Juneau, Alaska, part 2: Learn How to Fall
A game hunter consults his conscience, a Native Rights advocate remembers being separated from her heritage, a local chef plays host to TV personality Gordon Ramsay, a widow remembers her late husband’s grace and humor, a Native Youth Olympics coach connects kids to culture through athletics, plus an artist, a musician, a cross-country bicyclist, two roller-derby girls, and a family in a half-built cabin on an island in the wilderness
Multiple Voices: From WYPR and PRX, it’s Out of the Blocks: one neighborhood, everybody’s story.
My name is Ḵaayák'w or my English name is Kyle Demientieff Worl.
My name’s Iola Young and I live in the Flats in Juneau, Alaska.
I’m Kurt Iverson. I live here in Juneau.
My name is George Kuhar.
My name’s Adam Dimmitt.
I’m Janice Sheufelt
My name is Lionel Udippa.
So, my name is Shabadrang Khalsa and my roller derby name is BamBam.
My Tlingit names are Yeidiklasókw and Kaaháni. I’m an Eagle from the Thunderbird Clan and the House Lowered from the Sun. In the other world—the English world—I’m Rosita Worl and I serve as president of the Sealaska Heritage Institute.
From producers Aaron Henkin and Wendel Patrick, with field producer MK MacNaughton, Out of the Blocks: Juneau, Alaska—right after this.
Kurt Iverson: How do I think about, how do I deeply respect, how do I connect with these animals…and then kill them? I’m Kurt Iverson. I live here in Juneau. I’ve got a couple kids, a wife… I work for the federal government at the National Marine Fishery Service. I grew up in Michigan—rural Michigan—and like a lot of people, I came here as a young person and stayed. I usually hunt alone. I almost always hunt alone and I appreciate being alone. I really do. It’s hard to describe the thrill I feel when I have my pack on my back and I have my rifle in my hands and I’m walking up some valley that I’ve never been in before. And then if I see the track of a big buck deer and I know he’s really close by, that charges it even more. And you hear a snap in the woods and you know he’s coming, and that sense of anticipation is very high. And then he steps into view and then there’s the challenge of making a clean kill. Am I good enough to hold the rifle steady and put the bullet where it’s supposed to go? And the skill that goes along with that, because you’ve been practicing it and working at it since you were a kid? And it happens, and that is a thrill and a charge, too. Watching the animal go down in the scope. And then, you walk up on the animal and it’s dead, and that’s the deflated moment. There is a moment there when I think any real hunter says, “What have I done?” I think you have to pause and reflect on the seriousness of what you just did, you know? In all intents and purposes, I didn’t have to do that because I have a job in the federal building and I can buy all the food I want at the grocery store. Now, I just killed this animal. So, that’s not what it’s about. I’m going to honor that process by taking that food home and treating it right and it’s very, very food. It’s the ultimate organic red meat from that deer I just shot. But do I really need to do it? No. But I’m going to do it and I go to great pains to do it right, because that’s important and its part of the honor of… I’m honoring that animal I just killed, maybe. Maybe that’s too strong of a word, but maybe that’s part of the process because you really do respect that animal and I think anybody that has a lifetime of hunting knows what I’m talking about.
