Center for Alaska Native Health Research
2141 Koyukuk Drive
205 Arctic Health Research Building
Fairbanks, AK 99775-7000

Phone: 907-474-5528

1-888-470-5576 toll-free within Alaska

Fax: 907-474-5700


Frank Attla Youth & Sled Dog Care-Mushing Program (FAYSDP) 

 Investigators: Jacques Philip, PI, Inna Rivkin, Co-I, Janessa Newman and Joe Bifelt, students, Catherine Brooks, faculty collaborator



Stories and Images of Community Strength

from a Youth Dog Mushing Program in Rural Alaska

Project Summary

This project explored the effects of the Frank Attla Youth & Sled Dog Care-Mushing Program (FAYSDP), subsequently ACHILL (Alaska Care and Husbandry Instruction for Lifelong Living), on social capital (the potential resources a group or individual may draw from its social relationships). The FAYSDP was started in early fall of 2012 by George Attla and Kathy Turco, in Huslia, a rural, mostly Athabascan community of about 300 people located along the Koyukuk river. The program has involved middle and high school students who learn dog handling and mushing skills from kennel owners, Elders, and other volunteers from the community and is integrated in the school curriculum as well.

Additional project details available on the  A-CHILL website 

YEAR 1 (2017-2018)

The first goal of the study was to implement photovoice and digital storytelling sessions with youth to elicit their perceptions of the FAYSDP, trying to understand how they fit with the dimensions of social capital and how they align with Athabascan cultural values.

Another goal was to conduct focus groups with adults to identify additional community perspectives on community level social capital that were addressed by the FAYSDP.

The project was conducted under the principles of Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) with a Community Planning Group (CPG) assisting the research team at every step of the research process.

During the first year, the research team visited Huslia 4 times to conduct three photovoice and three digital storytelling sessions with 15 students. Photovoice involves placing cameras in the hands of participants so that they can record, discuss, and relate to others the realities of their lives through their own eyes and experiences. Digital storytelling combines multimedia elements (e.g. images, photos, music, voice-over and video) to allow participants to create, reflect on, and succinctly share a personal story in an engaging way and each put together a 3-minute digital story, drawing on materials and perspectives from the photovoice pictures, themes, and discussions as well as additional photos and reflections relevant to their story.

We ended up year 1 by disseminating photo exhibits and digital stories to the Huslia community to showcase the accomplishments of the students and discuss the impact of the FAYSDP with community members.

YEAR 2 (2018-2019)

In Year 2,  we conducted a qualitative analysis of all photovoice data and digital stories produced by the Huslia students. The youth had grouped their photos into themes (see Photovoice Exhibit), which served as a starting point for the analyses. The research team (Jacques Philip, Inna Rivkin, Cathy Brooks, Janessa Newman and Joe Bifelt) then examined additional themes emerging from the photos and digital stories, as well as the ways the stories expressed Athabascan cultural values and elements of social and cultural capital (resources from social relationships and social skills and assets).

The research helps show how the FAYSDP and A-CHILL positively affected the community. Findings illustrate how the program integrates cultural values by using dogs as a way to create bonds and bridges between generations. Furthermore, the integration of culture helps foster resilience in youth. This program welcomes Elders to pass on cultural knowledge and traditions to youth. The digital stories that the youth shared illustrated the importance of such relationships between youth and adults / Elders, practice of cultural traditions, connections to animals, and attachment to their home, Huslia.

Human and animal health and the environment were all intricately interconnected in the youth’s stories. These interconnections are consistent with Koyukon Athabascan cultural values. Well-being is tied with connections to other people, to the land, to animals, to cultural traditions and values. The stories illustrate how the program fosters intergenerational relationships and connections to culture which are so important for well-being. Dogs help build social connections across generations, and promote emotional well-being for the youth. Dog-mushing connects youth to the land, to their environment, to nature, to their home and to themselves. It gives them peace. Taking care of dogs also helps strengthen the values of hard work and determination and other social assets which help youth achieve other goals and open up their future opportunities.


A poster presented in Huslia and at a One Health research conference in Fairbanks illustrates the photovoice themes, quotes and images.

We presented preliminary results, including exhibits and postings of photos and digital stories to the community. The research team then facilitated two focus groups with Huslia community members who gathered to discuss the results from the youth photos and stories and added their perspectives on the impacts of the FAYSD program. Community members emphasized how the program helped kids build pride in themselves, their culture, and their community. It facilitated a sense of belonging and identity. Working together to care for dogs taught discipline and responsibility, values which translated into future endeavors and life skills. The Elders and mushers were role models whose resilience inspired the youth to persevere through life challenges. The program promoted social connectedness, as well as connectedness with the land and animals. Relationships with dogs brought the community together and brought youth closer to adults and Elders by connecting them around a common interest, facilitating communication across generations. Community members also expressed satisfaction with the research project’s effects on the students and they were proud of the stories their children had produced during the project.

Youth Digital Stories


Meet the Team

Acknowledgments: We would like to thank the Jimmy Huntington School students, teachers, and staff, the community members of Huslia, the Huslia Tribal Council, Wright Air Service, the staff and faculty at UAF CANHR (Center for Alaska Native Health Research, Institute of Arctic Biology) and UAF BLaST (Biomedical Learning and Student Training) and A-CHILL (Alaska Care and Husbandry Instruction for Lifelong Living). This project is approved by the UAF Office of Research Integrity: (907) Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Institute Of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under Award Numbers UL1GM118991, TL4GM118992,  RL5GM118990, P30GM103325, U54GM115371 and U54GM104944.