Saturday, July 3, 2010

Holiday album, continued

The "front yard" of Chena Village, a replica Athabascan fishing settlement on the Chena River outside Fairbanks. Salmon are captured in the weir, cleaned and dried on racks, then smoked for winter use. The Lady Friend (a k a Deborah Abbott) took the photo; click on it for more detail.

On our first day in Alaska, I was not looking forward to the sights in Fairbanks especially concocted for Holland-America cruise passengers. They are not exactly authentic; "reconstructions" and "replicas" are kind words for most of what we saw. A cynic might use "Disneyfied."

But the pretend steamboat ride (powered by a diesel engine, of course) for a short way on the Chena River had a couple of redeeming features. One of them was the stop at Chena Village, a slick and probably quite accurate museum reconstruction of an Athabascan fishing village from, say, 300 years ago.

Its chief attraction was the trio of charming Athabascan (as the interior Alaskan Native Americans are called) college students whose summer jobs were as docents for the museum town. The Lady Friend and I have rarely encountered young people as articulate, enthusiastic and knowledgeable as these three. They kept 250 or so restless cruise passengers rapt as they described Athabascan culture, in which they took considerable pride. Life in the Alaskan bush, especially in the winter, was arduous, and the Athabascans long have been masters at dealing with it -- trapping and trading furs, subsisting on salmon, traveling by dog sled.

Here is a selection of photos from the event (the Lady Friend took some of them):

Two of three young Athabascan docents at Chena Village display their people's winter dress. Modern Athabascans use zippers, of course. More efficient than whalebone buttons.

She's simply irresistible, isn't she?

This young woman grew up in her family's fish camp before going to college, and expertly demonstrated salmon filleting.

Latter-day Athabascan cabins feature glass windows and sod roofs. (Deborah Abbott photo)

Athabascans adapted to snowmobiles long ago. This machine probably dates from the 1930s. (Deborah Abbott photo)

In the wild they're caribou; when domesticated they're called reindeer. Chena Village had a quartet of them on display.

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