National Geographic : 1990 Feb
packaged in birchbark baskets and miniature dogsleds made by them, and distributed for sale to department stores and souvenir shops. In Galena I attended an agricultural fair sponsored by TCC. As people brought their entries to the community hall, Amy Van Hatten, who organizes this fair and others in Athapaskan villages, showed me through a vegetable exhibit. Radishes were as big as fists, turnips the size of pumpkins. Amy said TCC sells seeds and tools to the villagers at cost. The Alaska soil is rich, and though the season is short-from early June until late August-the sun shines almost constantly. "We have only one livestock entry," Amy said, leading me to a wire cage. Inside sat the biggest, blackest rabbit I have ever seen. A hand-lettered sign explained that Shadow was the pet rabbit of the kindergarten and first-grade students at the Galena school. Laughing, Amy said it probably deserved a purple heart in addition to the blue ribbon on its cage. Most Athapaskan villages have primary and secondary schools, usually housed in the same building. Teachers, many from outside the state, arrive in the fall for the nine months of school. Students take the usual academic subjects, plus electives like home economics, woodworking, and computer studies. During the long winter months basketball games in the school gymnasium are a popular pastime for the entire village. Competition is fierce. Teams travel up and down the river by snow mobile for weekend tournaments. Maurice McGinty, from Nulato, has served as teacher, counselor, and principal in schools along the Yukon. He earned his mas ter's degree in education administration from the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. McGinty said that while the schools are good at what they do, they are not designed for teaching the skills needed in village life. "A lot of boys would like to go out and trap if they had the skills, but there's no one instructing them. "We're teaching them academics for mov ing on out," he explained. "In some cases we have kids who bloom and shine -and they go into the outside world. But if they bomb out, we've got nothing to offer them back here in the community. And that's a real letdown. Once you lose motivation, you lose self esteem. And once you've lost that, there's nothing. That's when they go for the bottle." banks, sponsored by the Yukon Koyukuk School District. About 200 students -most of them Athapaskans from villages scattered throughout the interior-compete in spelling, reading, mathematics, speech, and performing arts. Each of the 11 schools in the district holds its own competitions, then sends its champi ons to Fairbanks. Although the school district provides food and housing, each school has to pay for transportation. Kaltag sent 24 partici pants; its plane bill came to $7,300. I heard the Kaltag children's choir on stage in Fairbanks' Alaskaland Civic Center. They were performing a song that urged Indian youth to achieve great things in their lives. Then they sang "La Bamba" in Spanish, accompanied by maracas and drums.