Fred Kirsteatter was interviewed on August 16, 2000 by Don Callaway and Connie Friend at his home in Healy Lake, Alaska for Mendees Cheeg Naltsiin Keey': An Oral History of the People of Healy Lake Village (annotated and edited by Donald G. Callaway and Constance A. Friend, Revised June 2007). In this interview, Fred talks about growing up in a traditional lifestyle and learning Native ways and values from his mother, getting an education and college degree, and what he accomplished for his village. He emphasizes the importance of getting an education, despite the difficulties and challenges of doing so when coming from a small rural Native community.
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Growing up in Healy Lake under a subsistence lifestyle
Getting an education and earning a college degree
Knowing traditional values and ways of living
Importance of family values
Facing and overcoming the challenges of getting an education
Being proud of his accomplishments
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DON CALLAWAY: It’s Friday at Healy Lake. It’s August 16th and we’re talking with Fred Kirsteatter.
FRED KIRSTEATTER: Yeah, my name's Fred Kirsteatter. I was born in Healy Lake. I was the last one of those born at the old village site of Healy Lake.
I was born in 1953. And pretty much I was raised out in the Healy Lake setting with just a family and a subsistence lifestyle where there would be just my parents and my immediate family, my sisters.
And we lived under the umbrella of basically a subsistence lifestyle and the -- and the more rewarding probably more economical way of life really.
I think it was of more value living and as far as enrichment from my mother, I think
we were pretty much enriched with her traditional ways and some of the customs that she passed down to us sure have benefitted us in our discipline and in our daily life on up to our adulthood.
I would like to say that after spending three or four years on my education with my father, I quit correspondence. I was sent to Chemawa (Indian School in Salem, Oregon).
And I spent two years there and we were approached by Dr. Robert McKennan who was the anthropologist for the Upper Tanana area at the time of -- of 1966-‘67, I believe.
And he introduced me to a program, Native Studies program called “ ABC “at Dartmouth College. And the coordination became possible by my findings of artifacts and some of the heritage of my people.
I was collecting arrowheads and other implements, spearheads and implements such as stone and obsidian arrowheads, but I think that the findings led itself to my educational ways that perhaps gifted me into getting a college degree from the University of Vermont after attending summer school at Dartmouth.
But I kind of left the East Coast and came home in ‘78 after graduation.
I followed my mother’s tradition by being the Assistant Chief, you might say, because I became chief through her custom that led to a development of a village here at Healy Lake.
Under the -- under the Land Claims Act (Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act) that passed in 1971 we implemented the progression of that with benefits of getting our land, our people and restoration of just basic socio-economic groups, but for twenty years I served in that capacity.
And up until this point, I was pretty much in the political realm because I graduated with a degree in political science.
I felt that it was adequate, that it would serve me in the system that we worked in and with Native people and issues that confronted everyone in the Interior and statewide.
In that regard I was pretty instrumental in securing the schooling and the basic setting of Healy Lake; and the people that reside here have part of my benefits that I worked and strived for.
And I believe that with our younger people getting more and more educated to the awareness of the traditional sense of our people and values that our ancestors were carrying as heritage,
I believe that those things that -- that are taught to them by the elders that are so limited now in their numbers I believe that it does carry some value on them to pursue their education whether it’s social or educational in the academic field.
I feel that this is really necessary that, that Native children from Healy Lake or other places that go through the acculturation or assimilation fine line, maybe that, if you will, that they would learn that their basic home rule is that you pursue the best you can.
It’s just our way of makin’ survival. You know, it’s a way of life, and the only way we can.
Getting back to my point of -- of my home. My mother had taught me some traditional ways of -- of being aware of not only of the respect of the animals, but the traditional usage of eating habits and the traditional use -- ways of learning the hunting -- hunting ways of our people.
I think one of the first things that I wore were bone -- were bones from beaver to make me work hard.
For example, I had a necklace that had some hawk claws to make me swift and be more witful when I -- when I make delivery on what I have to kind of grasp when I was later learning in life.
And another thing I remember going through initiation of having to eat porcupine heart so that I won’t get scared out in the woods.
So that would teach me not -- when I grew older that it would come back to me that fear would not be my -- my way of behavior when I got older.
I think that a lot of these values and these things that my mother used to put forth on me and I think they proved rewarding.
I stepped out into the real world back East and it was hard for me because comin’ from a small setting like one family in rural Alaska,
a trapping home and making it into the real world, you have to have more than just basic educational calibres that qualify you to get through life.
I think that it takes a lot of self determination.
