The Heart of Storytelling
One Native man’s journey to find his heritage and share with others
|Photo by Jamie Lang|
Jack Dalton, an Alaska Native storyteller who now tours the world telling about his Yup’ik and other Native cultures, was born a storyteller, but he didn’t know it for quite some time.
Dalton was given up for adoption when he was 5 days old. His mom was from Hooper Bay and unmarried. She already had a young child and her parents insisted she give up young Jack, later named Cupluaq, or marry the baby’s father. After some thought, the young Native woman decided to do what was she thought was best for her child.
Her parents wanted her to do use a village adoption, but she had experienced that herself and decided against it.
“My mother was so angry, she said, ‘You’re not going to do that to my son.’” Dalton said. “’And if you insist I give him up, then I am going to send him out into the world and he’s going to have a different life.’”
And he did. A white family in Anchorage raised him.
He learned he was adopted at age 5. At age 23, found his birth mom and discovered she had been searching for him as well. In fact, all his life she had held yearly birthday parties in his honor.
“(My older sister) would say ‘Who are we singing happy birthday for because in the song you have to have a name.’ And my mom said ‘It doesn’t matter,’” Dalton said. “Laney took it very seriously and … mom would always leave the table crying … Laney would sit there and finish the song herself and blow out the candles.”
While at an indigenous gathering of educators from around the world, Dalton found his true calling. “We were in New Mexico and during the opening ceremonies, I ended up telling a story that I didn’t know until 15 minutes before I told it,” he said. “And it was unplanned and unrehearsed, not on the schedule.”
From that day, he began telling story after story. Some are historical stories from the oral tradition, some modern traditions where he’s taken traditional characters and put them in a modern environment, some contemporary stories that don’t necessarily have a distinct connection to any particular culture.
One day, he was visiting Hooper Bay, talking to his aunt about being concerned his Native given name wasn’t his real name. The reason: it was his grandfather’s name and was given to him while his grandfather was alive. Tradition held that the name should be given after the death of the individual so the spirit could be reincarnated into someone else.
“My aunt kept saying, ‘It’s your name, don’t worry about it. Let’s go to your Auntie Alberta’s for some frozen fish.’ And as we’re walking on the boardwalk over to her house, this little old woman was walking along and … her eyes got really big and she said ‘oh, Cupluaq, it’s so good to see you again. Haven’t seen you in a long time.’ And my aunt looked at me and said ‘Are you happy now.’” His grandfather was also a storyteller.
This summer, Dalton will be traveling and may be scheduled for a show called Raven’s Radio Hour at the Anchorage Museum at the Rasmussen Center. In the spring he will be in schools around the state, including Napaskiak, Homer and Talkeetna.
“One thing I always keep in mind is that I’m grateful to my ancestors because they told the stories that have been passed to me and tell me who I am, where I come from and why I live the way that I live. But the thing to remember is who will be the ancestors 1,000 years from now, and the truth is we will be the ancestors.”
For more information on Jack Dalton, visit his website, www.ravenfeathers.com.
Tongass National Forest
A Cabin in the Woods
|National Park Service/Kent Miller|
Looking for a different way to experience the real Alaska? If you want to get away from the crowds and don’t require room service—or electricity—a stay in a public-use cabin is a great way to go. Fall asleep to the lapping of water at the shoreline, the leaves in the wind or the sweet sound of … nothing at all.
There are nearly 300 of these cabins throughout Alaska on trails, lakes, streams, shorelines and in alpine areas of federal and state land (there are 175 cabins in Tongass National Forest alone). They are managed by various public agencies, and rental policies and procedures vary accordingly.
Cabins usually have a stove for heat, bunks or sleeping platforms, a table and chairs and an outhouse. You will need to bring food and drinking water, a cook stove and cooking utensils, lanterns and flashlights and bedding. Be prepared with enough food for a few extra days in case you get weathered in, and bring layers of clothing for extremes in the weather. Bear spray, bug repellant, hiking boots or Xtra-tufs, and several good books are essential, as well. This is a chance to explore the wilderness or relax completely, whichever you prefer.
Public-use cabins are generally off the beaten track and most are not accessible by road. You’ll likely need to take a plane or boat or hike a trail to get there. You can get a list of licensed transportation operators from the agency from which you rent the cabin.
Generally, cabin permits are issued on a first-come, first-served basis, but there may be a lottery system for the more popular locations. Fees range from $20 to $65 a night and some limit the number of consecutive nights you can reserve.
Don’t forget your camera, but don’t bother unpacking your other electronics; the only blackberries you’ll find are the kind bears eat.
