Found 942 Learning Lab Collections
This collection brings together EDSITEment and Smithsonian resources to support the initial research into a project for National History Day. While originally created for the 2019 theme, "Triumph and Tragedy in History," resources found in this collection are useful for researching other National History Day themes.
These resources - including objects, documents, websites, and articles - reveal challenges and opportunities experienced by American immigrants in the 19th to mid-20th centuries. Resources highlight hardships that compelled people to leave their homelands, difficulties immigrants faced upon arrival, and ways they overcame obstacles to build new lives and communities in America. The second tile of this collection contains questions to help with the analysis of photograph, document, artwork, portrait, and object resources.
The history of immigration in America is an immense topic, and this collection addresses only aspects of it. Use this collection to brainstorm project topics, find connected resources, and as a launching point for further research.
This collection was created in collaboration with EDSITEment, a website for K-12 educators from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Share your National History Day collections and let us know what you think! Write to us on Twitter: @EDSITEment & @SmithsonianLab, #NHD2019. If you publish a collection on your National History Day topic, be sure to enter #NHD2019 in the description!
Tags: 1800s, 1900s angel island, ellis island, immigration test, community, prejudice, irish, jewish, syrian, lebanese, arab, italian, mexican, german, greek, bohemian, czech, slovenian, know nothing, triangle shirtwaist factory fire, swedish, chinese exclusion act, japanese american incarceration, internment, bracero program, stories project, #NHD
This teaching collection helps students to look closely and think critically by examining Domigo Ulloa's painting, Braceros, and historical documentation related to the bracero program, a series of short-term labor contracts from 1942-1964 in which an estimated two million Mexican men came to the US to work on farms and roads. The collection prompts students to consider the program from a variety of perspectives, including individual, collective, social, economic, and political.
Included here are the painting, a bilingual video with Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) curator E. Carmen Ramos, four suggested Thinking Routines - "See, Think, Wonder," "Step In, Step Out, Step Back," "The 3 Y's," and "Think, Feel, Care" - from Harvard's Project Zero Artful Thinking and Global Thinking materials, supporting digital content from the National Museum of American History, and a blogpost from SAAM of two DC student's written responses to the prompt, "What Domingo Ulloa's Braceros Means to Me."
For use in Social Studies, Spanish, English, and American History classes
This collection supports Unit 1: Intersectionality of Economics, Politics, and Policy, of the Austin ISD Ethnic Studies Part B course.
This Smithsonian Learning Lab collection received Federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center.
This collection is meant to build on two earlier collections, "Asian American Art: Emerging from the Shadows" and "Asian American Artists and World War II" and to introduce the viewer to artists of Asian ancestry in America using Chang, Johnson & Karlstrom's text, Asian American Art: A History, 1850-1970 (2008), the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco's exhibition catalog "Asian/American/Modern Art: Shifting Currents, 1900-1970" (2008),the vast resources of the Smithsonian Learning Lab, Project Zero's Global Thinking Routines and other resources. This collection is part two of four that I have organized, chronologically, on Asian American Art. The other three collections are "Asian American Art: Emerging from the Shadows", "Asian American Artists and World War II" and "Asian American Contemporary Art". It is my hope that these collections will serve as entry points to understanding the many contributions of Asian American artists in the U.S. from 1850 until the present time.
Visual art is a language that is socially and culturally constructed. Socially constructed learning values diverse perspectives, engages with local and global experts, and employs inquiry, discovery and exploration to move students toward global citizenship. Because the visual arts leverage the power of dialogue and debate to sharpen critical thinking, starting with the arts is a logical place to help students develop cultural intelligence.
Other purposes of these collections are to explore tangible and intangible cultural heritage; as well as jumpstart brave conversations about race, identity and immigration in the U.S. with teachers, tutors of English Language Learners and others who are interested in becoming cultural leaders in our public schools.
