Thursday, September 10, 2015

Exploring Alaska

The end of summer was a whirlwind of activity. We crammed in as much fun and adventure as we could during July and the beginning of August. Our kids headed back to school the second week of August with mixed feelings. Grace is now in fourth grade, and Noah is in second. I can't believe how much they have grown since we moved here over two years ago. Noah has the same teacher that Grace did our first year here, and Grace is thrilled that her new teacher emphasizes science every afternoon, letting them look at pond scum through computer-synced microscopes. 

Our ACC students returned Thursday, August 21. Once again we are breaking records with the size of our student body. We have 74 students after the add/drop deadline. We have only had one commuter student leave. To have retained all of our students through the first two weeks of school is really an answer to prayer.

The night that the student's arrived, one of the President's Advisory Council members found out that he would not be able to go on a trip that the entire PAC was taking out to the villages of Shaktoolik and Unalakleet the following day. I (Lindsay) was asked if I wanted to take his place. Whenever possible, ACC tries to get it's non-native staff members out into the villages so that we can better understand our student's culture. I was extremely excited by this opportunity, but still had to get through registration early the next morning.

After registering most of the students (our Academic Dean graciously finished registration for me so that I could go) I hopped on a King Air and flew four hours North-West to the coastal village of Shaktoolik. Shaktoolik is a small village (around 400 people) wedged between a river and the Bering Sea. It has been relocated many times due to flooding issues.

Half of our team flew on the King Air, half flew on the Kodiak pictured below.

We were greeted warmly in Shaktoolik when we arrived. Everyone was so excited and proud to show off their village. Several villagers (including one gregarious 8 year old boy) gave us a tour of the top sights, which included the Native Corporation store (a general store for those items not available through subsistence living), and a beautiful school.

The school serves children K-12, and is amazing. There are smart boards in each classroom, and a large gymnasium. Schools like this were built by the government after the Molly Hootch Case in 1972 (interesting article on this case here). 

Along the beach separating Shaktoolik from the Bering Sea, villagers have buried non-working construction equipment, trucks, and other large debris to try to form protective berms that can help keep the harsh storms, common to this region, from flooding the village.

After our tour of Shaktoolik, the local church was excited to perform some of their choir's songs for us. They kept joking that they hoped the rain would come so that we would have to stay because they liked the addition of our voices to their choir. They are such genuinely nice people.

Shaktoolik from the air. The water at the bottom of the picture is the Bering Sea.
 After the choir performance in Shaktoolik, we loaded back into the planes and headed towards Unalakleet. The rain did hit (just a bit late for our Shaktoolik friends) and once we landed we had to huddle in a small room until the four-wheelers and pickup could come pick us up from the landing strip.

The church in Unalakleet has been here for over 125 years. Some of the very first believers were here in Unalakleet, and they have been ministering all across Alaska since that time.

Stained glass inside the church

One of the buildings near where we stayed.
On Saturday we traveled by truck and 4-wheeler out to the children's camp just outside of Unalakleet. This camp has been serving Alaskan kids since the 80s, flying them in from villages all over the state. Every child that comes to camp signs the wall of the main building. I recognized many names of our students and their siblings from over the years.  For many of our students, this camp was the first place they heard the gospel.

Several of the PAC members decided to go fishing with a local guide. The camp director, Nick, was kind enough to take a few of us who were not serious fisher-people out in one of the camp boats. I caught my first silver salmon and we saw some beautiful sights.

About an hour up-river our boat's battery died. Fortunately there were a couple of old oars on the boat and we were able to (mostly) keep ourselves out of the trees and off of the sandbars as we floated down-river. While we were waiting for one of the other boats to come help us (they had caught over 100 lbs of fish and didn't want to pause in the cleaning of the fish to come get us right away) Nick taught us some moose calls. So we floated for an hour or so, and called for moose. This is how many Alaskans hunt moose, so that they don't have to carry the moose all the way back to the village. Instead, they can load the moose into the boat and float it home.

Eventually, one of the other boats made its way up to us and gave us a jump-start.

We spent that evening at the home of a local pastor, Chip, who has served in numerous Alaskan villages over the years. This is the view of Unalakleet from the hill above his home. The hills were covered in various berries, and the tundra was beautiful.

To get to Chip's home, you either have to travel by 4-wheeler, or walk. We did some of each, stopping to taste the berries along the way.

Sunday morning, after a beautiful church service we visited the Unalakleet cemetery. Curtis Ivanoff, whose family has lived in Unalakleet for many generations, talked about the great men and women who are buried here.  The large tombstone in the picture belongs to Axel Karlson, the first missionary to Alaska Native People. Uyaraq, the first Native missionary (known as the "Eskimo Paul") is also buried in this cemetery- you can learn more about him here.

Seeing all of the history, and experiencing the culture, has given me a deepened respect for our student's heritage. They bring so much richness and depth to our community here at ACC. I feel very humbled and blessed to have had this opportunity to learn more about this incredible place from where many of them come.