NANA Region figures prominently in book
By Jim Paulin
The NANA Region stars in this book about a young boy's boat trip with his family from their upper Kobuk River home to a 19th century version of what is now called the Northwest Native Trade Fair, held last summer in Kotzebue.
Author Jim Magdanz is a familiar presence in Northwest Alaska through his work as an Alaska Department of Fish and Game subsistence specialist, and for developing an English and Iñupiaq CD-Rom program for the Northwest Arctic Borough School District. Magdanz also is known for his various photographic and journalistic endeavors. This is his first children's book.
Magdanz spends his summers at a remote camp on the Mauneluk River, a Kobuk River tributary about 25 miles east of Shungnak.
"If there was any inspiration in this book at all, it was the country, which is just beautiful up there," Magdanz said. "It's really a product of the NANA region."
Illustrator Dianne Widom's work is well-known in rural Alaska. A former Nome resident who now lives in Arizona, Widom's paintings of Eskimo women appear on the 1995 and 1996 Alaska Commercial Company calendars.
Widom's illustrations were based on Magdanz' photos of five-year-old Amos Woods, son of Arvey and Amelia Woods of Kotzebue. An Arizona boy served as a live model for Widom, but Magdanz said Amos was the main influence.
Magdanz uses fiction to teach a science lesson about rain, snow, and fog. He traces the river's path from its source in the mountains, down to the sea, vaporizing into the sky, and returning as rain.
"Go Home, River began as a bedtime story for our son," Magdanz writes in a historical note in the back of the book. "It describes a trip we made with him into the Brooks Range in 1992. As I told the story, I wondered how the trip might have occurred in traditional times. It could have been set in many times and places, but I have imagined it occurring about 1875 along the Kobuk River and Kotzebue Sound."
The family attended the trade fair at Sisualik, a long gravel spit about 10 miles northwest of Kotzebue.
"The Sisualik trade fair was well-known among European explorers, whalers, and traders. One who visited the fair in 1884 estimated that 1,200 people were gathered to watch a single dance. Although the fair's primary purpose was trade, it was a major political and social event.
"A truce prevailed among warring Iñupiat nations, and the warriors' aggression was channeled into intense contests of endurance and skill. The Sisualik fair would have been an exciting place for an Iñupiat child in 1875," Magdanz wrote.
In a historical note in the book, Magdanz said the trade fair was held each year at Sisualik. But another account by National Park Service anthropologist Robert Gal of Kotzebue has the fair alternating annually between Sisualik and Kotzebue.
Said Magdanz this week, "I wouldn't be surpised if it moved around. I just hadn't read about it occurring at the site of modern Kotzebue."
© 1996 Alaska Newspaspers Inc. Used by Permission.