New Brew From the Last Frontier
Alaskan Brewing Co. recently marked its 25th anniversary and released a new brew as part of the celebration. Perseverance Ale is a limited-edition, Russian imperial stout made from a variety of Alaska ingredients, including birch syrup from Wasilla and fireweed honey from Delta Junction, along with alder-smoked malt.
The brewery recommends pairing the sturdy flavors of Perseverance Ale with rich, savory meals, such as fresh oysters or wild game, but notes that custards, dark chocolate truffles, cheesecake and other creamy desserts bring out the sweeter notes of fireweed honey, oats and brown sugar.
With 9 percent alcohol, and sold in 22 ounce bottles only, this beer is not for the beginner or the faint of heart and, as one of the rotating beers in the brewery’s Pilot Series, it might not be available long.
A Little Background
Alaskan Brewing was founded in Juneau in 1986 when Geoff and Marcy Larson decided to start brewing in the Last Frontier. Marcy Larson researched historical recipes—the flagship beer, Alaskan Amber, is based on a Gold Rush beer from a turn-of-the-century Juneau-area brewery—while Geoff Larson brewed beer in their kitchen until he perfected the recipe. Twenty-five years later, the brewery produces about 120,000 barrels a year and sells its products in 11 states, with distribution in a 12th state in the works. And it has won more awards at the Great American Brewing Festival than any other craft brewery in history.
Check out Alaskan Brewing Co.’s products, beer-based recipes and gear, and find out where you can buy Alaskan Brewing products, or how to get them shipped to you, at alaskakanbeer.com
Message in a Bottle
When Jake and Lori Fehr of Winkler, Manitoba, were on their honeymoon in 1991 in Prince Rupert, British Columbia, they drank a bottle of champagne that they received as a wedding gift, slipped a note in the empty bottle and tossed it in the ocean. In 2011—20 years later—Ashley and Seth Cooper were celebrating their first anniversary by beachcombing for glass fishing floats and other treasures near Whale Pass on Prince of Wales Island, and found the Fehrs’ bottle, the Ketchikan Daily News reported. Seth Cooper searched on the Internet for a current phone number for the Canadian couple, and the Coopers called the Fehrs to tell them of their discovery. The Fehrs are still married and have four children, and the Coopers said they hope that luck is passed on to them.
Tongass National Forest
The U.S. Forest Service, with the support of several conservation groups, has restored 11 miles of salmon habitat in the Harris River watershed in Tongass National Forest (October 2011, Page 24). The habitat was destroyed by clear-cut logging, and the Forest Service hopes restoring it to its natural condition will allow more salmon to spawn successfully, eventually supporting more jobs in sportfishing, commercial fishing and tourism. Part of the ceremony to celebrate the restoration included renaming Fubar Creek, a tributary of the Harris River that was named because it was thought to be “eff-ed up” beyond all repair.
Taku Fishing Grounds
Commercial Crew for a Day
Ever wondered what it’s like to work on a commercial fishing vessel in Alaska? Well, now you can find out, first-hand.
Every summer, locals and tourists alike flock to port towns to sport fish for halibut. But Andy Massey, a halibut boat captain based in Juneau, recently started taking regular people along on his commercial fishing boat, F/V Tia Lynn, as part of his crew.
Alaska law allows residents and nonresidents to purchase commercial fishing licenses that are good for one week. For about the same price as a sportfishing trip, Massey provides the temporary crew license, lunch and rain gear for a day, along with a chance to help set and haul in a halibut long line on the Taku Fishing Grounds. Temporary crewmembers can watch the professionals at work or get involved in the action, as long as they are not in any danger. And at the end of the day—or longer, if you are interested in extending the experience—the fish caught are available for purchase.
Vampires on the Seas
Even the undead want to vacation in Alaska, and now there is a cruise just for them.
The Vamps at Sea cruise is a weeklong, vampire-themed cruise in June round-trip from Vancouver, British Columbia, through the Inside Passage, stopping in Juneau, Skagway, Glacier Bay and Ketchikan on Holland America cruise line’s Zuiderdam.
Several vampire experts will be aboard, including Dacre Stoker, great-grandnephew of Dracula author Bram Stoker, who has written a sequel to his relative’s famous work. Private vampire-themed activities planned for at-sea times include a scavenger hunt, vampire movie screenings, a vampire ball and cocktail party, a vampire-theme talent show and a fan-fiction writing contest.
Prices starting at $1,060 a person, based on double occupancy. Coffins are not included.