The Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race as we know it today has evolved over decades; no, it has evolved over centuries because the Iditarod is deeply steeped in tradition and culture, a tribute to the Native Alaskans and the place dog teams hold in the lives of them and other people worldwide.
And just as the race has become more modern and technologically advanced in dog care, sled design, clothing, and training strategies, so have the lives of Native Alaskans. But their lives, too, are still deeply steeped in tradition and culture. The coastal Yup’ik of Togiak, Alaska are a group of Native Alaskans who still rely heavily on centuries old practices and knowledge to maintain their prominently subsistence way of life. To do so in a technologically advanced world takes purposeful teaching of these ways.
Recently Togiak School in the southwestern village of Togiak, Alaska had their annual Cultural Awareness Week. Local experts were invited to the school to share with and teach all students, K – 12, about things such as dance, storytelling, yo-yo making, beading, Native Youth Olympic games, survival, parkas, fishing lines, gun safety and harpoon making. The students had varying levels of background in these subjects and were immersed in the language and practices of the Yup’ik people to expand on that.
Cherished elders and experts, cherished young people and children all together celebrating their uniqueness, their vast understanding of this world, and their love for their heritage and families.
Jane Blaile is a member of the Iditarod EDU team. She is currently teaching in Togiak, Alaska. Jane was the 2008 Iditarod Teacher on the Trail.