Rosita Worl: [speaking Lingít] My Tlingit names are Yeidiklasókw and Kaaháni. I’m an Eagle from the Thunderbird Clan and the House Lowered from the Sun, and I am a child of the [4:48?] or the Sockeye Clan. In the other world—the English world—I’m Rosita Worl and I serve as president of the Alaska Heritage Institute. You know, in Tlingit culture, a child is given to grandparents and I was one of those children. I called it our social security system, where we’re trained by our grandparents but then we would end up taking care of our grandparents. As it turned out—I guess it was grandmother more than my grandfather—really didn’t want me to associate with non-native people. And so, I didn’t have to go to school. Everybody else was going to school. I mean, this is age five, age six, and I used to have so much fun. But the unfortunate thing is that it was at a time that the federal government and the missionaries wanted to assimilate and civilize and Christianize native people. And I was taken away from my grandparents. I was literally kidnapped to a mission school. Those years in the mission school, it’s kind of a blur to me but I know it wasn’t a happy time except for when my other grandparents were able to rent me from the mission school. The mission school would rent out children as laborers and I remember going with them and being able to play. There was a field of daisies up there and I remember rolling around in that field of daisies. So, it wasn’t a happy time. It took my mother—again, not my biological mother, but my mother in our Tlingit culture—it took her three years to get me out of that school, so that my whole life—adult life—has been dedicated to working to ensure our cultural survival. I started getting involved politically and we took a very different route in settling our aboriginal land claims. Our leaders really wanted to have control of our land and our resources. We had learned from the experiences of other Native American tribes that their lands are held in reservations and they’re held in trust by the federal government. So, our leaders did not want to do that. They said, “We own the land and we want to control the land so that we could retribalize them and make them fit our native culture.” And corporations became the vehicle for that. I was fortunate in that my mother trained me. And when I say “trained me,” she was a union organizer. So, at age ten, eleven years old, I used to accompany her to take the minutes of her union meetings. She was organizing unions among salmon cannery workers. So, you know, I feel fortunate in that I have that kind of training. I went to Harvard and people think that it was my formal education, you know, that made me what I am today. But I will tell you, I attribute that to my mother and the kind of training I went through with her.
Lionel Udippa: My name is Lionel Udippa. I am a local here in Juneau, Alaska and I am a local chef. I feel like I grew up in the industry. My dad was a chef and my mom has always worked in the front of the house as a waitress at our family diner and so, I would get off of school and I would go straight to the restaurant and my parents would just have me do random tasks around the kitchen. Make French toast batter, wash some dishes, just kind of keep me busy. There was a lot of hustle, there was a lot of moving around, and it was very well orchestrated, and it kind of just, like, sparked something in me that I really, really loved and just wanted to be a part of. And I didn’t take it seriously until about 2006 when I decided to go to culinary school in a place called Le Cordon Bleu in Atlanta, Georgia. When I first moved back to Juneau about six years ago, I helped open up a restaurant called Salt, which is just around the corner, and I was there serving as the executive chef for about five years. And then I just always told myself that I wanted to open up a restaurant in my hometown and we are opening up a global street food eatery called Red Spruce in about a month.
Aaron Henkin: You’re speaking in a very humble way. I think about your accomplishments as a chef… Let me just give you a chance to talk about some of the awards that you’ve earned, sort of how you’ve distinguished yourself at this point.
LU: Yeah. The first real cool award that I won was the Great American Seafood Cook-Off and that was held in New Orleans, back in 2017. And I was looking at my sous-chef at the time, Jacob, and we’re like, “We gotta win. We’ve gotta figure this one out, like, right now and see what we can bring to the table, because I feel like these other doors will open up,” which they have. I did a cool show with National Geographic and Gordon Ramsey, and so it was really cool working with him and kind of just being on camera and seeing how much goes into sixty minutes of being on TV. The show is called Uncharted. The first time I met him was the first time we filmed, and that was at the Eagle Crest. He drove in on a Snowcat and I was snow-shoeing. Then, I sent him off to __ to do some fishing and kind of, like, gain all this experience with the land and how cooking was established here and how they do things over there and then he comes back to Juneau and we do a cook-off together, based on what he learned.
AH: How did the cook-off go down?
LU: It went really well. Like, he cooked some really cool stuff and I learned from him and the people that helped set it up. Yeah, that was super fun and that was a huge career accomplishment.
IY: My name’s Iola Young and I live in the Flats in Juneau, Alaska on West 10th Avenue. I first came to Juneau in the late 80s to work at the legislature. About the time that I started working for the legislature, I met my husband who is a commercial fisherman. A mutual friend gave us both each other’s telephone numbers. He came up to my house in his old truck and he had a fresh sockeye salmon in the back and he pulled out his fillet knife and his piece of plywood and filleted it right there on the tailgate of his truck, and that was it. Such skills. That was it. Wait a minute, I’ve got a great picture of him here.
AH: He was a handsome fella.
