Here is Part 1:
We all have a story. It doesn’t matter if we think we are exciting or not; all of us have a story. Courtney Agnes is no different. People probably see Courtney as a tomboy who is just like one of the guys, but she is much more than that.
Courtney is a self proclaimed “girly girl”. “I just don’t have any fashion sense” she admits. Courtney is a good athlete as is displayed by her talents in sports. She is also a highly skilled artist in bead work and crafting, creating amazing clothing and jewelry. This skill was encouraged by her grandmother Carrie who always seemed to supply her with amazing material to work with. How about Courtney’s Native Craft’s for an online store name? Her love for her culture and the Athabascan way of life is embedded in her heart through generations of tradition and respect for the land and what it provides. She works at keeping that way of life alive in the future generations to come.
Jim Jax: Describe your relationship with your dad Pat and how has it changed since you were a kid?
I was always my dad’s baby. I even told mom and dad that they couldn’t have anymore kids because I had to be the baby forever. From the first moment I had him wrapped around my finger. He was the one to get up with me in the middle of the night when I cried and he would spoil me rotten. I am now getting paybacks with my two girls and my husband, Archie. I find that Cuppy and Carrie pull the same tricks that I used to do when I was their age with their dad and I feel like my mom did back then. Nowadays, I get really upset when my dad leaves town without telling me. He also really relies on me to help him around the dog yard, or to even ground him in his busy life. We really enjoy doing things together, like planting his huge garden that’s almost as big as the bottom section of my house.
Jim Jax: What type of amenities do you have at your house. I.E. Television, cable, wifi/internet, running water, electricity, etc…..
I lived my entire life without running water until I moved out of Tanana. About half of the homes in Tanana finally got hooked up to the water system in 2006-07. My home has cable, wifi, and electricity; all of the comfortable amenities. The only thing I miss about city life are the readily available fresh groceries. We have to plan for shopping excursions and freeze, dry, or blanch veggies and fruits to make them last.
Jim Jax: I always think about the normal every day things. As a teen and a young woman, how hard was it to date with so few men around, and what activities as a young person did you have to do to meet people?
When I was a teenager, I was kind of awkward and geeky. I always had straight A’s and had my nose in a book (I have bad eyesight from it). I wasn’t really interested in boys; nothing serious anyways; and I wasn’t really that popular. That really didn’t bother me though. Living in a remote village, it’s kind of common to play sports or travel, or to date someone if you already hadn’t found someone to hang out with in your own village. Most people are related to each other in our small rural populations, so it’s easier to date outside of your hometown. I always played basketball just to get out of work and chores, so I met new and interesting people that way.
Jim Jax: What is your favorite food to eat that you can only get in Alaska?
My family and I just got back from a vacation in Hawaii, and I have to admit the girls asked for moose meat as soon as we got home. Luckily my best friend had moose roast in her fridge in Anchorage while we hung out there for allergy appointments to appease the girl’s cravings. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t ever live without moose soup either. The only other food that I couldn’t live without is Yukon King Salmon. I’m sure it’s because I grew up eating it, but no other salmon compares. All of the people that I grew up with here in Tanana are pretty picky about the salmon that we eat, and pretty much don’t really like any other kind.
(Above: Some of Courtney’s Jewelry)
Jim Jax: What was your scariest moment while filming Yukon men.
The scene when I shot the black bear was the absolute scariest moment while filming. It was slightly raining when I was stalking the bear, and I kept hearing him but I couldn’t identify where the sound was coming from. We were walking through a small stream, so I had to also focus on being quiet when I moved. It is pretty hard to do with rain gear and rubber boots on. Ryan (camera man) had seen him first and he was headed straight for him, although the bear had never seen us. The instant that I saw the bear, I pulled my gun up to shoot, but he walked behind a huge clump of willows so I had to wait for the shot. I got him with one shot to the neck and he was only 20 feet from Ryan. So in short, the bear almost ate Ryan. Although he was packing, it still could have gone way wrong if I hadn’t waited for a good shot.
(Above: Alaskan wild blueberries and kippered fish)
Jim Jax: Your husband doesn’t get to be on camera much; explain what kind of person he is.
Archie is a really quiet guy and he’s often gone for his job. He works on an oil rig up north in Alaska. He usually works 2 weeks on and then has 2 weeks off, but he has to add 2 travel days to the days he’s gone so we basically get him 12 days per 28 days. He sacrifices so much to provide for us to live here in Tanana. It’s a really tough work environment that he has to leave us for and we really appreciate him. He’s an avid outdoorsman like I am, but way shyer than me. He also lives for speed. He used to race boats in the Yukon 800 race, and now races snow machines in the Iron Dog across Alaska. Both are physically brutal races, but he races them for the physical and mental aspects of it. He’s an amazing dad to our girls, he’s very patient and kind, but he’s also a pushover when it comes to them.
Jim Jax: What is the thing you like most about filming Yukon Men and what is the worst thing about filming it.
