When a baby is born in the Inupiaq tribe of Alaska, it is named after the oldest living relative. The honor also comes with the responsibility of carrying on the legacy and heritage of that person.
Ahngasuk is a quarter Inupiaq and carries the name of his great-grandfather proudly. However, here at BYU-Idaho, you are more likely to find Ahngasuk teaching math by the name of Marcus Gho.
Gho and his family moved to Rexburg on Feb. 9, 2020, after having previously resided in Juneau, Alaska, for 14 years. He currently teaches “Math for the Real World.”
“I love Alaska,” Gho said. “I grew up there and Rexburg reminds me of it in many ways.”
However, there is one big difference between life in Rexburg and life in Alaska.
In Alaska, he hunted sea otters.
Beyond the hat Gho wears around campus, no one would suspect Gho of having such an extraordinary talent of working with fur.
He taught himself both hunting and sewing, and his work has been featured and sold in several Alaskan heritage fashion shows. His work includes hats, key chains, earrings, pillows, purses and shawls.
He has worked with ivory and the pelts of sea lion and polar bear; however, he is known for and most fond of his work with sea otters.
“Sea otter fur is much denser than other furs, but the pelt is extremely durable,” Gho said.
Gho first learned about sea otters while working at a fishery, where his job was compiling statistics on fishing in the reefs.
Sea otters eat 20%-30% of their body weight per day in Dungeness crabs, sea urchins, clams and mussels. Since the sea otter is an apex predator in its environment, overpopulation can be a real problem for reefs. Gho explained that sea otters have such a large appetite they can eat the reefs dry, leaving the fish with nothing.
Despite that, sea otters almost went extinct in Alaska.
When Russia discovered Alaska in 1741, the fur market exploded. Due to the growing demand in China and Europe, trappers and traders clamored to get their hands on animal pelts.
In 1972, Congress passed The Marine Mammal Protection Act, providing guidelines and restrictions on hunting marine mammals. The act helped the sea otter population make an amazing comeback — to the point they are now a pest in many areas.
But because of The Marine Mammal Protection Act, not everyone is able to hunt sea otters. One of the requirements is a blood quantum. To hunt sea otters, you have to live in a coastal area and be at least a quarter Alaska Native.
Gho would often stay several days at a time in areas where locals would offer him free food and housing with the hopes he’d get rid of as many otters as possible, as they could not hunt them themselves.
From there, Gho learned how to skin and clean the fur to work into a product.
Gho explained that the pelt can’t just be sold, it has to be turned into a product by an Alaska Native. Anyone caught in possession of a raw pelt could be arrested, and so would the person who sold the pelt.
Unfortunately, because of the 25% blood quantum requirement, Gho’s kids will not be able to hunt sea otters or work with their fur. Gho, however, is not concerned.
“I can still teach them to be proud of their heritage,” Gho said. “I can still teach them how to respect their elders and carry on their own legacies. And I am still going to teach them how to work with fur. I just traded for a cougar skin I’m really excited to work with.”
Gho’s son Benjamin, or “Jamin,” loves having things made by his dad. He thinks it’s cool to have a family business and see the stuff his dad makes.
“His hobby helps connect him to his ancestors,” said Gho’s wife Christine. “I really like how he uses it as a way to connect with his family history.”
Gho is proud of his heritage and the legacy of his ancestors, and he is also proud to be a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
“I think the most important legacy for any of us is that we are sons of our Heavenly Father.”
Gho and his family are still adjusting to life in Rexburg, but they share optimism for the future. Gho plans to continue working with fur and perfecting his art. He also hopes to start a club at BYU-Idaho featuring Alaskan sports.
Gho named his business Tuvraqtuq, an Inupiaq word for “following a trail or pattern.”
“Each of us follows the trails left by others, and leave trails behind us. In this way, we are all interconnected,” his site explained.
As Marcus Gho continues to teach math and work with fur he leaves his own Tuvraqtuq for his family and friends through his passion.