The Real, Alaska Bush People
Tales from the Bush – the invisible unseen side of rural Alaska
Chevak Charlie – The Lost Cause
Another night had passed for Charlie who awoke to the familiar sting of the fall air. Rising from the dirt-ridden mattress he claimed for himself out of the town’s dump, he crept out of his shack to find that the sun had already risen. His dark brown hair, matted and oily, truly made him look like a traditional Eskimo – the kind you only see in old pictures. He preferred it this way, he wasn’t about to let western standards of beauty get in the way of his lifestyle.
Charlie began his day as he had every other day, with a piss and a swig of R&R to numb the pain of his meager existence. Charlie was an alcoholic, and he had been for quite some time. As a matter of fact, his dependence on alcohol was what drove away everyone he cared about in the first place. It eventually cost him his job as administrator of the village council, something he was damn good at. But unfortunately for him, the bottle took over his life long before he was even born.
Charlie grew up an orphan, his parents had died during the tuberculosis outbreak shortly after his birth. The only reason he is alive today is because a hunter just happened to pass by the secluded cabin his parents had built far outside the town of Chevak in western Alaska. The hunter had been seeking shelter from a particularly rough winter storm and had lost his way when he heard Charlie’s cries through the howling wind. Hoping to find a roaring fire inside the cabin, the hunter only found two bodies, frozen solid and clutching a bottle of liquor. In between them, a sickly little boy bloated and coughing profusely. It truly was a miracle that he was found before he met the same fate.
Nobody could identify Charlie’s parents, some speculated that they were from a neighboring village and wanted to homestead away from civilization. Without knowledge of his next of kin, the hunter, Charlie Sr. and his wife took the young Charlie into their home and raised him as one of their own. It wasn’t until Charlie was about six that they noticed he was a little different. It was determined that Charlie had a development disorder, most likely due to his mother drinking while pregnant with him. However it wasn’t a defining factor of his life, he was still incredibly intelligent and high-functioning – just a little different.
He was given the nickname ‘Chevak Charlie’ because of how immersed he became in his community, he felt that he owed them for taking him in and saving his life all those years ago. After coming of age, Charlie sought to earn his place in society and ran for a seat on his tribal council, where he served for twenty years. He met his wife in the late 70’s during his many trips to the state capital where she was working as a liaison between their newly formed native corporation and the state legislature. They had two kids, both of which went on to attend prestigious colleges and graduate with honors. Now with his children married and living with their own families Charlie spent his days with his wife living in Bethel, the hub of the western villages. His wife taught cultural classes at the elementary school, and he retired to hone his skills as a carver. It was through this hobby that Charlie found peace after a life of firey advocacy for his people. He had given most of his youth to this cause, and was ready to let the next generation take the reigns.
Charlie had lived a fulfilled life by the time he reached middle-age. He had defied all odds to become one of the most beloved men to his people and despite never seeking a traditional western education, was one of the wisest elders in the community. Charlie was truly blessed, thankful for the life that he was given by his creator, never once harboring resentment at anyone for the shortcomings he experienced in his life – until everything he loved was taken from him.