Editor’s note: Our deepest condolences to the family and friends of Jennie Irwin, who passed away on January 18, 2017. Jennie is pictured below in several of the photos from the Nenana Fish Camp.

The Nenana Native Association and Toghotthele Corporation hosted their annual Fish Camp July 18 – 29, 2016. The camp, organized by Janet Allen, Jeri Knabe and Amanda Salmon, and staffed by Kelly Ann Burke, Tracy Snow and Lynn Puryear, was open to all. Children and families from neighboring communities and many from the “non-Native” community attended the camp. Doyon Foundation’s Our Language grant and Doyon, Limited’s Daaga’ Awards were among the funders for this year’s Fish Camp, which promotes Lower Tanana Athabascan values of knowledge and respect for culture and heritage.

Lower Tanana language was a cornerstone of this year’s camp, and the children learned the names for parts of the human body, greetings, familial names, and how to identify many different animals in the language. They also had a great time singing songs in their ancestral language loudly and with confidence.

Parents have reported that their children have retained the knowledge from the camp – and are now sharing with the community. Carol Thomas shared, “I really enjoyed talking with my granddaughter about what she had learned during each day.” Lilly O’Brien, parent of two attendees, said, “I think my girls learned this year – they learn more and more every year.”

“I am confident that if you asked my kids if they would rather spend two weeks at fish camp – or two weeks at Disneyland – that they would choose Fish Camp.” – Tracy Snow

Camp attendees also went berry picking, took boat rides, learned camping and safety skills, and made many crafts. All attendees – kids, staff, elders and parents – truly enjoyed all aspects of Fish Camp. The kids enjoyed the games, the field trips and the food. The adults enjoyed talking with the kids about what they had learned. Adults also took pride in the fact that their children are now singing at cultural events and encouraging others to do so.

Attendees talked about goals for next year, including having kids stay at camp during bad weather to get a feel for what fish camp is “really” like during less-than-favorable conditions. They would also like to put additional focus on camping skills, such as setting up camp, collecting wood, tanning hides or collecting the birch bark for baskets. Parents would like their children learning skills from the beginning (collecting materials) to the end (finished product).

Each year families enjoy coming together at “Toghotthele,” which means “mountain that parallels the river,” to learn the language, music, and ways of the ancestors. Tracy Snow, staff and parent of four attendees, shared, “I am proud that my kids can sing and dance and speak at cultural events, and that they enthusiastically ask others to participate too.”

For more information on the Our Language grants or Doyon Foundation’s language revitalization program, please visit www.doyonfoundation.com or contact Allan Hayton at haytona@doyon.com or 907.459.2162.