IY: He was very handsome. When he got his diagnosis of small cell lung cancer, he said, “I would like to die at home in Iola’s arms. I’d like to finish the adoption of our forty-three-year-old daughter.” That adoption was in the works. “And I’d like to go back to Hawaii and roll around in the surf with our two grandkids.” So, he got two out of his three wishes. He died here at home in the bedroom with Naomi and I. Naomi is my biological daughter. She was in high school when Tom came into our lives and their relationship… You know, being a high schooler, you know, is kind of rocky in the beginning, you know, things like that. But over time, it just grew so deep. She had said to him, “Would you like to adopt me? That could be my birthday present to you. I’ll do all the paperwork for it.” And as part of the process, they both had to write a statement about why it was important to them, and I thought at that time how miraculous and rare it is that you know exactly why someone is important to you. Not only do you know it and say it, but you write that down. And so, Naomi filed the papers and asked people to pull strings to get this to happen and it happened. She was in the judge’s chamber, Tom was on the telephone, and the judge signed the adoption papers and Naomi was officially Tom’s daughter. Later that day, she sent flowers and the card on the flowers said, “It’s a girl.”
AH: When you speak about your husband, I see tears in your eyes but I see a big smile on your face. I mean, it’s an interesting combination of emotions, I imagine.
IY: It really… Yeah, it is. I just miss him so much.
Kyle Demientieff Worl: [speaking Lingít] My name is Ḵaayák'w or my English name is Kyle Demientieff Worl. I am from the Lukaax.ádi Clan and I am a child of the Shangukeidí Clan and I work with the Juneau School District to ensure that our students in our schools, they receive education that is place-based and relevant to our indigenous identity to this land. This is the indigenous homeland to the Tlingit people who have been here at least ten thousand years. In our stories, we say, “Since time immemorial.” To go back in our history with European influence, it was a history of our languages, our culture, and our, really, entire Tlingit being was prohibited in many different ways and for generation above me, they were punished for speaking their native language. Fast forward to today, maybe there’s only a hundred or so speakers of the Tlingit language out of a population of ten thousand. But we’re in a language revitalization movement—not just here in Juneau, but I think indigenous people all across America are trying to pull back their language and bring it back to a healthy stage. I went to a small charter school and I learned about American history, European history, but I didn’t learn about the history of the land I was living on. And so, it wasn’t until really late in high school—actually, it was when I joined a program—and the program was Native Youth Olympics and that’s what I’m here today doing, twelve years later is I’m coaching it. But twelve years ago, I was a high school student and I decided to join this program. Someone reached out and told me, “There’s this sport based on indigenous games that were used by hunters to test skills of strength and agility and to help them be better hunters and to live out on the land.” So, this is one of our early practices. We just started our season and right now, they’re doing the one-foot high kick. So, the one-foot is a form of sign language that was used long ago to communicate across the tundra of a successful hunt. And you could see someone do a high kick like this from a distance, and it was a good sign. It meant a successful hunt.
Ezra: My name’s Ezra. I’m fifteen and I go to Thunder Mountain High School. I’m a sophomore. At first, I was kicking like a little, you know, six feet for the one-foot high kick and then I just kind of stayed committed with the sport and I actually kicked seven feet, six inches—or 90 inches—in the one-foot high kick and set a new PR from 72 to 90.
KDW: It’s really such a privilege to be a coach and such a dream job for me to be able to do this because it impacted me so much as a young person.
Matthew: Kyle is a big role model for me. My name is Matthew. I’m seventeen and I’m a senior at Thunder Mountain High School. He helped connected me to my culture which, growing up, I never really got the chance to a whole lot, so I’m thankful to him for that.
KDW: I have a lot of passion for what I do, and that’s because I can see the results with the young people that join NYO.
Multiple Voices: It’s Out of the Blocks: Juneau, Alaska. One neighborhood, everybody’s story.
George Kuhar: My name is George Kuhar and we are at my home, me and my wife’s home that we share, on North Douglas Highway in Juneau, Alaska.
AH: What’s her name?
AH: She’s at work today? Where is she?
GK: She is at work. Yeah, she works at JAMHI. She’s a clinician there.
AH: Part of her is with you here today, though. Let me have you tell that story.
