by Audrey Leary
When I think of the Kuskokwim River I think of our villages—all making home along her banks—and I think of our people. Our youth who are the future for what is still to come of our region. Napaimute’s Spirit Camp began last year, from a little seed made up of a small group of kids from the middle-Kuskokwim, and an even smaller staff to stand by and help.
The phrase “Spirit Camp,” symbolizes my belief that when the spirit—or foundation for who we are as people of the Kuskokwim—of our youth are nurtured, the stronger our river and region will be.
With this in hand, the Native Village of Napaimute aspires to give back to the middle river by inviting youth ages 11 to 16 from the communities of Kalskag, Aniak, Chuathbaluk, Napaimute and Crooked Creek, to our village to attend a week long culture camp.
The week of Spirit Camp has become one of my favorite weeks out of the summer, and the long hours of preparation—I think for all staff involved—instills a sense of anxiousness leading up to the first day of camp kick off.
Although I coordinate the camp, it is important to recognize all participants who help make this camp possible. From the cook to the boat drivers, mentors, guests, elders and youth, the success of this camp is built upon the foundation of all those who dedicate their time to attend and help.
Although the day of Spirit Camp brought heavy rain, excitement was still found on the faces of youth and camp guests arriving at the boats waiting patiently on the beach. Together, two boats—loaded in gear and people—traveled from Aniak to Napaimute with one quick stop in Chuathbaluk.
We arrived on the beach of our village drenched in fresh rainwater, and ran up to the Community Building to prepare for the opening celebration!
Samuel Johns, an Ahtna Athabascan from Copper Center, attended Spirit Camp to hold the opening ceremony. After going over the rules, introductions, and handing out camp goodies (backpacks, sweaters, tooth brushes, tooth paste, water bottles, flashlights, and beanies),
Samuel held a speech on decolonization and ended with a song sang in Athabascan. Samuel remained at the camp for two more nights, and acted as a mentor to the youth. He was awesome to have at Napaimute, and very eager to be a part of everything.
With the incorporation of team building games, hearing from a panel of local elders, learning about travel safety, a hike to Little Mountain Village, learning to cut fish, make Athabascan birch bark baskets, dream catchers and Yuraq drums, two of the most monumental take away’s that occurred at this year’s Spirit Camp embodied yuraq and a hike to the historical Stone Woman.
For the first time in roughly 100 years, Napaimute’s first Eskimo song was made. Byron Nicholai was a returning attendee this year, and guided the youth in creating a song entirely in yugtun about moose hunting with their dad in Holokuk River (Alugak).
This river is located roughly 3 miles above Napaimute, and is home to the Spirit Camp camping location.
Thanks to the knowledge and skills of Mark Leary, we now have our first piece needed to make a dance group: the drums! The boys of camp each made a drum entirely from start to finish, bent their own wood, tied on their own material, and even wood burned animals onto the handles. This is—hopefully—the start of something amazing, and I’m so excited for the different hands these drums will touch.
The Yup’ik drums will go towards the Anyaraq Youth Dance Group, which has its first practice on August 31st, and the song created at Spirit Camp will be one of the leading songs the youth will dance to.
After spending 3 days in Napaimute, the youth and all camp staff loaded into three boats and traveled up the Holokuk River to our designated Spirit Camp site. We spent one night at camp, and ended the trip with a hike that very few people get to experience in their lifetime.
Together we hiked to the Stone Woman—one of the toughest hikes on one of the hottest days! All camp members made it to the Stone Woman, even the babies!
On behalf of the Native Village of Napaimute, all fourteen youth, and myself we would like to yell a loud “Quyana Cakneq” to everyone who gave time and donated to Napaimute’s Youth Spirit Camp!
Youth: Troy Morgan, Aniak; Agatha Sakar, Crooked Creek; Lori Evan, Kalskag; Aaliyah Williams, Chuathbaluk; Scott Sakar, Aniak; Jason Steeves, Aniak; Ethan Morgan, Aniak; Amira Byrd, Kalskag; DeShaun Sakar, Chuathbaluk; Ryan Steeves, Aniak; Jayce Rohde, Napaimute; RJ Murphy, Georgetown; Sherman Kelila, Aniak; Cyra Phillips, Aniak
Camp Helpers/Boat drivers: Jacob Wise, RJ Morgan, Mark Leary
Camp Cook: Shelly Leary
Guests: Samuel Johns: cultural performer, hip-hop rapper and motivational speaker. Byron Nicholai: I Sing. You Dance. Megan Leary: The Kuskokwim Corporation
Elders: John Browski, Napaimute; Erich & Lucy Morgan, Chuathbaluk
Camp Mentor/Advisor: Brianna Sherer; Native Village of Napaimute Tribal Council; Lisa Feyereisen, NVN Administrative Support
Camp Coordinator: Audrey Leary
Calista Corporation, Donlin Gold, Aniak AC, AVCP Workforce Development, TANF and EET&CC Departments, Crowley, YKHC Dental, & The Kuskokwim Corporation for your generous donations to our camp!