Anchorage mom-and-daughter duo Angela and Ermelina Gonzalez recently went viral for their Athabascan Barbie doll dressed in traditional clothing who they call “Fish Camp Barbie.”
“Showed this to my girl and she says, ‘that looks like our culture’ and ‘she looks like me!'” wrote one commenter.
“I need this for my daughter asap,” wrote another.
In the Gonzalez’s post, the Barbie 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, it’s not the first time Ermelina and her mom have created a Barbie-inspired scene featuring a traditional Alaska Native subsistence activity. Angela Gonzalez’s 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,” she said. “Leaves from willows would be our little fish.”
@ayatlin My daughter, Ermelina, and I had a blast making Fish Camp Barbie! She created the betsegh hoolaanee (qaspeq), necklace, cuffs and headband. I made the tent, cot, barrette, fish (with real fish skin), and tłaabaas (the way my late grandma taught me). It’s actually a Disney Pocahontas doll. We donated it to the Alaska Native Heritage Center Garden Party fundraiser. Enaa baasee’, Ermelina! #fishcampbarbie #nativebarbie #indigenousbarbie #nativebeader #alaskanative ♬ Barbie Girl – Lady Aqua
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 said it’s important to share culture with younger generations, and 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,” she said. “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 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 said 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,” she said.
Ermelina said she hopes it inspires people to create their own Barbie projects.
“I would say that the Fish Camp Barbie is something people could definitely do at home,” she said. “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.