the United State~ Part 1

Aug. 16-18, 2013


Pizza place, no real zoning in Barrow, so there are just random buildings that are stores or restaurants.

Blessed!  We are blessed that we had the opportunity to visit Barrow for my job AND have such a wonderful experience while there.  We stayed with a colleague and appreciated her hospitality, tour and yummy food.  Where to start?  Upon landing on Friday night we ordered a pizza and calzone, which was really, and I do mean really good.   If you think there are not a lot of options in Barrow for food you are wrong.  They have all sorts of restaurants, from Pizza to Mexican to Chinese and Japanese, many great options.  One of the best treats was that we got to have some whale meat.whale  A long time ago I had a chance to eat some whale blubber/oil which was very fishy tasting so I imagined that the meat might be similar, but I was shocked that it tasted much like beef or any type of red meat.  It was very tasty.

A little bit about the culture in Barrow and when I write little I mean it.  I certainly was not there long enough to learn a lot, but I will share what I picked up on this trip or from discussions I have had with friends from there over the years.

There are 2 times a year that the whaling captains and crew go out in search of whales, the spring and the fall.  There are about 40 whaling captains in Barrow though the entire community is part of the processing once a whale is gotten.  There is a limit to the number of whales that can be taken in one year with a maximum of 12.


typical boats to go out on whale hunts

In the spring the captains have to go out and when the whales are killed they are cut up on the ice.   However, this year there was not one whale taken in the spring and it was not until July because the crews could not get to the ice, and when they could it was too thin.  This is a bit troubling to the members of this community; it seems to be a visual example of climate change and the change in the ice and ocean



IMG_0508 whale jaw bones

The fall was more fruitful and the community was able to fill freezers etc. with whale meet, oil etc.  The fall whales are brought back to town and they are chopped up on the old runway for the old airport.  This runway is a solid flat surface and safe for the butchering process.  The entire community comes out and everyone is given jobs to do.  IMG_0531 IMG_0532 IMG_0534center

Just before we arrived the one and only barge for the year made it to Barrow.  The reason that it is only once a year is that historically there has been limited time when the ice was gone enough to get into land.  This means that any new vehicle, a lot of supplies, etc. are ordered and brought in on this barge.  People order things such as dog food for an entire year, or Pam cooking oil as the weight of these items, or the fact that they are ‘flammable’ are too much to ship or not allowed to be shipped on a plane. IMG_0489 IMG_0490 IMG_0491 IMG_0492

Speaking of shipping things, take a look at the prices of things at the AC (main grocery store) I am not sure what shocked me most, potato chips OR charcoal for grills, thought toilet paper and bottled water is pretty high up there too. IMG_0536chips IMG_0537soup IMG_0538charcoal IMG_0539cereal IMG_0540milk IMG_0541joy IMG_0542tp IMG_0543water

One of the things most people don’t expect to find in Barrow, but has become quite a tourist destination is the football field.  About 7 years ago this field was put in and it allows the students to play other high schools in the state.  It might not surprise you that the home games are played in Barrow in Aug. and Sept. then they fly south to play other teams when it gets just too cold to play out of doors in Barrow.   I was told that when they win, the players run into the Arctic Ocean to celebrate! What I found most interesting is that though the football field is outside and we watched some jr. high kids at practice, AND we saw the cross country team running on the roads around town, there are NO outdoor playgrounds and there are NEVER outdoor recesses!Try to imagine that.


for the press box the district re purposed a conex shipping container. It was cut in 1/2 and put up on their ends to create these press boxes.!!!!


quite foggy the day we visited


That’s all for this write up but I will tell more of our adventure in the next blog!


“Flying Wild Alaska” Unalakleet adventure Jan. 16-18, 2012

I didn’t make it to Unalakleet (YOO-nuh-luh-kleet) on the day I was supposed to because they had too much fog for a plane to land, but I did make it in the next day around noon. Bering Strait School District has 15 sites and people from each site flew to UNK for the training I was leading.  The  communities in this school district are:

  • St. Michael
  • Elim
  • Brevig Mission
  • Diomede
  • Gambell
  • Savoonga
  • Teller
  • Koyuk
  • Golovin
  • Shaktoolik
  • Shishmaref
  • Stebbins
  • Unalakleet
  • Wales
  • White Mountain

Unalakleet is located on the Bering Sea, about 150 miles South of Nome.  Unalakleet has both Athabascan and Inupiat Natives that call the area home.   In the 1830’s Russian American Company built a trading post in Unalakleet, and they still have amazing artistic items to buy.

I felt welcomed from the minute I landed and loved both my days there.  I walked from the school to dinner at “Peace on Earth Pizza” in -10 and it was as cold as you might think.  After dinner we were driven to our hotel where I ended up spending about 4 hours sitting with many of the ladies in my training and talking about life in their villages. I felt blessed to listen to them telling stories of life in the years past.  Esther an 81 year old grandmother of over 80 grand children warmed my heart.  Ironically I know on of her grand kids, Fred, whom I met my first year at the University in Sitka, 1996!  Small world.

I learned how TB took most of the individuals in Wales, and how they buried individuals on the other side of Tin Mountain.  I learned how many of the women met their husbands, how they birthed children (and sadly lost some), how they lived off the land and how they loved to sit around and talk, much like we were doing that night.  I felt blessed to be involved in the evening.

On Wed. I continued training with the group and finally prepared to catch my flight back to Anchorage ~ this is when the excitement began!  I was flying on ERA Air and for anyone that might watch “Flying Wild Alaska” you know that the Tweto Family run the airline there in Unalakleet.  My friend Kristie’s son Camden LOVES this show and family and I was able to meet 3 of the family members and have them sign a hat and t-shirt for him, as well as deliver a letter he wrote to them.  I was almost as excited as he was.

As I flew out, the sun was setting on the Bering Sea and I am already looking forward to a return trip to this region next year!