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Healing Journey: Huslia on the Koyukuk

Waterhouse (3).jpg

National Geographic grantee and contributor Jon Waterhouse, an avid paddler and Alaska Region Director of the Yukon River Inter-Tribal Watershed Council, is leading the 2010 Healing Journey down the Koyukuk River from Coldfoot to Koyukuk, Alaska. Along the way, he’s calling from the field via satellite phone to share stories with BlogWild readers of the river, the wilderness, the wildlife, and the people he encounters.

“Hi, Ford. We’re in Huslia, Alaska.

“The river has been good to us. We saw a cow moose and two young ones yesterday.

“The river is starting to fill with fish. A native Elder, Tony Sam, told me he caught 19 king mackerels two days ago. He’s 81, and has lived in the area all his life. His wife is 82. (They married at 18.)

“They moved to this spot when Jimmy Huntington (for whom Huslia’s school is named) spoke with the Tribal Council back in the 1930’s and brought his barge to move everyone—about seven families—from the old village to this new and better site.

“People went up to the Hog River area for quite awhile to cut logs to float down to build houses and the new school, a proud moment. Tony told me they had 12 students the first year. The school is still here, but the modern world has brought a new million-dollar facility to town, and the current enrollment is 79.


“Tony also told us about fishing in the past, how at times they would have over 1,000 fish to cut. The sled dogs must’ve been happy in those days. (They eat a lot of fish for fuel, no fossil fuels required.) Of course, these days they see less fish, declining runs. What’s causing that depends on who you talk to.

“Today Huslia has around 300 residents, making it the largest village on the Koyukuk River.

“My wife Mary has spent the day with Elders and should have a lot to tell in a day or two.

“There’s a big baseball tournament here this weekend. Kids from all over the bush will come by boat and plane. It should be pretty exciting. – Jon”

Photo of Jon Waterhouse explaining scientific gear to Huslia schoolkids and calibrating instruments on the Koyukuk River courtesy Jon Waterhouse