UA celebrates National Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month

This month, the University of Alaska pays tribute to the rich ancestry and traditions of Indigenous people by celebrating National Native American and Alaska Native Heritage Month.

In October, the Alaska Legislature permanently established November as Alaska Native Heritage Month. House Bill 126 was signed into law during a meeting of the Alaska Native Brotherhood/Alaska Native Sisterhood Grand Camp at Alaska Pacific University. 

Here are some highlights of the celebrations held across the UA system:

Eat. Talk. Sing. Watch. That was the order of the day at the University of Alaska Southeast Ketchikan Campus’s mid-day event, co-sponsored by the Tongass Tlingit Cultural Heritage Institute. It was a celebration and remembrance of how Esther Shea dedicated her life to the language, songs and values of Tlingit traditional life. Priscilla Schulte, PhD, Campus Director, read from Esther’s notebook from the first field trip of a multi-year effort to catalog local archaeological sites and stories.    

Several of Esther Shea’s children and extended family members then came up for the singing portion. The first song was one written by Dr. Shea as she likened her journey into sharing her cultural knowledge to a bear emerging from a cave. The audience of some 50 people then enjoyed a showing of the film The Bear Stands Up produced by Dr. Schulte and videographer Ward Serrill. Posted around the UAS Ketchikan Campus Library were interactive photo boards where people could record memories, names, and dates. It was at times funny, sentimental, respectful, delicious and joyous. Just the way Esther would have liked it.

The Mat-Su College celebrated the “Coming of Winter,” with the 5th Annual HeyÍ NiŁtÚ event on Nov. 6. This event hosted The North Wind Unity Dancers, Sleeping Lady Drummers, Yurapik Dancers and a Yup’ik presentation by Alice Rearden. At the event there were community resource vendors, a screening of Molly of Denali and a catered dinner and potluck. Additionally, a Pamyua Concert to showcase Inuit culture through music and dance held Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. at the Glenn Massay Theater.

Two Prince William Sound College resident assistants worked closely with Cherise Beatus, the college’s representative member of UAA's Diversity and Action Council Subcommittee, to create displays in the residence halls. Bulletin boards in housing, featured Alaska Native foods like moose soup and Akutaq (traditional ice cream); Alutiq, Ahtna, and Eyak translations of common phrases; a map of Alaska with major language regions; and some facts about the number of tribes throughout alaska.

The Kodiak College Alutiiq Studies Program & Cama'i Club hosted an event about the Alaska Territorial Guard (also known as the Eskimo Scouts) of WWII. This program shared some short films and a duty roster containing a listing of the 25 ATG members from Kodiak prepared by the State of AK Office of Veterans Affairs.

Later this month, the Kodiak College Library will unveil a new learning space dedicated to the acquisition of knowledge about Alutiiq language and culture. The space will be called Litnaurwik (Place of Learning, in Alutiiq), and will be located in the Kodiak Room of the Library. It will have a dedicated iPad (downloaded with Alutiiq stories and important heritage links), along with easy access to books and materials about Alutiiq culture.

UAF’s Kuskokwim Campus (KuC) lives in synergy with the local Native cultures of Bethel and the southwest region of Alaska. The campus strives to promote pride in the local Yup’ik and Cup’ik culture through consistent practice of core traditional values. Although November is Alaska Native Heritage Month, KuC celebrates Indigenous “ways of being” by incorporating them into campus life throughout the year.

Every Wednesday, KuC celebrates the visual beauty of Alaska Native culture by prominently wearing qaspeqs. Qaspeq styles range from conservative to as vibrant and flashy as the people who wear them. On Thursdays, they share Indigenous foods and dishes in KuC’s dorm commons. 

“Sharing is the cornerstone of our local culture,” said Linda Curda, acting director of KuC. “The act of generosity with food, with song, dance, language and the love of life is the Yup’ik way. Kuskokwim Campus immerses itself in fulfilling its mission to prepare professional, community and cultural leaders in an active and relevant learning environment.”