GK: Okay. So, I moved up here in 2007, just a wandering soul, and I had met Bridgett and shortly after—within months of us moving in together up here, I had lost my kidneys. And that’s due to a genetic condition I have called Alport’s syndrome. So, in the process of being on dialysis, Bridget looked into being a donor for me, a kidney donor, and we’re the same blood type and everything matched up. So, we had a transplant surgery and the surgery went well, you know? The surgery was a success and that was eleven years ago now, I believe, so I’m still doing pretty good.
AH: When the transplant happened, were you and your wife married yet?
GK: We were not. No.
AH: What an engagement present.
GK: [laughs] Right! I hadn’t thought about it like that but yes, an engagement present.
AH: You want to share some music with us?
GK: Sure. I’m thinking this is going to be the song that kicks off the whole project. You know, I have a hard time receiving things from people. My tendency is, “Oh, no thank you, no, no, I don’t want to be a bother,” you know? But something like that, you know, it was impossible to say no but at the same time, the biggest gift that you can receive is a piece of a person’s body and as an artist and a songwriter, I don’t necessarily have the ability to just speak about it but it comes out in my work, I think, I hope. This is something that I’ve never done, where, like, the whole thing, I kept it a like a secret, haven’t let anybody hear it because I really wanted to not make music for an audience. I really wanted to make music that was a necessity and an expression.
AH: So, you haven’t shared any of this with anyone.
GK: Most of it, nobody’s heard. You know, you hear a lot about, you know, “Don’t let your condition define you,” and all this, and I kind of wonder if that’s like the wrong advice. For me, anyway. Because I have, like, ten years after all of this has happened I’d, like, finally come back around to, like, “You know what? I shouldn’t be putting that aside as an artist that exists separate of my, you know, chronic condition.” So, like, in the past year here, I’ve really started thinking again about, like, reincorporating that into my life’s work. You have to be true to yourself and ultimately that’s not just a benefit to you, but to the world around you.
Shabadrang Khalsa: Learn how to fall, and when you fall, forgive yourself and get back up again. So, my name is Shabadrang Khalsa and my roller derby name is BamBam.
Jennifer Gross: My name is Jennifer Gross. We’re at the Juneau skate park. I’m not actually sure if it has an actual name.
AH: Remind me your roller derby name?
JG: I am Runtime Terror because I code. I love my number. It’s 404.
AH: So, you do roller derby but now, here you are in this skate park riding quarter pipes and half pipes.
SK: I mostly came to the skate park to have more time to skate so that I’d be better at roller derby.
AH: Let me have you describe these skates. These are pretty spectacular.
JG: They’re suede, um…
AH: Blue suede roller skates.
JG: Yes, blue suede roller skates.
AH: Elvis would be proud.
AH: So, your professional field is computer science.
JG: Yes, sir.
AH: Tell me how you found your way to Juneau.
JG: I thought I would have to move anyway because there’s not a lot of computer science jobs in Mississippi. I just didn’t know I’d move this far.
AH: What kind of shock was it to move from Mississippi to Alaska?
JG: It was cold. I moved up here at the end of November, after Thanksgiving, and looking back at old pictures I was still wearing shorts in November and up here, it was already snowing.
AH: Tell me how you two crossed paths.
SK: Roller derby. I think she found us. We were having a bake sale to raise some money and she said, “Hey, I can skate,” and we said, “Come on by.”
JG: It was a pretty big learning curve because I was also at the same time I was joining the team, I was still learning to skate. So, they’re really fun and encouraging. They teach you to skate. They don’t ever make you feel bad about it, and then you’re just learning the rules as you go.
SK: She’s amazing. She is… She’s just shone like a star. I would say that when you join a roller derby team, you join a squad of amazingly powerful, strong-willed women and it creates this uplifting atmosphere. I mean, we spend practices knocking each other down and at the same time, also, lifting each other up by doing that. So, it’s pretty amazing. I’ve only met amazing people through roller derby.
AH: What do you love about being on roller skates?
JG: It’s just fun. [laughs]
SK: I love that I can just fly on wheels and do… I mean, everyone perceives you as a badass. What can I say?
