Native Culture Month: Celebrating Lena Charley, Matriarch of the Cheesh'na Tribe

NATIVE HERITAGE MONTH, 2022 COPPER RIVER COUNTRY JOURNAL Lena Charley, selling Native artwork at the AFN Convention in Anchorage (Photo, Lin...

NATIVE HERITAGE MONTH, 2022

COPPER RIVER COUNTRY JOURNAL

Lena Charley, selling Native artwork at the AFN Convention in Anchorage (Photo, Linda Weld) 

Lena Charley Of Chistochina 

When you grow up in Chistochina, in the Upper Ahtna Country of rural Alaska, you learn how to mush dogs. 

Almost all the kids can still handle a team. It's as much a part of the culture of day-to-day life as texting your BFF. 

Lena Charley, matriarch of the remote, roadside Athabascan village, has pretty much set the standard for everyone around her. A veteran dog musher, she was still running teams after she became a grandmother. 

She raced in the midwinter grueling Copper Basin 300 Sled Dog Race, which runs through Chistochina. Her competitors were often big, strong men, from all over the world. 

Lena Charley, without comment, demonstrated to them how a 50-some year old local Ahtna woman could plow her way through deadly stretches of open water, extreme cold, and just plain general misery, with grace, poise, and complete confidence -- her dogs in front of her. 

Her small, swift village-bred huskies were happy to be out on the trail with Lena as she rolled into the checkpoints, bundled up from head to toe, a smile on her face. In Alaska, mushing is often known as "Dog Driving" – and Lena Charley was born to drive dogs. 

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