Miss WEIO 2009 prepares to represent Alaska

Alanna Gibson ready to show that native traditions are still alive

Posted: Wednesday, July 29, 2009

FAIRBANKS - In just a few short weeks, life has taken an unexpected but not unwelcome turn for Alanna Gibson.

Eric Engman / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
Eric Engman / Fairbanks Daily News-Miner

The newly crowned Miss World Eskimo Indian Olympics 2009 queen is reorganizing her life to take on her new duties of representing Alaskans, Alaska and its Native cultures.

Gibson, 21, was aware of the annual queen pageant that focuses on Native culture and traditions, but she didn't have any long-range plans to enter it.

However, Gibson's mother, Rebecca Gibson, and her aunts kept bringing it to her attention.

"They would always mention it to me," Gibson said.

A short time before the WEIO week of activities and Native games began, Gibson's mother learned that WEIO was recruiting queen contestants, and gently persuaded Alanna to sign up to represent Minto.

"I really wanted to show people that our culture is still very much alive and being passed on," said the Athabascan queen.

The next few days entailed pulling together a bevy of details including the $350 entry fee and appropriate clothing for the weeklong queen contest.

"I wasn't prepared; I didn't have the full regalia," Gibson said. "They started calling me "the hustler" to hustle up some clothes and hustle up some speeches."

The moosehide dress Gibson wore was borrowed from a cousin, Kristina Charlie Schutt, who wore it on her wedding day. Schutt made the dress with the assistance of Catherine Charlie and Norma Dahl.

"It was really exciting to wear that dress," Gibson said.

Gibson and her mother, an accomplished beadworker, are making plans to tan and sew a moosehide dress of Gibson's own for future public appearances-most notably the Miss Indian World contest hosted in Albuquerque, N.M., in March.

The kitchen table in the Gibson family's North Pole home already has a stack of sewing supplies.

There are beads, buttons, needles, thread and a cotton print in bright blues cut out and ready to stitch into a "betz a hulen," also known as a kuspuk.

Gibson intends to learn how to make sealskin slippers. WEIO gave her a sealskin, and Barbara Curtis, of Noorvik and Wasilla, will teach her.

During the WEIO pageant, queen contestants not only talked about their culture, personal challenges and ambitions, but also demonstrated a talent.

Gibson explained the process of making birch bark baskets - a skill she learned from her mother and grandmother - and she demonstrated how spruce roots are cleaned, (stripped with her teeth) in preparation for weaving.

"I'm still learning," Gibson said. "I've been watching my mother make baskets ever since I was a toddler, and I'm learning the process, starting with getting the materials - birch bark and helping to gather the (willow and spruce) roots."

"There will be a day when I can say, 'Look, I made a really good basket."'

Gibson's mother said her daughter is artistic and a quick learner.

"A lot of what Alanna knows is what she learned from her dad and me," explained Rebecca, who was raised in Minto. "We live subsistence and she learned the crafts from me and her father.

Thomas Gibson is from Stevens Village, a community health practitioner who travels the North Slope Borough.

Dog mushing is Gibson's latest adventure.

She spent the past school year in Minto working with young children in the village school. During her off hours, she assembled an eight-dog team with the help of her grandpa, Neal Charlie.

"He gave me a sled, towline, harnesses and dog houses," Gibson said.

Gibson, who was living in a dry cabin, hauled water and split wood to care for her critters and trained almost every day.

"If I wasn't running with my team, I was with someone else's," she said.

During the Minto Spring Carnival, Gibson took third place in the women's race.

"I was two minutes behind Buddy Streeper's team," she recalled. "It was a shocker."

Mushing is on hold for the upcoming winter. Gibson is hard at work adjusting to her royal role and preparing to start education and Native language classes at the University of Alaska Fairbanks in the fall.

Her plans for the future?

"I want to get a teaching certificate and teach in the villages," she said.

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