Adam Dimmitt: My name’s Adam Dimmitt. This neighborhood is referred to as the Village. The ocean used to be here and then they filled in between here and the water with mine tailings. The stuff they were digging out of the mountains, they deposited down here. So, everything… You know, the shore used to be right in front of us. So, my shop—I’m told—was a boat mechanic’s shop.
AH: And there’s much a different kind of work you’re doing in here today.
AD: This right here is the machine that was the original lark that got out of hand. It’s a CNC plasma table. I’m able to take digital drawings and then cut those designs out of metal with a plasma arc.
AH: And yours is homemade. You built this thing.
AD: Yeah, I did. I hit play and the torch goes to the first place that it needs to make a cut and it’ll start cutting out the contour. It takes compressed air, a lot of electricity, and it creates a really, really hot jet conducting through this material that is being cut.
AH: Doing a home craft project is one thing but creating a plasma cutter… It just doesn’t seem like something you’d be allowed to permit yourself to do.
AD: I’m not smart enough to know that I’m not supposed to do these things, I think. I’d say it’s a really neat time to be alive and anything that you want to learn how to do, you can freely learn how to do it. This is a product of that, and a lot of late nights. I’ve done stainless steel letters for one of the big office buildings downtown, I did an aluminum sign for a marijuana dispensary. These are air conditioning grate covers for an elementary school that are of form line design. Those are really neat, I like those.
AH: Christmas ornaments.
AD: Christmas ornaments! Yeah, yeah, those pay the rent.
AH: How’d you make your way to Juneau, to Alaska?
AD: I went to Kansas State University. I studied aviation there, and then I eventually got a job here flying little airplanes, little six-seat kind of bush planes around here. Probably the most formative time philosophically for me was when I was flying a small airplane out on the peninsula, out in the Aleutians and it’s really barren out there and it’s really harsh, but it’s also really beautiful and you see things like whales wash up on the beach and bears eating carcasses of dead whales and I’ve seen wolves eating a caribou. And so, I’ve been accused of nihilism before because I got a sense out there that the universe really doesn’t care, that we’re all biomass that’s being converted into different forms all the time and that seemed a little too harsh. [laughs] That seemed a little too dark, I guess, to be able to kind of just go through life with that as your frame of reference, and so, I think that the things that I do here help me continue to process those questions and I hope that some of the things I do are positive moral exchanges.
Janice Sheufelt: I’m Janice Sheufelt. I’m a retired bicycle racer. There’s a fun local road racing group here in Juneau as I local races, and at one point this friend of mine… We watched this video of Race Across America, which is a 3,000-mile bike race from San Diego to Annapolis, and I thought, “Well, that’s crazy. I would never do that.” The first, like, thirty hours I just rode through, you know, started at noon, rode through that night, and then after that, the plan was to sleep 90 minutes a night, which is generally what I did the whole way. And I had a crew of ten people, three vehicles, so I had a little headset on my helmet with an ear piece, and then the navigator in the follow vehicle would tell me through my headset, you know, “It’s gonna be turn right at that stop sign,” whatever, you know, navigating through all these cities. In Colorado, I was having more and more trouble breathing. This was on, like, the third day of the race and I couldn’t breathe and we went to a small local emergency room. We thought maybe it was altitude, but the doctor thought it wasn’t altitude. He did x-rays and blood tests and just thought it was asthma. I started riding again but I was never the same. I was slowed down by that point and my breathing was bad the rest of the race. You know, I didn’t expect to win. There are about fifty men who started and six women. I had no idea if I was competitive against the other five women or not, but at that point I was… I had been in the lead for a couple days, so I was mainly relieved to make it and to keep that first place.
AH: I mean, you must remember the moment of crossing the finish line.
JS: Yes. So, just elation and joy and gratitude for the crew, especially because I had basically ridden myself to the point of needing to be in the hospital. Since the race, my breathing has never been the same. I take three asthma medications every day now and before the race, I had never taken any asthma medication.
AH: Do you think it was worth it?
