2021 Jacob Wise Memorial Spirit Camp

by Audrey Leary

Since the summer of 2016, the Native Village of Napaimute has coordinated and held a culture camp for youth in the middle-Kuskokwim. With the help of donations from the Association of Village Council Presidents, the Kuskokwim Corporation, Calista Corporation, Donlin Gold, Ryan Air, First Alaskans Institute, and Aniak’s local AC store, our culture camp has had the capacity to grow throughout the years and into the Camp we are today.

A normal Spirit Camp would usually have been held in July; however, this year’s 2021 Jacob Wise Memorial Spirit Camp was held in September; fall provided a good opportunity to bring the kids out to Moose Camp! This year was also our first-year hosting camp with our new name, and at our remote campsite located above Napaimute and right below the clear waters of the Holokuk “Alugak” River.

With the rain falling and Hound House subs to keep us warm, we took off in four boats, headed for what would be our first year at our new Jacob Wise Memorial Spirit Camp campsite.

Fall is always one of my most favorite times along our river. The crisp air blended with the different arrays of reds, greens, oranges and yellows help to bring out the beauty of our region, but I think it’s events like Spirit Camp that truly show how rich our river is. This year’s Spirit Camp was one I think many of our participants will always cherish and look back on with a warm smile—and even a good laugh or two.

The kids caught our first Spirit Camp moose on the afternoon of September 5 up the Kolmokofsky River. In honor of Jacob Wise, we shared the moose between his family in Crooked Creek, Chuathbaluk and Aniak, and kept two legs for the kids to work on and share with their families. Along with harvesting a moose, the kids set, checked and packaged whitefish and drifted, cut and packaged silvers to bring home, too.

Throughout the week, the kids rotated through different activities and learned to sew beaver mittens, skin and stretch beaver, bead, yuraq, saw and chop wood, and started on our Spirit Camp outhouse. We also played games like Caribou fighting, one-leg wrestling, chubby bunny, and different relay races. A representative from Alaska Office of Boating Safety also spent a night at Camp and held a training and activity with the kids.

Each morning two groups of kids would head out to take a morning ride. The group that stayed behind would wake up to eat breakfast and start on chores such as getting wood, packing water, cleaning their tents, doing dishes, and dumping trash.

By afternoon, we’d be rotating through our activities, and in the evening we would all separate to take another ride; one group would head up to the Alugak River or up the Kolomokofsy River, another would hike the meadow across Napaimute or hike to New York Creek Mine, and another would check the creeks near Napaimute or travel on the main river up the Kuskokwim. We did this until our Spirit Camp smokehouse was blessed with a moose to hang and share.

I am very thankful for all the helping hands that made this year’s 2021 Jacob Wise Memorial Spirit Camp possible. The impact this year’s camp had on our youth and all camp participants would not have been achievable without our culture camp team.

Quyana to Michelle Samuelson, Piiyuuk Shields, Megan Leary and Cody Pequeno; Dominick Lang, Scott Sakar, Ben Leary, Phillip Nook, Robert Wise, Ulric Aloysius and Nick Kristovich; Mackenzie Smith, Carolyn McLaurin and Tamara Sakar; to all our youth participants who are the future of our region; and to Jacob Wise who was—and will always be—a big part of culture camp. I look forward to next year!

Audrey Leary is the Youth Programs Manager for the Native Village of Napaimute.