Live and work in an Athabascan Native village at the base of the Wrangell Mountains. Learn carpentry and power tool skills for construction projects, from wood sheds to smoke houses to home repair. Experience living off the land, including catching and smoking fish and preparing wild game.
The Athabascan community that lives along the Tetlin River in Southeast Alaska has been self-reliant for centuries, subsisting largely on nature’s bounty. For more than two decades, VISIONS has spent summers assisting these Native Alaskans with pressing needs, from construction projects that improve local infrastructure to residential projects, such as maintenance of elders’ homes. As with all VISIONS service projects, local partners determine what best serves the community. In past years, teen volunteers have built smoke houses to preserve meat for winter, added insulation to homes, constructed wood sheds to store the primary source of fuel, engineered wheelchair ramps and assembled a fish weir to catch salmon. Students work with an experienced carpenter to learn the tools of the trade, and are encouraged to read blueprints and offer input on the plans. The hands-on work happens in tandem with neighbors, which builds connections across wildly different backgrounds. This close-knit dynamic sparks a sense of accomplishment like no other.
While the geographical location of this tiny Alaskan village is remote (about four hours east of Fairbanks), you’ll feel warmly welcomed by our local hosts. VISIONS has operated programs in Athabascan villages for two decades, building a strong sense of mutual respect and trust with tribal councils. In a small community like Tetlin—about 200 households—the impact you make is widely felt, and the immersion is deep. You’ll live in the heart of the village, in the local high school, and participate in daily life, which includes catching and smoking fish, processing big game, playing games with children, learning traditional basket-weaving and beading, making music, sharing meals, and perhaps taking a steam bath in the lodge that past teen volunteers helped build. All the while, you’ll soak up stories from the community about how ages-old Athabascan ingenuity has allowed people to thrive in this untamed and beautiful land.
Your adventure begins as soon as you head east from Fairbanks toward the Canadian border. The 4 to 5 hour drive to Tetlin Village features snow-capped mountains, sparkling waterways and bountiful wildlife, including eagles and moose. Once settled in with your new neighbors, you’ll spend your free time enjoying the incredible natural surroundings. At this latitude, the sun never quite sets in the summer, so there is plenty of daylight (and night light) for exploration. Close to home, you’ll take short hikes, canoe the Tanana River Valley and visit the “Old Tetlin” historic site. Farther afield, you’ll take a two-night backpacking trip in the Wrangell Mountains, setting up camp and sharing stories around the campfire. A three-day trip to the town of McCarthy includes a visit to the storied Kennecott Copper Mine and the chance to climb the Root Glacier. As environmentalist John Muir put it, “To the lover of wilderness, Alaska is one of the the most wonderful countries in the world.”
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VISIONS Alaska was an amazing program that I would highly recommend. Not only did I learn about the Native Athabascan culture, but I was also immersed in it as well. I learned skills that would benefit me for the rest of my life - before VISIONS Alaska, I am sad to say I did know how to mow a lawn; now I do - thanks VISIONS! It was a great feeling to get to work on the community service projects and do good for the Tetlin community, but it wasn't all work. We got to do things like...ice climb, backpack (through a national park) and also got to go on a canoe trip! I really thank VISIONS for opening up my world view and letting me experience a new way of living and a culture different than my own.
Great fun Amazing adventures Rewarding work Interesting people Lasting friendships Good food An enriching experience