JS: [laughs] What a question… I knew that if I never did Race Across America, I would regret it the rest of my life. But it’s really interesting because before that race in 2014, I had told my family, “This is it. I’m gonna retire.” Like, I’m not going to do this anymore because it’s such a selfish sport. I mean, I spent so many hours training and spend that time away from my kids. It wasn’t healthy in my overall life to continue doing that and I had planned to retire, but of course, you know, once the race is done you get that itch again and I would have kept doing it if I hadn’t been limited by the asthma. So, in a way, it’s good because it’s helped me to my plans of… I tease my kids—you know, they were teenagers at the time—I said, “Well, I’m normal now because I don’t bike race anymore.”
Tim Blust: So, we’re on a covered porch here that looks out at the water and now, let’s walk inside. We go in the front door here. The main cabin is just a 16 by 16-foot room, and there will be a woodstove back there to keep us warm. And it’s a quick tour of this little building. You can see the whole thing pretty much from the same place. We’ve been working really hard on this cabin. We started at the end of May and it’s been all work this summer on the cabin and it was kind of interesting to sit down in the chair with you guys right now and look out the window and kind of relax for a moment. Hi, my name’s Tim Blust. We’re sitting inside my cabin that’s under construction on Shelter Island. We’re about ten miles from Juneau, Alaska. There’s no utilities on the island and it’s only accessible by boat. The whole front of the cabin is a wall of windows and the views are wonderful. When I was working last week, I heard a loud booming noise. I turned around, and there was a humpback whale breaching right in front of the cabin. Yeah, it’s… The view really makes the place. I knew from the time I was a young kid growing up in Oregon that I really wanted to move to Alaska. I started getting Alaska Magazine when I was in grade school. I moved to Alaska, actually, the day that I finished my last class of college. All of a sudden, 36 years have gone by. Jeanie’s out here working in the garden. She’s weeding some strawberry beds, getting them ready for next summer.
Jeannie Monk: My name is Jeannie Monk and my husband is Tim and I’m growing whatever vegetables and fruits we can manage to feed my family. So, we have four long rows of strawberries and they bloom in July, and then kale, carrots… I try and just grow things that are easy. We met when we were young. I had just come to Juneau while I was doing a master’s program to work for a summer doing a practicum, and a friend of mine invited me to go out kayaking with her friends and Tim was there and I attribute our relationship to… Somebody brought brown rice and if you cook brown rice over a fire, it takes a long time for dinner to be ready. So, a few glasses of red wine and waiting for the rice to cook… That was the beginning of our relationship.
TB: My wife, Jeannie, has been the backbone of the whole project. She goes to work and makes this whole thing possible. I’m mostly retired, so she’s financed the whole thing and she comes out on the weekends and works alongside us.
JM: It’s been a lot of work. It’s consumed everything in our family lives. So, I would say I’m much more interested in the outcome, whereas he is much more interested in the process. So, I was really happy a week ago when we go the windows in because I really felt like we were moving forward. But it’s definitely been a memorable project.
Max: I feel like the cabin has always been an inevitable in the back of everyone’s minds and, like, always talked about. My name’s Max, I’m 22 years old and I am Tim and Jeannie’s eldest son. My younger brother is Aaron and right now I go to school at Portland State University.
AH: You go up and down the beach on Shelter Island and there’s this constant sound of rushing water. Describe the geography of this island and what’s making that sound.
Max: That’s a waterfall. We have many streams that come down out of the kind of highlands in this area and the highlands are made up of kind of these high planes which are very saturated and you’re not seeing any conifers growing in that area, or if there are, they’re very stunted. So, it’s kind of this open area. But up there at the same time, we have beavers and beavers are falling trees and making ponds, and so there’s constantly water kind of shedding off of all sides. And so, we have kind of a ridgeline, which is the main watershed line and everything west of that is gonna come down this side. And the island’s about six miles long, so it’s a lot of watershed. I think here on the island, the main purpose of coming out here is to get away and to disconnect and it’s just a very peaceful place all around. Yeah, that’s why we like to come out here I think.
Multiple Voices: You’ve been listening to Out of the Blocks, from radio producers Aaron Henkin and music producer Wendel Patrick. Special thanks to field producer MK MacNaughton and KTOO Public Media. Aaron and Wendel want to thank all of us who took a leap of faith and shared our stories and our lives. For WYPR and PRX, this is Juneau, Alaska—signing off.