If you are interested in sled dogs and want to join a dog mushing clubMore
Shawna Zusi-Cobb, a 2012 senior at West Valley H.S., was born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska. Passionate about drawing portraits since she was very young, Shawna rarely goes anywhere without a pencil and sketchbook. She also enjoys painting, photography, digital arts and graphic design, and has volunteered these skills to promote a variety of groups and productions in Fairbanks, most recently donating her poster art and design for the North Star Ballet’s 25th anniversary production of The Nutcracker. Shawna will attend college next year in Oregon or Washington and major in Digital Arts/Graphic Design while continuing to pursue her interest in fine art.
About George Attla and my drawing of his lead dog named Lingo
By Shawna Zusi-Cobb
My friendship with Athabaskan dog mushing legend George Attla happened by chance. I met him through my mother’s good friend, and he asked to see the drawings in the sketchbook I always carry. Impressed by my pencil portraits, he asked if I could draw his grandson. He was so happy with the drawing that he asked if I would draw his favorite dog of his 50-year mushing career, Lingo (born in 1979). The drawing of Lingo was my first attempt at an animal portrait. As a surprise for George’s 78th birthday, we framed and shipped the Lingo drawing to Huslia on a pallet of dog food, and are told it pulled him out of a health slump. He said it captured the dog’s spirit, and it now hangs in his cabin in the Alaskan Koyukuk River village. The drawing of Lingo was just published in the January issue of Mushing Magazine, after the editor returned from Huslia, where he saw the drawing in George’s cabin.
It is well known that the Alaska husky originated from coastal and interior regions of the state, but what is not so well acknowledged is that sled dog racing did too. With the development of sleds, Native people living totally off the land used dogs that pulled sleds to hunt, trap, fish, and race. Sled dogs were crucial in moving heavily loaded boats upstream in the summer, in dragging supplies on snow in the winter as people traveled from place to place, and for checking trap lines.
Prior to the 1950s, every Athabascan Indian family living a nomadic lifestyle in the Koyukuk River area had sled dogs. Villages were established only when Alaska became a state and children were required by law to have a formal education in schools. Prior to the establishment of villages, families living remotely would gather at Christmas time for up to two weeks to visit with each other and race their best dogs. There are stories about small teams racing 20-mile heats.
From the 1950s until the early 1970s, villages held races throughout the winter. In addition to a village New Year race and small races held over the winter and into early spring, people from villages and surrounding areas would pool their best dogs and drive them to the village of Hughes for a championship race. This would be the last sled dog race of the season.
Thought to be the most significant event that changed the history of sprint racing for the Koyukuk River area dog drivers, Raymond Paul of Galena, the 1955 winner of the Fur Rendezvous World Championship Sled Dog Race, traveled to Hughes to race. He came in fourth. This race was the first time the Koyukuk River region dogs had competed against the best sled dogs of the world, and they proved to be better. In 1956, Jimmy Huntington with dogs from Huslia won the Fur Rendezvous. For decades to come, the Koyukuk River area dog drivers were tough competitors in the world championship sprint and long-distance races held throughout Alaska.
In the late 1970s, village sled dog racing association president Alfred Attla of Hughes, Warner Vent of Huslia, and Beatus Moses of Allakaket had the idea to hold a single larger spring carnival that would rotate in location amongst the three villages, instead of each village having its own. The carnival, which would include snowshoe racing, ice-picking contests, and a 3-day sprint race, approximately 20 miles each day, was called the Koyukuk River Championship. Alfred Attla said having one carnival would decrease travel for the Elders of the many surrounding villages eager to watch the best dogs of the region race. The championship race became popular and locally known as the KRC.
Since the first one in 1980, the KRC has been held every April, and dog drivers from all over Interior Alaska and beyond come to compete. Because of increases in the expense of travel and lodging for a dog team and driver but no increase in the purse, the race was reduced in 1997 to two days instead of three.
Today the KRC is a much-anticipated sled dog racing event, and continues to be a special traditional spring gathering for the people of the region. The KRC is also a way for the Koyukuk River area sprint racers to gauge the championship quality of their teams. As for other sprint races in the Interior and on the western coast of the state, most are held at various times during the winter and spring, though not as many as in previous times. Villages sprint races are still being held in Galena, Ruby, Nulato, Tanana, Ft. Yukon, Minto, Tanacross, Noorvik, and Kotzebue.
Koyukuk River Sled Dog Championship Past Winners: 1980 – 2011
|2011 • Huslia • George Attla
2010 • Allakaket • John Erhart
2009 • Hughes • Patrick Bergman
2008 • Huslia • Buddy Streeper
2007 • Allakaket • John Erhart
2006 • Hughes • Patrick Bergman
2005 • Huslia • Sterling DeWilde
2004 • Allakaket • John Erhart
2003 • Hughes • John Erhart
2002 • Huslia • John Erhart
2001 • Allakaket • John Erhart
2000 • Hughes • John Erhart
1999 • Huslia • Floyd Vent
1998 • Allakaket • George Attla, III
1997 • Hughes • Mark Zimmerman
1996 • Huslia • Tom Huntington
1995 • Allakaket • George Attla
1994 • Hughes • George Attla
|1993 • Huslia • Roxy Wright
1992 • Allakaket • George Attla
1991 • Hughes • George Attla
1990 • Huslia • Marvin Kokrine
1989 • Allakaket • George Attla, III
1988 • Hughes • George Attla
1987 • Huslia • Chuck Erhart
1986 • Allakaket • George Attla
1985 • Hughes • Chuck Erhart
1984 • Huslia • Charlie Champaine
1983 • Allakaket • Chuck Erhart
1982 • Hughes • George Attla
1981 • Huslia • Lester Erhart
1980 • Allakaket • Roxy Wright