It is not unusual to see young people in snow-falling parka's moving to the beat of a skin-covered drum and singing in Alutiiq. Today, Alutiiq dance is practiced across Kodiak Island, but it has not always been this way. Dance performances were rare in the 20th century. The art form once essential to Alutiiq celebrations and spiritual expression, fell victim to the cultural misunderstandings of Russian and American colonization. Nearly thirty years ago, efforts to reverse this loss began.
In 1980s, Kodiak Alutiiq leaders formed the first island-wide Alutiiq dance group, Cuumillat'stun — Like Our Ancestors. With elder memories, ethnographic research, and support from Yup'ik dancer Chuna McIntyre, they began to revitalize Alutiiq dance. The team included respected Elders Virginia Abston, Irene Coyle, Mary Haakanson, Larry Matfay, Nina Olsen, Mary Peterson, and Margaret Roberts, among others. Today, nearly every village on Kodiak Island has an Alutiiq dance group. And songs are sung in schools, homes, and at gatherings thanks to their inspiration and hard work.
To preserve the history of dance revitalization, the Alutiiq Museum is developing an archive of photos, documents, and videotaped interviews recording the activities of the Cuumillat'stun Alutiiq dance group. A $7,572.77 grant from the Alaska State Museum
will help us gather and organize these materials, and produce a short educational film on the group. The project, which begins this month, will be completed by May 2015.
Our goal is to unite and preserve the community resources and knowledge that contributed to the reawakening of Alutiiq dance. If you have a story or photo to share about this early dance group and its history, please call the Alutiiq Museum today. All contributions are welcomed.