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In our absence winter arrived at home. When we stepped off the airplane last night, there was a film of ice covering the ground. The boys had already told us about and inch or so of snow received a couple days earlier. Although today’s temperature was up to 40 degrees, the snow is still on the ground. Guess winter has begun. We’ll be snow-free in about 5 to six months. We were also at 9 hours 19 minutes of daylight today. Still losing over 5 minutes of daylight a day.
The community of Fairbanks really worked hard to make the AFN (Alaska Federation of Natives) convention a success. There were people at the airport to greet us, Army personnel worked as security at the convention center, while other’s worked around the center. There were also free shuttles to and from the hotels, shuttles to various restaurants, on and on. After the banquet, there was a fireworks display! My favorite hospitality memory is of the Fairbanks’ Chief of Police at the Athabaskan Fiddlers Dance. He wore a full police uniform on top of which he wore a beautiful, beaded, moose-hide vest. He danced until closing with many different older women. He has a beautiful sense of cultural sensitivity and is truly loved by the community!
While there, and the reason for our trip, my husband was honored with the President’s Award for Public Service. That recognizes an Alaska Native who has demonstrated dedication, competence and sensitivity in the area of public service. This award recognizes individuals who have promoted and assisted in the development of their community, or whose accomplishments and leadership qualities have most directly affected and benefited Native peoples.
We were able to visit with several of his family members, too. It was good to spend time with those we rarely see. One cousin brought some baleen from Barrow for us, but then we didn’t get things coordinated enough to actually get it. Although I tried to get her by phone, I was never successful. I guess she had to take it back to Barrow. Maybe next time. Another cousin is a dog musher and it never fails to surprise me how his dog yard is always immaculate! He has 50+ adult race dogs and over 30 pups, now. Sunday, after attending church services we visited with his brother and family at their new home which is several miles back on an ice-covered road in North Pole. It’s actually only a few miles from Santa’s House.
I did buy a couple real treasures during the convention. One is a CD of several gospel hymns sung in the Inupiat (northern Eskimo) language (Barrow). I first heard those versions while there at a whaling festival several years ago. It is special to hear favorite hymns sung in words of another culture. The other item I bought was a beautiful, beaded. pair of sealskin moccasins for only $100.00! I know my feet will remain toasty warm this winter and for many more Alaskan winters to come!
There were people there from all over Alaska. Remember, Alaska is 1/5th the size of the continental US and has more coastline. There are 12 regional corporations (a 13th comprises Alaskan Natives not associated with the other 12, such as those living in the lower 48). There are many different languages and dialects (80+) that are spoken here. Some of the elders do not speak English. Communication is sometimes difficult, but the spirit of the native community is strong and good. I’m always thankful when we have an opportunity to refresh ourselves with the culture and spirit.
Food wise the trip was pretty much a disaster! I’d forgotten just how much wheat and pork there is out in the ‘real’ world. The banquet, however, had a fairly compliant meal (for us Os). There was a nice salad, filet mignon, fresh steamed spinach, and a vegetable combo with shrimp. Of course the dessert was wheat and sugar. Fortunately I was so full I didn’t have to eat any of that!