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IACSA Iditarod Puppy Party

Iditarod | Photo provided by IACSA

On March 22, members of the Indigenous American Cultural Student Association hosted a catered party to view the famous Iditarod dog sledding race. The event was made complete by the 4 Paws for Ability puppies joining in for a little puppy love.

The Iditarod

Brad Kerry, a member of IACSA, presented a detailed and informative presentation of facts and history of the Iditarod race, which takes mushers (drivers of the dog sleds) and their sled teams through mountainous passages, across icy tundras and even over the frozen ocean while enduring treacherous weather.

Some may not know that the name “Iditarod” originates from the native languages Deg Xinag and Holikachuk, the Athabascan people of Alaska. The word literally means “far away place.”

The Iditarod is a dog sled race run nearly 1,000 miles from Anchorage to Nome, Alaska. The first full Iditarod trail race was run in 1973, but before that, the race and trail has a rich history. 

The Iditarod trail had been used for centuries by Alaska Native peoples as a means for hunting, traveling and trading with other Indigenous groups. The trail was originally cleared in 1908 by the government. The trail was not widely used by others outside the Alaska Native population until a few years later when gold was discovered, and the trail became essential for delivering mail as well as other essentials to those who came to settle and mine. 

The dogs

Historically, Alaska Natives have always had a close relationship with their animals. Their sled dogs supported their livelihood. 

Sled dogs were used in the arctic for around 8,000 years until the invention of the snowmobile in 1935, which, by 1960, led to a significant decrease in the everyday use of sled dogs, though many still keep the tradition alive.

In the 2023 Iditarod, the three winners were all of Alaska Native descent. Ryan Redington, the first place winner of the 2023 Iditarod, was not only the grandson of the widely recognized “Father of the Iditarod,” but also is a staunch advocate for Alaskan Native rights and values. This year, Redington finished 14th in the race, still an impressive feat.

The Iditarod strongly values the safety of its canine participants. There are veterinarians at every checkpoint to make sure each and every dog is in proper shape. If any dog is deemed unfit to continue racing, the entire team is out of the race, as their safety is top priority. 

Cultural celebration

The members of IACSA also invited everyone to try some delicious Indigenous cultural foods from the Alaskan coast. 

Represented was a venison chili, seaweed salad, smoked salmon and a type of bread called bannock, which was served with cloudberry preserves. 

The group listened as Kerry presented on the history of each item and why it is so significant to Alaskan Native culture. The cloudberries are a cold-climate berry and taste a little like honey, the venison stew would more traditionally be a moose or caribou stew and the bannock would typically be made with corn and has a very cakey texture. 

Kerry kept the group very engaged, asking questions and maintaining a very interactive and educational atmosphere. He was very knowledgeable of the race and even pointed out and explained the different checkpoints to help students better understand what they were seeing on the screen. 

IACSA is planning another event next year to celebrate the Iditarod, which will feature a real race students can participate in on school grounds. Stay tuned on Engage for more information about IACSA’s upcoming events.

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