Fish Camp and Family

Cora Demit shares her Alaska Native heritage with visitors to Tetlin Refuge

Early life for Cora Demit was defined by family and fish: two concepts that may seem disparate, but in Cora’s case they combined to create the foundation for a joyous childhood.

Cora Demit. 📷 USFWS
Left: Caribou, Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge. Right: A variety of berries are available in the area where Cora grew up. 📷 USFWS
Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center sign.
Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge 📷 USFWS/Michelle Flagan for USFWS
Panorama of the inside of the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center.
The inside of Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. 📷 USFWS
Cora speaks with visitors at the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center.
Cora speaks with visitors at the Tetlin National Wildlife Refuge Visitor Center. 📷 USFWS
Cora tacks beads on caribou hide. 📷 USFWS

When did you join the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?

1991

What do people find most surprising about your job?

Sometimes vendors to the visitor center seem surprised that a native person is in charge. Also, I think some people are surprised that I always smile, no matter the circumstances. I consider that part of my job — you have to smile whether you want to or not. You have to demonstrate that you’re a good ambassador for the Service, the refuge, the State of Alaska and Alaskan Native people.

How do Alaska’s wild places sustain you?

It’s the sheer beauty of Alaska — the scenery, the wildlife, the bird migrations. So much of this state is still untouched. Also, there’s no smog. You can breathe here.

What’s your foremost concern about Alaska’s wildlife resources?

Preserving our wildlife habitat — because that’s how we preserve wildlife. It can be a challenge. Also, I’m really disturbed when people just wantonly kill wildlife, or kill an animal for a trophy and leave the meat. There’s no excuse for that. A lot of people, including native people, would love to have that meat. If you kill an animal, you have to consume or share the meat.

When I’m not at work, I’m…

…Visiting elders, traveling, doing my beading projects — just staying connected to the community and life. My mother and grandmother always said, “Do for others.” That means if someone down the street needs help, go help. Don’t ask. Just do it. I still follow that advice.

What’s the greatest misconception people have about Alaska?

That we have wildlife running around in our backyards. Many visitors expect to see a lot of animals right away. It’s not like that at all.

What’s your most treasured memory about Alaska?

The people I meet at my job provide some of my best memories. I really look forward to going back to work in the spring, to meeting all the new people. I love sharing my culture and the wonders of this state with our visitors.

What advice would you give to people interested in working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service?

Get some cross-cultural training. That’s especially important if you want to work in Alaska. Too many misconceptions remain about Alaskan Native people, and it’s important that we educate people.

What animal particularly inspires you?

Probably moose. Moose meat was central to my survival growing up, and it’s still very important to me. They’re amazing animals.

Stories from Alaska by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service

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