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(Many Paths)
An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America
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Native Alaska Students Get Taste of Southern California
Special to The Press-Enterprise

Going to Disneyland was not the highlight of a recent Southern California visit by Native Alaskan students. Instead, a hike in the hills above The Oaks on the Soboba Reservation resonated with them.

Most of the youths in the tribe started fishing and hunting at a young age in order to subsist off the land as past generations have done.

"They all hunt, snare rabbits and canoe. They all have their own knives and guns, so they couldn't understand people standing in long lines to shoot a fake gun or ride in a boat," said teacher Dora Powell, who runs the school at Stevens Village in central Alaska.

Nine of Powell's 12 K-12 students were on the weeklong trip, which ended Monday. The journey included a visit to the beach and a stay with the Lopez family in Riverside. The Lopezes were the connection between the tribe and California.

In 2009, an overflowing Yukon River flooded the village and Emilio Lopez joined 15 members of the Mennonite Disaster Services to help rebuild.

"I spent three weeks there and fixed 11 homes of the 21 that were damaged," he said. "FEMA called the Mennonites because they could not get anyone out there before winter. The Mennonites take the Bible very seriously to help others in need. Today it is them, but tomorrow it could be us."

Powell raised money for the trip by charging physicians, dentists and members of the Bureau of Land Management who make regular visits to the village.

"There is no other place for them to stay except the school, but I charge them," said the enterprising teacher.

Alex Tortes, of the Torres-Martinez reservation, and Ed Soza, from Soboba, joined the group last Saturday for the hike, lunch at the Maze Stone and a tour of the Western Science Center in Hemet.

"They're curious and adventurous," Tortes said. "I've enjoyed getting to know them."

Soza and his 7-year-old daughter, Ellie, spent the morning with the group. He said he hopes the Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians will consider adopting the students for the holidays and donating toys and other items.

Glenn Simon Jr., 19, graduated from the village school last year and now is a classroom aide for Powell. He is a tribal government member and is working to get plumbing inside homes to provide running water.

Stevens Village, on the north bank of the Yukon River, is about 90 miles north of Fairbanks, which takes about four to five hours to reach. Powell said five families make up the population of about 70 people, who are predominantly Kutchin Natives.

Starting June 21, the area will experience 24-hour daylight for a few months.

"We don't sleep much in the summer," Powell said. "It's not unusual to be out gardening at midnight."

For more information on the repair work prompted by the floods in 2009, go to and search for "Repairing Stevens Village, AK."

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