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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.
 
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OpheimDorySmBoats were the theme this summer as the museum expanded its collection of contemporary artwork. Plans are underway to create a new kayak exhibit, and the museum sought artwork to for the future dispaly. Three beautiful pieces were offered to us. The largest was a 16-foot, hand-carved kayak frame, made from aged Kodiak spruce by Alfred Naumoff. Naumoff is one of the last traditionally trained Alutiiq kayak builders, who learned the art from Larry Matfay and by studying historic boats in museum collections. We also purchased a double-bladed kayak paddle by Sven Haakanson, Jr. Inspired by a rare historic example paddle collected on Kodiak and now stored in Harvard's Peabody Museum. Haakanson carved this 8 foot piece from spruce and finished it with a coating of red ochre. A 9-inch baleen and ivory dory model carved by Tracy Opheim, reflects more recent boat building traditions. Opheim comes from a well-known Ouzinkie boat building family and is an accomplished model boat builder. For centuries Alutiiq people have made model boats to help them learn the art of boat construction.

In addition to these objects, the museum purchased an oil painting by Linda Infante Lyons. Larson Bay Puskhi shows the view from the community of Larsen Bay looking out toward the mouth of Uyak Bay and Shelikof Strait. The work was inspired by Lyons childhood trips around the island in her grandparents fishing boat. A set of five hand-painted nesting dolls by Hanna Sholl rounded out the purchases. The dolls show a group of men and women dressed in festival regalia. They wear an assortment of decorated parkas, masks, and headgear. Hanna's studies of historic Alutiiq clothing inspired her colorful, detailed paintings.

The Rasmuson Foundation's Art Acquisition program supported these purchases. This annual grant program, administered by Museums Alaska, provides museums with funding to add contemporary artwork to their collections. The program supports Alaskan artists while creating a statewide collection of Alaskan arts. Since 2003, the Alutiiq Museum has purchased 99 pieces of artwork from 31 artists with $134,623.50 of foundation support.
 
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5UluWThe Alutiiq Word of the Week, our popular weekly lessons on all things Alutiiq, entered its seventeenth season in June. Each year we develop new lessons, studying and sharing traditions via the radio, newspaper, and Internet. In addition to fresh content, season 17 brings new voices, new features, and even a new look. The updated program reflects the expansion of the museum capabilities and very generous support from the Kodiak Island Borough.

Michael Bach, the show's new producer and an Alutiiq language archivist for the museum explained. "The word of the week will continue to air three times a week on KMXT Public Radio with the familiar voices of Nick Alokli and Sophie Shepherd speaking in Alutiiq. However, Marya Halvorsen, the museum's Heritage Education Specialist, is now the English voice of the program, taking over for long time host April Laktonen Counceller. The show also has a new introduction featuring singing and drumming by Kodiak Alutiiq dancers and Alutiiq language instructors."

The seventeenth season also offers greater opportunities to access Alutiiq language information, through a podcast hosted by Bach. Visit the iTunes store or the Museum's website to hear the weekly lesson followed by additional content with language revitalization news, stories, and events.

Recent podcasts featured Karen Weinberg of Ten Trees productions speaking with Bach, about her documentary film on Alutiiq language preservation efforts. Julie Fine, a student of linguistics from Stanford University shared her experience learning Alutiiq. And Sue Mitchel, a Fairbanks copyeditor, tells about her experiences with the word pakuk, which means to borrow without intent to return!
 
As always our website is updated every Sunday with the week's lesson. Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter where we now post Word of the Week to share.  To have the Word of the Week emailed, contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and he'll set you up!
 
 
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Alutiiq Museum archaeologist Patrick Saltonstall is used to working around bears.  For years he has been hiking through some of Kodiak’s prime bear territory, coexisting with the big brownies as he studies ancient settlements. While Saltonstall has a healthy respect for these powerful creatures, he also has a professional fascinated with their behavior.  What do bears have to teach an archaeologist?

It turns out that archaeologists aren’t the only mammals who enjoy spending time at ancient settlements. As the long days and warm temperatures of spring arrive on Kodiak, bears feed on tender green plants. Ancient villages have nutrient rich soils, fertilized by the gradual decay of age-old garbage. Plants thrive in these soils, growing lush foliage that draws hungry animals. Moreover, the deep, grassy depressions formed by the collapse of prehistoric houses make great bear beds, a natural swale for a well-fed bear to take a nap.  As a result bears are common spring visitors to Kodiak’s archaeological sites, and a serious source of disturbance.

“Bear dig when they're feeding and making beds” said Saltonstall, “putting holes in archaeological sites. And while they hang out at a site, they will walk up and down its banks, creating trails that cause erosion. This sort of damage is particularly common along Kodiak’s large salmon streams.  Bears waiting for fish to arrive hang out around archaeological sites, feeding, digging, sleeping and even fighting.  I’ve seen sites covered with bear holes.  Some deposits are so badly pitted that you can’t make out the house depressions any more.”

What does this mean for an archaeologist?  First, studying the damage caused by bears is helping Saltonstall to fine tune his eyes–to tell the difference between a depression created by a bear and one created by an Alutiiq ancestor.  Second, it’s helping him to understand the forces that alter sites.  Decay and disturbance impact every site, but knowing how to recognize the signs of these forces helps researchers interpret their finds.  And finally, Saltonstall has learned to approach village sites with a little extra care.  Experience tells him he might encounter a snoozing bear in one of the old barabara depressions he wants to map.

Photo: Bears feeding on the shore of Karluk Lake, Spring 2009, by an area of recent digging.