Hugh Neff is a guy with a sense of humor …he was once referred to as Huge Mess (until he gained much wisdom on the trail), and he often wears a Cat in the Hat hat at race starts to promote reading.
Without books, he says, “I wouldn’t be here”… in the last great race on earth.
In an interview at a checkpoint he mentions A-chill…
The Alaska Gateway School District has proposed the Alaska – Care and Husbandry Instruction for Lifelong Living (A-CHILL) as their Native Youth Community Project. The geographic area to be served by this project is the Alaska Gateway School District and Yukon-Koyukuk School District covering an area of approximately 93,000 miles. The Hughes Village Council, Kaltag Tribal Council, Manley Hot Spring Traditional Council, Koyukuk Tribal Council, Ruby Tribal Council, Chief’s Conference, Mushers Association, Brightways Learning, the University of Alaska Fairbanks and partners seek to create systemic, sustainable change for Alaska Native youth by addressing career and post-secondary educational needs for students in grades 7-12. The barriers identified by the community survey and through analysis of the youth data are: graduation rates below 50% for Alaska Native students, lack of career readiness upon leaving school, lack of exposure to higher education opportunities and the need for greater exposure to cultural heritage. A-CHILL proposes to make changes through the development of a career educational program involving veterinary sciences, animal husbandry and cultural training. By leveraging expertise from high school programs, UAF programs and tribal elders related to the dog sledding industry, students will be incentivized to stay in school and consider the region’s rich cultural heritage involving mushing and the myriad of learning and employment opportunities that surround the industry. This project extends the existing pilot project, the Frank Attla Youth & Dog Mushing program, that now exists at the Jimmy Huntington school in Huslia. Project A-CHILL will leverage community volunteers and tribal elders to expand students’ knowledge of mushing, animal husbandry, related businesses and cultural heritage.
George Attla (Spirit of the Wind film) is considered by many to be the greatest musher of all time. He ran sprint races, short distances, not the long distance races like Iditarod and Yukon Quest. He was Athabaskan, the Native people of the Alaskan interior (related to the Navajo and Apache of the southwest). He was called the Huslia Hustler (his home village, Huslia). He lived from August 8, 1933 – February 15, 2015.
Both he and Hugh Neff have seen the issues facing the Native kids of Alaska.
And are inspired to do something to change that.
“Mushing could be a lot more than just about racing, it’s gotta be about giving back to Alaska.” says Hugh Neff.
This website tells you a bit about Attla, his winning attitude, and his position as elder teaching and inspiring the next generations.
This near obituary, tells a great deal about this mythic man.
He was a man who understood dogs, who was a a top athlete despite childhood tuberculosis and a fused knee (he stood on that one, and pedaled furiously with the other leg). His last year, spent in a hospital, he made other kinds of journeys, spiritual journeys…
“I needed to take one more trip, so I went around the world on a sled,” Attla said. “It was a beautiful trip. Each tribe, they took me in, all around the world. It was almost like the history of what they call the beginning of the earth. “I was thinking, wow. I never dreamt in my life that something like that would happen to me. It was the most amazing thing. It was a gift.”
Attla said that once he got to the hospital and his body didn’t react well to treatment, he received advice from “the old people.”
“They are all dead and you go to them with questions, and I was able to be there with them long enough to get the answers I need on Earth,” Attla said. Their advice, he said, included prayer.
The same old people helped pick the dogs that took him on his round-the-world trip, he said.
His eyes brightened as he spoke about all of this.
“At this time of my life, it’s not even a dream, almost. It’s my imagination,” Attla said. “Right now I feel great. In my mind, I am very at peace.”