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FinalParkaSmAfter nearly two years of research and experimentation, and countless hours of sewing, Susan Malutin, Cathy Cordry, Marya Halvorsen, Hanna Sholl, and Teri Schneider have laid down their needles. Together, the team built a caribou skin parka, the first such garment made in Kodiak in perhaps a century. The final stitches were bittersweet.

"This has been an adventure, for sure," said Marya Halvorsen. "I think it really hit us tonight. For me, when I put the last stitching to the parka."

The ladies are the heart of the New Sewers Club, a group that has worked since February of 2013 to revitalize Alutiiq skin sewing traditions by stitching a parka for the Alutiiq Museum's collections. Skin sewing has not been widely practiced on Kodiak since the early twentieth century, so the group relied on ancestral clothing to mentor their work. They began with a trip to Helsinki, Finland to investigate Alutiiq parkas, boots, jackets, hats, and blankets stored in the National Museum of Cultures. Then they worked with Kodiak area students to construct the pieces of the garment, a sleeve in one village, the yoke in another. But this was just the beginning. For fifteen months, the ladies have been meeting weekly. With the help of interns and community members they completed the final and most time consuming step–decoration. Alutiiq garments were carefully and elaborately embellished. Intricate handwork was both an artistic and spiritual practice. Women expressed themselves with appliqué, embroidery, and tassels, demonstrating deep cultural respect for the animals that clothed their families.
Read more: Caribou Skin Masterpiece Completed
 
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PuffinBeaksOnParkaSmFor millennia, Alaska's Native artists have used a stunning array of animal materials as their palette, creating objects essential to daily living from pelts, gut, sinew, claws, hair, teeth, and even beaks. Today, however, state and federal laws designed to protect Alaska's wildlife limit the use of many animal products. A group of Alutiiq skin sewers recently found an ingenious, twenty-first century solution to a regulation limiting the use of bird parts.

At Kodiak's Alutiiq Museum, a team of seamstresses has been working for two years to create a caribou skin parka with grant support from the Institute for Museum and Library Services. Inspired by a garment made in 1848, they are revitalizing the sewing arts through careful study and meticulous practice. Although there are no restrictions on the use of caribou hide, the sewers wished to add puffin beaks to the garment. Sewn to strands of leather fringe, puffin beaks were once common decoration on Alutiiq parkas and boots, fluttering and clacking as the wearer moved. Their use was both decorative and spiritually significant. The beaks symbolized the deep, enduring ties between people and birds. Birds are revered in the Alutiiq world for their ability to traverse all layers of the universe. They fly, swim, and walk on land, and are thought to deliver messages from the spirit worlds.
Read more: Making Puffin Beaks
 
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KodiakMapSmNatmen agkutarcit? – Where are you going to go? With a new place names poster, islanders are learning to answer this question in Alutiiq. Perhaps you've shared tea and smoke salmon with friends in Masiqsiraq (Port Lions), and are planning a hunting trip to Unugtuaraa (Karluk Lake). Or maybe you've fished around the mouth of the Ayaquuliq, but never dropped a seine in the waters of Sun'alleq (Three Saints Bay).

Whatever your geographic affiliations, the poster features place names of interest, from those of communities and landforms to bodies of water. Each term appears in bold as an Alutiiq word, with a smaller English translation below. The names are displayed over a colorful painted map of Kodiak that stretches from Suyaraq (Shuyak Island) to Tuiyaq (Tugidak Island). The painting is the work of local artist Bruce Nelson. A visual artist, Nelson is known for his illustrations of plants, animals, and even Alutiiq artifacts, and his Kodiak map illustration was part of the inspiration. Alutiiq Museum Executive Director, Dr. Alisha Drabek explains:

"A few years ago, the Kodiak visitors bureau used Nelson's painting to create a Kodiak map with English place names. It is such a lovely illustration that I wanted to develop an Alutiiq language version, using the place names Dr. Jeff Leer, Dr. April Counceller, and I have been collecting with our Elders for years. While teaching Alutiiq language at Kodiak High School, before I began work at the museum, I developed this map as a classroom resource with support from the Kodiak Island Borough School District (KIBSD)."
Read more: Place Names for Qik’rtaq – Kodiak Island
 
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RebeccaSortsComputers, digital cameras, and scanners have revolutionized the ways museums care for their collections. Gone are the days of hand-written ledgers and India ink artifact labels. Today, curators track artifacts and artwork with specially designed software, and can instantly photograph and share collections on the Internet. But many collections were assembled before the digital age. Across the globe, museums are working to move reams of information into electronic databases so collections can be more easily shared. This process is well underway at the Alutiiq Museum, thanks to the support of federal grants and hours of detailed work.

The latest funding, a $49,672 grant to Koniag, Inc. from the Institute for Museum and Library Service, is helping the museum to document about 10,000 objects from Old Karluk, an Alutiiq settlement on the northern shore of Karluk Lagoon. Marnie Leist, curator of collections, explains:

"Among the first collections the museum accepted were large assemblages from three settlement in Karluk Lagoon. Archaeologists excavated the objects, over 40,000 of them, in the 1980s, just as desktop computers were starting to become common. Researchers cataloged the materials with Fortran codes. Artifact types, materials, industry type, and other information is only listed as a number!"
Read more: From Fortran to Facebook – Caring for the Old Karluk Collection
 
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MargaretWithPhotosIt 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.