The thing that I love most about filming Yukon Men is that I am paid for doing things that I normally do anyway on a daily basis. I mean, we always have to get food, wood, fuel, and get ready for winter, so it’s kind of easy to just do both at the same time. It’s kind of like killing two birds with one stone. The hardest thing about filming is being away from the girls. I’m a pretty hands on mama. They really have a hard time going to sitters and not being in their own familiar environment, although we do have an amazing support system here in Tanana.
Jim Jax: With the new road comes a whole new group of people coming to the area. Do you ever worry that things will never be the same and it may get harder to survive?
I really worry about what kind of people the new road will bring in. There was a straggler in Manley Hot Springs 20 years or so ago, (which is now 50 miles away from us on the road) who shot and killed 9 people and threw them in the Tanana River.
(Courtney is talking about the famous 1984 mass murders by drifter Michael Allen Silka in Manley Hot Springs. He was a military marksman and he shot and killed 9 people. One was a trooper who was flying overhead in a helicopter. After murdering a neighbor he befriended people in Tanana saying he was a mountain man. He often camped near the one of the docks. People were impressed with his skills and he said he wanted to make roots in Tanana. His victims included a trooper, a pregnant woman and a 2 year old child).
My husband’s family also has land not even one mile away from the road, and we worry about encroachment from trespassers. What people don’t really understand is how resilient Tanana people are, and we will fight for our way of life.
Jim Jax: What hobby or personality trait do you have that would surprise viewers of the show.
I really hate being idle, so I’m always doing one thing or another. I really love to play basketball, I grew up playing with 6’ or taller guys who had the mentality that you had to be tough to even try to play with them. I remember getting elbowed or punched in the face and getting told not to cry when I was like in the 10th grade. Being pretty short (5’5”) enabled them to practically jam the ball down my throat so I had to figure out ways to shoot and score around them. When playing in tournaments in Fairbanks in later years, teammates would tell me, “I don’t know how you get in there and shoot like that”. Sometimes a ref asked me why I hadn’t ever played college ball (I was too shy). The only other thing I can think of is that I really am quite girly. I love make up but I have zero fashion sense.
Jim Jax: What message do you hope to communicate about your way of life to those that enjoy the show.
When I was in high school, my late Grandmother Carrie used to always tell me to learn to live off the land. At the time I really did not understand what she was trying to tell me, so I basically disregarded her advice. It wasn’t until I moved back home and started to hunt, fish, and trap on my own that I learned what she meant. She was trying to explain a simpler but rewarding lifestyle where she learned intrinsic life values from living off of the land. This would allow me to be able to care for my family while living off the land. It is an inherent value in keeping our traditions and culture alive that I will always appreciate.
I’d like to humbly thank all of those in the Discovery Yukon Men family for the kindness and trust they have shown me in telling their stories. Thank you to the fans of the show for their support. I so enjoy their passion and dedication to the show. Thousands of people have read these articles and I hope you have enjoyed reading them as much as I liked writing them.
Even with all of the amazing positive feedback though, I’ve also received negative responses too. I’ve been contacted by various publications and websites speaking out against me for writing about Yukon Men. I’m small potatoes I’m sure but there have even been petitions started to stop the show.
First off I’m not naïve. Most reality shows are extremely faked and staged. People always say they know that yet they act like it’s real. Out of all of the shows though, Yukon Men is right up there with being as real as it gets. Are some of the scenes enhanced? Of course they are. Ask hunters how exciting it is walking in the freezing cold for hours looking to hunt something. Then you must ask yourself how real was it for George Roberts to lose his life in a snow mobile accident? Ask if it was real when a young pilot Seth Fairbanks died after his plane went down? A while earlier he helped find a stranded Joey Zuray who was slowly being surrounded by water and ice. While the most popular network shows lie to no end; (yes I’ve talked to some of the actors and behind the scenes people and you have no idea), Yukon Men tries to keep an integrity that is rarely seen anymore on television.
The struggles are real. And while many crews on other shows stay for short times and move on, the film crews for Yukon Men have spent significant time in the area and have tried hard to win the respect of the communities.
Like I said, I’ve seen petitions to try and cancel the show in the past due to the hunting and trapping scenes. In reality these are not trophy hunters cutting off heads or antlers of animals and leaving the meat. These aren’t people laughing and partying after killing an animal for show so they can take selfies so strangers will increase their likes on Instagram or Twitter. These are people who for generations have respected their surroundings and gratefully used the land to survive in one of the most difficult places in the world to live.
As long as I write about Yukon Men I will continue to send the message that the Athabascan lifestyle tries to teach. Respect and love for your family, with an appreciation and love for what the land provides and gives you through a subsistence lifestyle. And lastly the constant reminder to never forget the great skills and pride that have been taught through previous generations. Like I said, we all have a tale to tell so let’s always respect and appreciate where we come from. And may we always respect each other’s story.