As Gordon H. Chang and Mark Dean Johnson state in the introduction of the exhibition catalog, "Asian/American/Modern Art: Shifting Currents, 1900-1970" (2008):
"Forty years ago there were no Asian Americans. There were Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, Filipinos, and others of Asian ancestry in the United States, but no 'Asian Americans,' as that term was coined only in 1968. This population was commonly seen as foreign, alien, not of America. Their lives and experiences were not generally accepted as part of the fabric of the country, even though Asians had begun settling here steadily in the mid-nineteenth century.
Then, in the late 1960s, as part of the upsurge in the self-assertion of marginalized communities, 'Asian America' emerged to challenge the stigma of perpetual foreignness. 'Asian American' was a claim of belonging, of rootedness, of pride and identity, and of history and community; it was also a recognition of distinctive cultural achievement" (Chang, Johnson, 2008).
A collection depicting and describing different African Drums and their significance in African culture as well as the African diaspora. Please enjoy a look at the heartbeat of our culture.
By Zuri Houston and Malik Miller
1. Divide students into small groups (2 or 3 works for me)
2. Assign each student a painting - - send them the link, and they access it through their own computer so that they are able to zoom in if they would like a closer look at a particular feature.
3. Ask students to complete the following thinking routine:
a. See - - an objective list of what they "see"
b. Mood - - ideas as to what mood or emotions these particular qualities or items evoke.
c. Theme - - broad ideas as to a potential theme/larger idea expressed by the work.
3. After completing this thinking routine within their small groups, the students take turns projecting their painting on the smart board and sharing their discussion highlights with their classmates. We start to make a random list (like a "Wordle" forming) on the board of these "theme" ideas."
4. By the time we finish with the last painting/photograph/work of art - - we have a "Wordle" on the board that somewhat represents or hints at many of the thematic ideas expressed in "The Tempest."
5. I then complete a standard PowerPoint introduction to the play, but noting the similarities between many of their ideas expressed through their interpretations of the works of art, and Shakespeare's larger ideas as presented in "The Tempest."
The students learn about paleolithic art and the symbolism of the drawings. We will read about They end up painting their own on large rocks, to represent painting on cave walls.
Avery, S. (2014). Christina Rossetti: Religious poetry. Retrieved
Curtis, G. B. (2006). The cave painters: Probing the mysteries of the world's first artists. (2006). New York: Knopf.
Moorman, E., M. (2011). Divine interiors: Mural paintings in Greek and Roman sanctuaries. Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam Press.
For decades humans have depicted art in various forms that consist of monsters. This made me ask myself; what exactly is a monster? These pieces of art consist of images that their creators describe as monsters. I am going to delve in to the history behind these objects and symbols to figure out if they are really monsters or if our ideas of what makes an object or a person a monster skewed.
This collection is a curated collection of images that can be used with a lesson plan on curation. Each of the images has some possible connection to a social justice theme and the question asked by the creator of the collection is, "How might we approach conversations about curation and social justice?" Each of these images adds a unique and interesting dimension to a conversation about curation, the people whose stories are selected for view, and how those stories are empowered and/or disempowered by the stories that they are surrounded by. How do we make decisions about these topics? What do we do when we are asked to include in a curated collection pieces that change the story we might want to tell? How do we deal with the multi-faceted stories and sometimes contradictory stories of the people we select for our collections?
It is important to ask these questions and have dialogues with students about how we come to our conclusions, make our decisions, and wrestle with these concepts. In a world of tweets and ever expanding stories/information it is important sometimes to talk about how we work with the realities of physical spaces where there isn't always enough wall real estate to highlight everyone all of the time. In those situations, how decisions are made, who is brought to the forefront (and who is not), and how our own beliefs/biases/views of the world play into those decisions all matter.
How might you curate this collection in many ways? Who is still missing and why does it matter that we ask the questions at all?
While this is intended to be a companion collection to a lesson on curation, the questions above may stand on their own. This collection is intended to be the beginning of a conversation, and not a stand alone collection; however, the lesson is also available in the collection as a downloadable PDF.
Collection of examples of Roman Mosaics and lesson plan for creation of garden mosaics.
