Cyndi Reeves is smashing stereotypes. The Calista Shareholder proves young women have a place fishing on the banks of the rivers, hunting the forests and gathering on the tundra. “I was the first of seven children; my dad raised me like a son. I hunted, fished and logged, I did everything a first-born son would do,” said Cyndi.
Her passion for the outdoors stems from her upbringing and her strength as a woman comes from her grandmother. Growing up in Alakanuk, Cyndi spent every summer at fish camp with her grandparents, where it was her grandmother who taught her to survive off the land. Her grandmother taught her to identify edible plants, read rivers to catch fish, and hunt for moose, rabbits and seals.
“These are important things to learn,” said Cyndi. “Our land is rich.”
Cyndi fondly remembers her summers as a child spent without today’s distractions of television and cellphones. During her studies at Sheldon Jackson College, she turned her memories into a story about her grandmother. Recently, she worked with illustrator Camille May, a Haida Native from Craig, and self-published the story into a children’s book. “Aalimaalimaa” tells the tale of summer adventures and her grandmother finding a snail. When it rains, her grandmother sings “Aalimaalimaa” and brings out the sunshine. “The story is about believing that you can always make sunshine,” said Cyndi.
Using photos of Cyndi’s grandmother and of the area, Camille used a technique called gouache painting to illustrate the book. The book is meant to inspire children to explore the outdoors, learn about the land and respect their Elders. It also contains many Yup’ik words. “Grandma only spoke Yup’ik to me. So, all I knew were the Yup’ik words for all these plants.”
Cyndi currently lives in Craig with her husband and children. Moving from Western Alaska to Southeast was a challenge at first, but through the lessons of her grandmother she was able to learn how to survive off a new land. She loves seeing an increasing number of women following in the footsteps of their fathers, or as Cyndi illustrates, mothers and grandmothers.
“Back when I was 16 years old, you didn’t see girls throwing spears for seal hunting, or moose hunting,” said Cyndi. “Today, many women are hunting.” The book “Aalimaalimaa” is available for purchase on amazon.com
“The important thing is learning to survive off the land. All year long we are gathering.”