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Viral ‘Fish Camp Barbie’ celebrates Alaska Native heritage

Mother Angela Gonzalez and daughter Ermelina Gonzalez of Anchorage, Alaska recently went viral for posting their doll titled, “Fish Camp Barbie” which features an Athabascan Barbie doll dressed in traditional clothing. The “Barbie” movie premiered just six days before the doll went viral on July 27th, and has gained nearly one hundred thousand views on Twitter and TikTok

The iconic 1985 campaign of Barbie, “We Girls Can Do Anything,” is brought to life in a culturally rich way. In this scene, a Barbie doll proudly wears a vibrant hot pink kuspuk, complemented by a beaded necklace, stylish moosehide cuffs, and headband. Positioned on a nearby table is a fish made from salmon skin, aligned with beadwork. Barbie is holding an ulu, ready to skillfully prepare the fish. All clothing was handmade by Ermelina Gonzalez.

While this post did go viral, this isn’t the first time the pair has created a Barbie-inspired scene featuring a traditional Alaska Native subsistence activity. Angela Gonzalez’ family’s fish camp was located along the Koyukuk river where her family frequented when she was a young girl. She has played with Barbies since she was a little kid and says her grandmother used to make accessories for her dolls.

“All the dolls would have their little ulus, and we would have a little fish camp scene with fish racks and leaves. Leaves from willows would be our little fish.”

When Angela Gonzalez had daughters, she began making fish camp scenes for their dolls. She has made “Fish Camp Barbie” scenes for four different fundraisers, including this year’s Alaska Native Heritage Center Garden Party Fundraiser.

Angela Gonzalez explains the importance of sharing culture towards younger generations, and why it’s important for Alaska Native children to feel equally represented. 

“I think that it’s just good that they will be able to see themselves represented, even though it’s not for the mass market or anything like that. They can be inspired to create what they want to create, you know, if they have a different way of life, maybe they can make a fishnet or a dip net, you know, just something that that can inspire them to be able to feel like they have permission to customize something that will represent themselves.”

The two say they’ve attracted a lot of positive attention by sharing their posts on social media and received lots of positive feedback. Ermelina Gonzalez says she didn’t expect the post to gain as much traction as it did.

“I’m very happy that so many people saw what we created and hopefully inspired others or just having that representation and seeing it.”

Ermelina adds that she hopes the project inspires people to create their own Barbie projects.

“I would say that the fish camp Barbie is something people could definitely do at home. With our first fish camp Barbie we used material that we already had.”

Barbie has a reputation for embracing numerous roles, ranging from a CEO to a gymnast, a construction worker, and now, a skilled fisherwoman at a subsistence camp. Through the innovative creation of their own Barbie scenes, Angela and Ermelina Gonzalez have succeeded in fashioning a compelling narrative focused on culture. Their efforts serve as an inspiring testament for young girls across various Alaska Native cultures, conveying the powerful message that they too can embody the spirit of Barbie in their unique ways.

Photo at top: “Fish Camp Barbie” posted by Angela Gonzalez on July 28th, used with permission

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