Dillingham Men's Retreat Feeds Families

June 20, 2017 | Donivan Andregg

“Men’s retreat” generally means a spiritual time of Bible reading, discussion, singing, stories and eating — and maybe some hiking or camping. At the recent Dillingham Men’s Retreat, there were those expected activities plus some additional activities that were uniquely Alaskan.

The small group of men ended Sabbath, March 25, 2017, with a haystack supper and a Bible-study discussion of friendship and prayer. The next activity was a very common “steam bath” (sauna), also known in the Native Alaskan Yupik language as a maqi. A stove heats up the rocks, benches and human flesh to a point of discomfort — which causes the participants to head for the cooler entry room. Repeat this process a time or two, and everyone feels refreshed and rejuvenated — or baked and light-headed, depending on one’s tolerance level.

Much of the community of Dillingham depends on subsistence food sources — wild groceries provided by nature like salmon, berries, moose, bird eggs, herring eggs, caribou and more.The traditional ways of life (the historic methods of survival) are still practiced and shared among many residents. Older members often are unable to harvest the traditional foods themselves due to age or health limitations. 

The final activity of the Men’s Retreat on Sunday was a combination of a snow machine outing and caribou hunt, to provide meat for several families. The hunting party of eight traveled 50 miles south of Dillingham toward the southern end of Nushagak Peninsula and across three frozen rivers.

At the end of a 12-hour day, the entire group returned with all of the snow machines loaded down with eight caribou to share among families, friends and elders. Most men’s retreats may not involve hunting, but in this region, survival and blessings are often found in nature — and nearly always include sharing with one another.