Follow by Email

Monday, June 13, 2011

Dillingham in Western Alaska

I was in Dillingham in Western Alaska recently for a conference. Like most places in the state, Dillingham can only be reached by air or water. Pen Air flies a SAAB 340 there from Anchorage. The flight attendant hands passengers a package of ear plugs upon boarding. They are called "Softies." I think it's a nice gesture.

The plane carries 30 people and on this flight, every seat was full. I think most of the people were attending the same conference I was attending. It was a little tight, especially for tall people, but the flight isn't even an hour long. It's just loud.

Dillingham is tucked up into the confluence of two rivers, the Nushagak and the Wood, that run out to Bristol Bay. And Bristol Bay is where the largest wild salmon fishery in the world is. When I arrived there over a week ago, people told me about the first king salmon being caught on the beach in a net. They were smacking their lips.

Salmon are the lifeblood of this region. These boats will be going out soon. The value of the wild salmon commercial fishing industry totals about $100 million a year here and anything that threatens it, like the Pebble Mine proposal, has strong opposition. 

I was struck by the contrasts in Dillingham. Right across the dirt street from these containers is an old graveyard.

A sense of eternity does pervade Dillingham, indeed most of Alaska. People have lived here for 10,000 years. And they are still here. That's something. 

The Rural Providers Conference (sponsored by RuralCAP and the Bristol Bay Native Association) brings all ages together from all over Alaska. During the evenings, we had a Talent Share, a Traditional Foods Potluck, an All Ages Dance. I took the photos below of the Kuspuk Contest during the dance. Although kuspuks are similar, different regions of Alaska may have different pockets or skirts (or no skirts) or trim. Men wear them too but theirs are solid instead of flowered fabric, and have a different name. That night, they gave prizes for most traditional, for most colorful, for family groups. We all clapped loudly for everyone who paraded around the elementary school gym. It made me wish that I had brought my kuspuk. At the hospital in Dillingham, every Friday is Kuspuk Day. 

Before and during every event I attended during this conference, everybody, and I mean EVERYBODY received a ticket for the chance to win a door prize. In fact, women with huge rolls of tickets walked through the groups, making sure that everyone had a ticket, even those who walked in late. The emphasis on inclusivity was so appealing. No one was left out. No one. We all were handed an equal chance to win the door prizes: some small, some big, all unexpected. We all waited breathlessly as they picked the tickets out of the bucket. And then we clapped for the person who won. 

You walk in the door, you get a ticket. Wouldn't it be something if life were like that?

1 comment:

  1. 10,000 years! Wow! and yes, we have much to learn from indigenous cultures...