Day 1: powerpoint/ history of Roman Mosaics, begin planning, paper design
Day 2: group makes a design on contact paper with tiles
Day 3: make mosaics in the lab
Day 2 Directions:
Write the words: What is a Roman mosaic? in the center circle. Fill circle map with at least 10 words that define and describe a Roman mosaic in the outside circle. You can use the i-pad to access Google Classroom to review the information from the powerpoint we viewed in class.
- Use the sample bag of tiles to figure out what color tiles you need.
- Write the number of tiles your group estimates that you will need to complete your mosaic in the blanks below. You may make changes at this time to your design based on colors available.
_____ black _____ dark blue _____ orange
_____ white _____ teal blue _____ lavender
_____ red _____ yellow
- After you have estimated the amount of tiles you will need of each color, choose one member of the group to take their paper with the numbers listed and go to the table to count tiles out and put into 1 ziplock.
- Next, use your rough draft to arrange tiles.
- Create border (1-2) colors first.
- Then, create center design (3-4) colors.
- Put contact paper with tiles inside clear tray.
- Fold back ½ sheet of contact paper circle, fold over, arrange border tiles on half sheet, Remove rest of contact paper, place the rest of the border tiles on second half of contact paper. Save paper back of contact paper to press down and even out after placing tiles.
- Don’t forget to use a pencil to measure the distance between tiles (you should be able to fit a pencil between tiles).
- Carefully remove contact paper with mosaics from plastic tray and set aside.
- Mix cement in clear tray, 8 cups of cement to 1 cup of water, start with ½ a cup, then add gradually/not all at one time, may not need whole cup of water, stir until mixed evenly
- When cement starts to thicken smooth it out on top
- Use your pencil to estimate the center of the circle, push pencil down in center
- Begin transferring tiles to top of cement, do not press them into the tile until all of your border and design are complete
- After all tiles are transferred and you are happy with how it looks, use the eraser on your pencil to push tiles down gently, slowly a little bit at a time
- If it starts getting dried out, spoon a little bit of water onto the top and smooth out
- If it gets too wet, you can use a paper towel to soak up excess water
Rubric: Total 20 points
_____ 5 following directions of procedure
_____ 5 arrangement of tiles
_____ 5 group participation
_____ 5 safety in the lab/lab sheet completion/circle map
The Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center hosted a language and culture seminar at the Anchorage Museum in 2011, bringing together eight fluent Iñupiaq speakers for four days to discuss cultural heritage objects from their region in the Smithsonian exhibition Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska at the Anchorage Museum. This video set presents a range of information about life in northwest Alaska for the Iñupiaq people: hunting tools used for living from the land and sea to ceremonial items used at celebrations and gatherings to everyday clothing to cultural traditions and values. The videos are in Iñupiaq with subtitles in English and Iñupiaq, for following along in both languages. An educational guide with six lessons is included below, along with links to objects discussed from the Smithsonian collections.
Tags: Alaska, Native art, museum, education, language, Indigenous, Iñupiaq, Inupiaq, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
By Beverly Faye Hugo (Iñupiaq ), 2009
(This is shortened version of a longer essay from the Smithsonian book Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska.)
Sea, Land, Rivers
There’s ice and snow, the ocean and darkness – darkness in the winter and twenty-four hours of daylight in the summer. Barrow was originally called Utqiaġvik (meaning, “the place where ukpik, the snowy owl, nests”). That’s where my people, the Iñupiat, have survived and lived, and I am doing as they have done. On the Arctic coast you can see vast distances in all directions, out over the ocean and across the land. The country is very flat, with thousands of ponds and lakes, stretching all the way to the Brooks Range in the south. It is often windy, and there are no natural windbreaks, no trees, only shrubs. Beautiful flowers grow during the brief summer season. The ocean is our garden, where we hunt the sea mammals that sustain us. Throughout the year some seasonal activity is going on. We are whaling in the spring and fall, when the bowheads migrate past Barrow, going out for seals and walrus, fishing, or hunting on the land for caribou, geese, and ducks.