I believe that family values, like again I said, my dad and my mother, Paul and Margaret, I’ve raised my family to the utmost of --of well being and wholesome.
I think it has a lot to do with going out and striving and working for -- for everyone.
I think it’s a unity effort when you start to -- start to look back on how the Healy Lake band and its people and Chief Healy had taught their people to be more communal.
And to start with the family values and the things that kept the webbing in tune to the structure of life, I think families and the people should work that way.
That’s pretty much what taught me to survive really. I think we’re lookin’ at a changing world today,
as you ‘ve seen with the elders and they stress the education as one of the things we all need.
I think we’re looking at a generation here where we’re not turning back on necessarily, but we’re lookin’ at subsistence as something we take for granted, but it seems to --
each day where we’re lookin’ at trying to grasp onto some of the traditions and some of the inherited things that are necessarily really a great deal of strength in our fiber of our culture and our survival rates.
I think hunting and fishing is probably that, and it’s going to continue to be part of all our social gatherings including the potlatch and beyond just setting food on the table for your family.
I don’t know what to say.
Getting back to my educational experience. I find it very difficult. I would highly recommend it to other Native -- Native students who want to pursue their education, but I must --
I must remind you that my educational purposes were more than just educational. I think the social aspects of life kind of intertwines with your academics.
I believe that meeting people and making friends and relating to them, what their interests, certainly has its weight on your accomplishments, on getting your work and your accomplishments in order.
When I experienced going to school at Dartmouth, which was a Native Americans program, I felt a sense of pride where there were other Natives from North America that were attending the school.
It was a program called “ABC, A Better Chance.”
I was there with other upward bound and Native prospects that were potentially going to college and I was one of them that was fortunate enough.
I was recommended by Dr. Robert McKennan because I had some qualities in pursuing my education. I believe that the challenge was sometime pretty tough.
It was like bangin’ my head against the wall, you might say, but I find that after a year or two of being away from home and being alone and trying to pursue my academics in the world of being in a Ivy League, it was --
it was the hardest part, but I believe that if you have a healthy mind and meet other people to relate your problems and then to share their interests whether it’s sports or some of the things that we find interest in, and then to share with others, I think that’s the bottom line to surviving in the academic world.
If one chooses to pursue the educational needs of being Alaska Native in the rural area whether it’s a village or a small place like Healy Lake.
I had -- I had some fond memories and I don’t think I ever had a bad memory of learning and being able to achieve what was put forth as far as my degree, what was required, my prerequisites.
It was just a matter of getting down and putting some discipline into your hard work and studying.
But I’ve found that later in life it paid off by -- I was injured, however, being in a wheel chair, but I still maintain that my mind is healthy enough to purposely go on.
I raised two children. They’re now going to -- One’s going to boarding school and one’s getting trained in this fall in Delta for mining school.
I find that coming home and accomplishing my educational needs I related that to my two children.
I raised my two children alone and with a tight family and the things that I were taught were fair and stable, and therefore I raised two children that were healthy in mind and body.
I feel that it was rewarding when you can go out alone and find that you can better achieve, make achievements in your own way of setting your own goal by just basic hard work. Hum.
After coming home, finishing school and being a parent, I feel that my accomplishments in some of the things that I have looked through and what I’ve -- what I’ve contributed to my home, my family, and my village, what services I have provided with others.
What I share, what I gave and what I took, so far as, you know, some misunderstandings sometimes, but I feel fairly well with what my accomplishments are.
I try to digest that I did the best I could. I think that everyone should come to a conclusive thinking that you’re not always perfect, but I feel happy for what my accomplishments are.
I believe that I contributed a lot to my community and made, made uh, perhaps regional, a regional impact on the people.
I worked for the Tanana Chiefs (Tanana Chiefs Conference) as Director of Wildlife and Parks. I was in that capacity of service for four years.
I found that the challenge were there and I found that there was not any more that I could do to serve so I came home after that to serve my corporation. I worked on the Board as president and as chief in it’s capacity with the Council.
And I worked for the E board and I worked on --
Also after being injured, I became paralyzed but I found my capacity not limited.
I was appointed by the Governor to serve on the Vocational Rehabilitation Commission, which I have. And that was from ‘85 to ‘90, I believe.
And I served that to the best I could.
In fact some of the things I incorporated within the state acknowledgment of vocational rehabilitation regulations were that hunting a vocational setting for people like myself to go hunting and fishing whenever we can.
And so subsistence is not an issue for me. And I feel very comfortable to -- to say and still display some gratitude in my accomplishments.
I might be a little selfish with -- selfish with it, but I’m still happy about that.