Project Jukebox

Digital Branch of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program

Agnes Cusma

Agnes Cusma

Agnes Cusma was a Dena'ina Athabascan elder who was born in 1921 in old Nondalton (old village) to Catherine and Gabriel Trefon, and lived the rest of her life in Nondalton, Alaska. She grew up living a subsistence lifestyle, where as a girl she trapped mountain squirrels and went camping for Fall fish. Agnes went to school only up to the 5th grade. She remembered that they first started school in Nondalton in 1930, and how the teachers were very strict about them not speaking the Dena'ina language; they only wanted English spoken. They also told the parents to speak only English to their children. Nevertheless, Agnes explained that the teachers were understanding and allowed the boys to get out of school to hunt or haul wood, something no longer done:  "Now, it is different. The kids don't do this anymore. All the kids want to do is watch TV. Kids are used to having things easy nowadays." She was married to Aleck Cusma and in addition to raising a family, Agnes worked as a commercial fisherman and health aide. She was a devoted member of the Russian Orthodox Church, enjoyed knitting, crocheting, sewing, berry picking, and putting up fish in the summer, and was eager to share her Dena'ina traditions and knowledge. Agnes Cusma passed away in 2015 at the age of 94. For more about Agnes Cusma, see her obituary in the Peninsula Clarion newspaper.

Date of Birth:
Jan 27, 1921
Date of Death:
Jul 7, 2015
Agnes Cusma appears in the following new Jukebox projects: