Coming Home For You, Baby
Alaska Family Returns To Glasgow For Birth
By Samar Fay
Published: Friday, December 28th, 2012
Cam and Nicole Metzgar love living and working in an Alaskan village about the size of Opheim. They have been teaching for seven years in the Nondalton School, a K-12 school with 33 students and four teachers, plus aides and administrators. Nicole teaches English and social studies to grades five through 12; Cam is the elementary teacher for grades two through six.
Nondalton is accessible only by air. The town has a post office and just recently got a little store. For shopping, most people fly an hour in the small daily airplane to Anchorage, the nearest hub city, 200 miles away. (With a population of nearly 300,000, it’s more than twice the size of Billings.) The Metzgars mail about four months’ worth of canned and dry groceries to themselves on these shopping trips. They keep a car in Anchorage to drive around when they visit; there’s no use for one in Nondalton.
There is a post office and one Russian Orthodox church, a reminder that the Russians were the first outsiders to have contact with the native people.
Nondalton has a clinic served by a health aide, but it’s no place to have a baby. Most local women go to Anchorage in their eighth month of pregnancy to await the birth of a child. However when Nicole approached that time, she flew home to Glasgow – going “outside,” “down south” or “to the lower 48” – to stay with her parents, Dave and Cindy Rogenes. She brought Hazel, their 2 1/2-year-old daughter, who was also born in Glasgow. Hazel was named after Cam’s great-grandmother. Cam arrived a couple of weeks later, in good time to greet their new daughter, Augustine, born Nov. 26.
While in Glasgow, they did some personal business, like visiting the doctor and dentist. They like to get this taken care in Glasgow, where there are no lines or traffic. They left Glasgow last week, and after a visit with Cam’s mother in Idaho, they will return to Alaska. Cam will relieve his substitute teacher in January, while Nicole takes maternity leave until February.
“There is a lot of similarity between (Nondalton) and here,” Nicole said. “I see it more and more every time I come back. We took five airplanes between Nondalton and Glasgow.”
The couple met in Anaktuvuk Pass, Alaska, where Nicole taught for three years after college. Cam, who was born in Juneau, went there to do a practicum in rural teaching. In 2006 they moved to Nondalton, a town whose population is nearly 100 percent native Athabascan people of the Dena’ina tribe.
A school as small as theirs mostly concentrates on teaching five core subjects, but they fly in artists for instruction in music and art. While they have been gone, a drummer from Kodiak has been teaching for two weeks. Courses for adults are offered too, to give the community an opportunity to benefit from this enrichment.
The school schedules cultural weeks, inviting local artists to teach traditional skills like making fishing masks, skin sewing (making moose, fox, beaver or rabbit fur into mittens and other things) and cooking. They teach canning to preserve fish and berries.
In Nondalton School, the third largest school in their district, they have limited sports opportunities, given the small enrollment, but they do have cross country, basketball and volleyball, using a gym that’s smaller than regulation. Much of their competition is intermurals and jamboree teams.
Except for jobs at the school, most employment in Nondalton is seasonal work like firefighting, trapping, hunting, fishing and tourism. National Geographic in November covered the story of a proposed mine 20 miles away, the Pebble Mine, which would tap the world’s largest copper deposit and the third largest gold deposit. But it is a controversial project, because part of it would be a huge open pit operation and it sits at the head of the largest wild salmon spawning streams in Alaska, which flow into Bristol Bay, home of the largest run of salmon in the world.
Even though there is no digging yet, the Pebble does provide some jobs. Bear guards are kept on lookout while crews survey and run tests, plus housekeepers and cooks are needed for the workers.
Many teachers in Nondalton are transients, the Metzgars said, but after someone stays a couple of years, people accept them to an extent. The elders and the parents see the need and value education, Nicole said.
“They want their children to understand the outside,” Nicole said. “They also want to keep their traditional ways.”
Cam says their life in Alaska is hard to explain.
“There’s nothing people can relate it to,” Nicole said. “We do enjoy it. Alaska is so diverse. There are many other places (in Alaska) to experience, where the land, people and culture are different.”
One thing that keeps them in Nondalton is the cabin they have been building over four summers.
“We have this project and we have the kids that keep us there,” Nicole said.
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