Willa Eckenweiler


Eckenweiler at her home in Unalakleet.

Eckenweiler at her home in Unalakleet.

"[The younger generation] are expanding farther beyond Unalakleet. It’s not just 'home' anymore. They are moving out into the world."



Before outsiders came to Alaska...

Outsiders came to Alaska years before I was born. There used to be Russians. We have Russian words in our [Inupiaq] language. There used to be a Russian fort. So they lived in Unalakleet, and that’s where our people mingled with them, and learned their words, and what they introduced to the locals here. Sugar; a cup; then their tea, I guess. Their kinds of tea. Then it was gold miners. ... And then Mom said, too, there would be people who came from Nome. They’d come down here and trade food-- and then some of them stayed. Unalakleet is a mixture. ... Our grandparents are malamiut ... they came down from the Kobuk [River]. ... We don’t speak [Inupiaq] fluently, but we know-- we can understand. But, our parents, that was their first language. And so they spoke it to each other and to their family.

Before SnowMAchines

I’m from Unalakleet, and I was born and raised here. Our parents are Clarence and Gary Towarak. They had 12 children, and we were all, except for one, born here in Unalakleet. ... It seemed like back then, everybody had dog teams. There were lots and lots of dogs in town, and Mom used to talk about people going, you know, to the next village, and they’d pass another dog team from another village. … It seems like back then when they had their own dog teams, it wasn’t on the calendar-- they went according to the seasons. They didn't pay too much attention to the calendar. 


"they do the things i do"

I grew up with this family that came from Minnesota, and they came in ‘65, I think. So they’re a Caucasian family, and we grew up with a lot of people who came from out in the United States, because they were teachers here at Covenant High School. So I think Unalakleet is unique in that way. We had the boarding school here, and we had students coming in from all over Alaska, and the teachers were from the Lower 48. I know this [project] is kind of about interacting with people who are not from here. My experience is: they grew up with me. And they do the things I do even now. And they still live here. So I was used to being around people that are different from me.

Sleepless in Seattle

When I went out to school, my first year I went out to Seattle Pacific University in Seattle. And me and my roommate, Donna Erickson?--we didn’t know how to go to school! We got out there, and we didn’t have anything. We didn’t go shopping for our bedding! And we thought, “Oh, we need bedding!” We always laugh about our first experience, because we didn’t know how to live in Seattle; we didn’t know how to live away from our immediate family. But we got to Seattle and we survived with our jackets, you know, as bedding, until we got our own. But we had to register [at the university] and we had to figure that out. We had a different experience living in Seattle and figuring everything out in Seattle; it’s a big city compared to Anchorage.