Whaling crews are made up of family members and relatives, and everyone takes part. The spring is an exciting time when the whole community is focused on the whales, hoping to catch one. The number we are permitted to take each year is set by the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission and the International Whaling Commission. Whaling is not for the faint of heart. It can be dangerous and takes an incredible amount of effort – getting ready, waiting for the whales, striking and pulling and towing them. But the men go out and do it because they want to feed the community. Everyone has to work hard throughout the whaling season. People who aren’t able to go out on the ice help in other ways, such as buying supplies and gas or preparing food. You have to make clothing for them; they need warm parkas, boots, and snow pants.
We believe that a whale gives itself to a captain and crew who are worthy people, who have integrity – that is the gift of the whale. Caring for whales, even after you’ve caught them, is important. After a whale is caught and divided up, everyone can glean meat from the bones. Each gets his share, even those who don’t belong to a crew. No one is left out.
We are really noticing the effects of global warming. The shorefast ice is much thinner in spring than it used to be, and in a strong wind it will sometimes break away. If you are out on the ice, you have to be extremely conscious of changes in the wind and current so that you will not be carried off on a broken floe. We are concerned as well about the effects of offshore drilling and seismic testing by the oil companies. They try to work with the community to avoid problems, but those activities could frighten the whales and be detrimental to hunting.
Community and Family
Iñupiaq residents of Barrow, Wales, Point Hope, Wainwright, and other coastal communities, are the Taġiuqmiut, “people of the salt.” People who live in the interior are the Nunamiut, “people of the land.” The Nunamiut used to be nomadic, moving from camp to camp with their dog teams, hunting and fishing to take care of their families. They packed light and lived in skin tents, tracking the caribou and mountain sheep. My husband, Patrick Hugo, was one of them. For the first six years of his life his family traveled like that, but when the government built a school at Anaktuvuk Pass in 1959 they settled there.
My parents, Charlie and Mary Edwardson, were my foremost educators. They taught me my life skills and language. When I came to awareness as a young child, all the people who took care of me spoke Iñupiaq, so that was my first language. Our father would trap and hunt. We never went hungry and had the best furs for our parkas. Our mother was a fine seamstress, and we learned to sew by helping her. My mother and grandmother taught us to how to care for a family and to do things in a spirit of cooperation and harmony.
I was a child during the Bureau of Indian Affairs era, when we were punished for speaking Iñupiaq in school. My first day in class was the saddest one of my young life. I had to learn English, and that was important, but my own language is something that I value dearly and have always guarded. It is a gift from my parents and ancestors, and I want to pass it on to my children and grandchildren and anyone who wants to learn.
Ceremony and Celebration
Nalukataq (blanket toss) is a time of celebration when spring whaling has been successful. It is a kind of all-day picnic. People visit with friends and family at the windbreaks that the crews set up by tipping the whale boats onto their sides. At noon they serve niġliq (goose) soup, dinner rolls, and tea. At around 3:00 P.M. we have mikigaq,made of fermented whale meat, tongue, and skin. At 5:00 they serve frozen maktak (whale skin and blubber) and quaq (raw frozen fish). It’s wonderful to enjoy these foods, to talk, and catch up with everyone at the end of the busy whaling season.
Kivgik, the Messenger Feast, was held in the qargi (ceremonial house). The umialgich (whaling captains) in one community sent messengers to the leaders of another, inviting them and their families to come for days of feasting, dances, and gift giving. They exchanged great quantities of valuable things – piles of furs, sealskins filled with oil, weapons, boats, and sleds. That took place until the early years of the twentieth century, when Presbyterian missionaries suppressed our traditional ceremonies, and many of the communal qargich in the villages were closed down.
In 1988, Mayor George Ahmaogak Sr. thought it was important to revitalize some of the traditions from before the Christian era, and Kivgik was started again. Today it is held in the high school gymnasium. People come to Barrow from many different communities to take part in the dancing and maġgalak, the exchange of gifts. You give presents to people who may have helped you or to those whom you want to honor. Kivgiq brings us together as one people, just as it did in the time of our ancestors.
