Many people in rural Alaska are preparing to go out berry picking. Salmon berries are ripe in most areas now. If you have spent any time in rural Alaska or in the woods, you know that there are swarms of mosquitoes to contend with.
One thing to help fight the mosquitoes is a summer parka. It is a long hooded dress/shirt with pockets in the front and ruffles on the bottom. The style varies by region in Alaska and is made mostly of colorful calico fabric. The ones made for men usually have solid colors and do not have ruffles on the bottom.
Inupiaq elder Minnie Gray, of Ambler, has been making summer parkas since she was 16. Her late mother, Flora Cleveland, taught her how to sew them. Minnie is now 88. She is mostly known as Aana Minnie (Grandma Minnie).
Minnie and her late husband, Arthur Gray, raised four children. She has many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Minnie was a bilingual teacher for the Northwest Arctic School District for about 22 years. She also translated traditional Inupiaq stories, including “The Young Woman Who Disappeared.” In 2003, Takashi Sakuri directed a film about Minnie’s lifestyle in Ambler as part of an MA project at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
Minnie is a seamstress, beadworker, skin sewer, fish net maker and much more. She has made countless mukluks, mittens, hats and parkas for most of her life. Minnie also is a master birch bark basket maker and has been making them since she was 12. She wrote an instructional book, called “Birch Bark Basket Making,” with Ruth Ramoth-Sampson, Angeline Ipiilik Newlin and Tupou L. Pulu in 1981.
Bets’egh hoolaanee — summer parka
Kkotl — salmon berries
The Inupiaq translation for summer parka is atikłuk. The summer parka is most commonly referred to as a cuspuk or kuspuk, its Yup’ik translation. The Inupiaq translation for salmon berries is aqpik.
The Athabascan Word of the Week appears every Saturday on page A3 of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. The words are provided by Susan “K’etsoo” Paskvan of Yukon-Koyukuk School District. She is originally from the village of Koyukuk on the Yukon River in Interior Alaska. She is Tleeyegge Hut’aane, which is Koyukon Athabascan. She seeks stories and phrases from both Denaakk’e (Koyukon Athabascan) and Denak’a (Lower Tanana Athabascan), which are languages spoken in the Yukon-Koyukuk School District region. Yukon-Koyukuk School District serves the villages of Allakaket, Hughes, Huslia, Koyukuk, Nulato, Kaltag, Ruby, Manley Hot Springs and Minto. The Board of Education places a priority on teaching the Native languages within the district.