Tags: Iñupiaq, Inupiaq, Alaska Native, Indigenous, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
The Alaska Office of the Smithsonian’s Arctic Studies Center hosted an Iñupiaq language and culture seminar in January 2011, bringing together eight fluent speakers: Sylvester Ayek, Bernadette Alvanna-Stimpfle, Alvira Downey, Herbert Foster Sr., Willie Goodwin Jr., Jana Harcharek, Faye Ongtowasruk and Rachel Riley. They met for four days to discuss Iñupiaq cultural heritage objects in the Smithsonian exhibition Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska at the Anchorage Museum.
During the seminar, the Iñupiaq language was documented, including three different dialects, and language and culture teaching materials were written for use in schools and homes throughout Alaska and beyond. Six objects from the Smithsonian collections – with links below – are featured in the guide and lessons presented here. These resources pair with six video lesons that offer teachers, students, parents and lifelong learners access to Iñupiaq language and lifeways.
Tags: Alaska, Native art, museum, education, language, Indigenous, Iñupiaq, Inupiaq, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
This collection was created to complement a National Art Education Association (NAEA) webinar, "Constructing Curriculum with the Smithsonian" (December 11, 2019) featuring resources from the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian Learning Lab.
The webinar features inquiry-based strategies in examining the American experience depicted through portraiture and unpacking the context of historical narratives communicated through art with students.
This collection was created in collaboration with Briana Zavadil White (National Portrait Gallery) and Candra Flanagan (National Museum of African American History and Culture).
What does it take to prepare our youth for a world on the move with quality?
This collection is the first in a series of four created to support the Re-Imagining Migration DC Seminar Series, held between December 2019 to March 2020. The seminar series is led by Verónica Boix Mansilla, Senior Principal Investigator for Harvard Graduate School of Education's Project Zero, and Research Director for Re-Imagining Migration, with in-gallery experiences provided by educators from the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the National Museum of American History, the National Portrait Gallery, the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access, and the National Gallery of Art.
This set of collections is designed to be dynamic. We will continue to add material, including participant-created content, throughout the seminar series so that the collections themselves can be used as a type of textbook, reflecting the content, development, and outputs of the full seminar series. Please check back to the hashtag #ReImaginingMigration to see a growing body of materials to support educators as they strive to serve and teach about human migration in relevant and deep ways.
Walrus ivory is a precious sculptural material that for millennia has been carved into a nearly endless variety of forms essential to Arctic life, from harpoon heads to needle cases, handles, ornaments, buckles and many more. Naturalistic and stylized figures of animals and humans were made as charms, amulets and ancestral representations. Carvers today bring this conceptual heritage to new types of work.
During a week-long residency organized by the Arctic Studies Center at the Anchorage Museum in 2015, Alaska Native carvers Jerome Saclamana (Iñupiaq), Clifford Apatiki (St. Lawrence Island Yupik) and Levi Tetpon (Iñupiaq) studied historic walrus ivory pieces from the Smithsonian’s Living Our Cultures exhibition and Anchorage Museum collection, and demonstrated how to process, design and shape walrus ivory into artwork. Art students, museum conservators, school groups, local artists and museum visitors participated throughout the week. Also, a two-day community workshop in Nome was taught by Jerome Saclamana and hosted by the Nome-Beltz High School. The video set presented here introduces the artists and document the materials, tools and techniques they use to make walrus-ivory artwork. An educational guide with six lessons is included below pair with the videos, along with links to a selection of Iñupiaq and St. Lawrence Island Yupik objects from the Smithsonian collections that were carved from walrus ivory.
Tags: Iñupiaq, Inupiaq, Eskimo, ivory, walrus, carving, carver, carve, Native art, museum, education, St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Yupik, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
The cultures of newly freed African Americans have had one of the greatest impacts on the music industry to date. The cultures they carried from their ancestors and their plantation families aided the impact they had on jazz.These cultures not only opened up opportunities for blacks but it allow for whites to seek interest in the same musical style.
The new opportunities were brought over to the United States when slavery first became popular in the mid 18th century. These opportunities were brought to the table when African American music roots were exposed on plantations and even after the end of the slave trade. Their musical cultures consisted of a lot of different features that the United States hadn't particularly heard before the beginning of Jazz in the late 19th century.
Jazz after its initial debut was seen as out of the ordinary. However, with time it gained a huge following of African Americans and even whites, The importance of its huge success was the cultural diversity within its listeners and performers, Whites and Blacks were often not allowed to view things the same or even be in the same room therefore allowing for performance of jazz to be difficult. Hence why Black and Tan bars became a thing after the prohibition arose as well as stricter segregation laws. Blacks and Whites came together to create underground bars for live performances and to have the availability of alcohol.
The importance of African Americans and whites coming together during this allowed for the cultures of their music to flourish and to be exposed to society. When allowing for this exposure it lead for whites to listen, understand and see how much people enjoyed the sounds of the African American music scene.
Coming soon: The Yup'ik tradition of grass harvesting, processing and weaving in Quinhagak, Alaska
By Paapi Merlin Koonooka (St. Lawrence Island Yupik ), 2009
(This is shortened version of a longer essay from the Smithsonian book Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska.)
Sea, Land, Rivers
Sivuqaq, the Yupik name for St. Lawrence Island, rises out of the Bering Sea in the heart of a vast and bountiful marine ecosystem. All around us, depending on the time of year, we have walrus, whales and seals. Standing on the point at Gambell, you can watch ducks and seabirds flying by in endless motion over the sea. Our island lies just below the Arctic Circle, so the winters are long and often extreme. The wind gusts at fifty miles per hour, and the wind chill can get to minus fifty degrees Fahrenheit or lower. When spring and summer bring longer daylight and new life, people travel out from the villages of Gambell and Savoonga to their hunting and fishing camps around the island. Many of those places are ancient settlements where our ancestors lived up to two thousand years ago.
I was born and raised in Gambell and have been a subsistence hunter there for my entire life, going back to when we traveled with dog teams instead of on snow machines and all-terrain vehicles. Marine mammals, fish, birds, eggs, reindeer and wild plants are important in the island diet throughout the year, far more so than store-bought foods. On the tundra and mountainsides people gather ququngaq (willow leaf), nunivak (roseroot), angukaq (dwarf fireweed) and various edible roots. In late summer the aqavzik (cloudberry) and pagunghaq (crowberry) ripen.
Walrus have always been essential to our way of life. We hunt them in open water and later on the frozen ocean, making use of nearly everything as either food or material. The meat and fat are bundled into large tuugtuq (meatballs) to store in underground food cellars, and in the past that meat sustained our dog teams as well. Good-quality hides of female walrus are stretched, split, cured and stitched to cover the angyapik (hunting boat). Walrus stomachs become heads for drums, and their intestines, ivory and whiskers are transformed into adornment and art. Our predecessors used the skins to make tough rope and covers for the nenglu (traditional house) and interior aargha (sleeping room). They spun walrus sinew into thread and carved the tusks into tools and sled runners.
I am a whaling captain like my grandfather, granduncles and father before me, and I serve on the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission. Traditionally, the captain prepared for whaling in a religious way, using charms, special songs and rituals that showed the great respect we feel for this animal. While these rituals are no longer practiced, strict hunting protocols and the responsibility of the captain remain unchanged. A bowhead whale is so immense and powerful that hunters, even though armed with modern weapons, are really at its mercy. We use skin-covered boats and sails rather than motors during the approach, keeping absolute silence, because whales have a very sharp sense of hearing. But they know we are there even if there is no sound. That is why we say that a whale decides to let itself be taken, not the other way around. One whale provides an abundance of food that is shared with families on the island and across Alaska.
Our hunting lifestyle has never been harmful to the animal species. Nature has her own way of opening up the ice and sea for us or withholding access. During storms we have to stay at home and wait for a change. When the weather is nice, the conditions may still not be right for going out, even if walrus are floating by on top of the ice floes. Sometimes we will be punished this way if we’ve failed in our respect. But as long as the creatures make themselves available to us, we will gather them for food and traditional needs.
Community and Family
The people of the island have close ties to the Yupik communities of Ungaziq and Sireniki on the Siberian coast, and we speak dialects of the same language. Before the cold war began in the late 1940s, our families traveled back and forth to visit, trade and seek marriage partners. The forty-mile trip took a full day in a skin boat using sail and paddles. Visits resumed in the 1980s after glasnost took hold in Russia, and now with a fast powerboat and calm seas, the crossing takes only two or three hours.
Some of my best memories from childhood are of traveling with my dad. He had a wonderful dog team, and in the wintertime we would go on the sled to trap white fox. Even in the summer we’d take it across the gravel and tundra. When I started raising a family I did the same thing. We would hitch up a team of twelve dogs to pull our heavy sled, which was nine feet long with steel runners. As a child you really look forward to going out with your parents and elders for food gathering and hunting, because you want to learn.
I sometimes think of early days when everyone was living in nenglut (traditional houses). They would go seal hunting on the ice, pulling whale baleen toboggans behind them to bring back the meat. You had a backpack and a rifle slung over your shoulders and an ice tester to see where it was safe to walk. You had to observe the ice and the direction it was moving, making sure not to get caught on an outgoing current. Boys were doing all that by the age of ten or twelve, and by fifteen you had to know everything. Your parents and elders made sure you were ready, or you weren’t allowed to go alone.
Our culture is changing rapidly in some ways, more slowly in others. Fluency in the Yupik language is declining in the younger generations, although among the older people our daily conversation continues to be in Yupik. There is less respect among some young people now for their parents and elders, too much television and video gaming, problems with drugs and alcohol. We need to find a balance between traditional and modern ways, and I believe the best way to do that is through education. If you can be successful in your formal education, you will be in a strong position to help preserve your Yupik heritage. I’m glad to see so many young people still going out with their families to the places where we have always hunted and fished, even if now they travel on machines instead of on foot or by dog sled. They are still eating the same foods that we have always gathered and staying connected to our land and way of life.
Ceremony and Celebration
The remoteness of the island has helped to sustain some of the ways of our forebears. The practices of atuq and aghula (Yupik drumming, singing and dancing) were never interrupted, despite the introduction of Christianity, and people continue to compose new songs and motions. Both communities on the island hold dance celebrations where we welcome visitors and performers from mainland Alaska, Russia and beyond. Other ceremonies are more family-oriented, marking life events such as marriage and the birth and naming of a child. When a young person catches his first seal, a special small celebration is held to share the catch with relatives, making sure that everyone gets a taste. The same thing happens with your first bird.
Many of the former ceremonial practices pertained to hunting, especially whaling. To prepare for the season, a captain would use certain songs that were specific to each clan. The purpose was to please the whale spirits. When the hunters captured a whale, the boats would come back in a line with the successful captain and crew in front. Everyone was deeply thankful, and they celebrated by feasting, singing and dancing. That feeling of appreciation and gratitude for the food that has been provided is just as strong today, even though our beliefs and customs have been modified.
The Yupik culture has a very long, rich history, and at the Smithsonian you will see artifacts that our ancestors created hundreds or even thousands of years ago. Today many of the island’s residents are world-renowned Native artists whose work is shown in national and international museums and art galleries. Some of the ivory they use comes from archaeological sites, and this material, crucial to sustaining life generations ago, is equally important today because of the income generated by art sales. But much more than that, their work is a celebration of our culture, heritage and continuing way of life.
Tags: St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Yupik, Alaska Native, Indigenous, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
Coming soon: The Tsimshian tradition of cedar bark harvesting, processing and twining in Metlakatla, Alaska
Coming soon: The Athabascan tradition of moosehide tanning and sewing in Alaska
Coming soon: Sugpiaq, Yup'ik and Athabascan artists process and sew salmon skins
Artists can abstract people and objects in many ways. Which methods of abstraction can you identify in these artworks?
- Fragment (or explode; break into pieces)
- Rearrange (move the parts around)
- Magnify (change the scale)
- Distort (change the shape)
- Morph (change into something else)
- Arbitrary Colors