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Found 1,676 Collections

 

National Art Education Association Webinar:

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).

Carol Mack
15
 

Re-Imagining Migration DC Seminar Series, 2019-2020: Session 1

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.

Thank you to Elizabeth Dale-DeinesPhoebe Hilleman, and Carol Wilson of the Smithsonian American Art Museum for the in-gallery activity and supporting content.


#ReImaginingMigration

Philippa Rappoport
39
 

Sculpting Walrus Ivory videos

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

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
28
 

Local Materials: Yup'ik Ingenuity

Coming soon!

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
1
 

The Five Pillars of Islam

This collection includes artifacts and images that represent the Five Pillars of Islam. Students should complete the chart (included as the final resource) by first explaining what each pillar is by creating an image that represents the pillar. Then, after looking through the collection, they should identify an artifact that represents each one and explain why.

Tags: Islam, Muslim, religion, Muhammad, object analysis, practice, pilgrimage, hajj, fasting, Ramadan, Shahadah, zakat, tithe, salat, prayer

Kristen Olson
16
 

Emancipation Proclamation

Meridith Manis
5
 

The St. Lawrence Island Yupik People and Their Culture

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

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
20
 

Sharing Resources: Athabascan Potlatches Today

Coming soon!

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
1
 

Alaska Native Technologies: Bolas

Coming soon!

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
1
 

The Yup'ik People and Their Culture

By Alice Aluskak Rearden (Yup'ik), 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

The Yup’ik homeland in southwest Alaska extends from Bristol Bay to Norton Sound and centers on the great delta where the Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers reach the sea. It is a country of treeless tundra, countless lakes and low mountain ranges. Almost seventy Yup’ik communities are situated along the Bering Sea coast and lower courses of the two rivers, including the Kuskokwim village of Napakiak, where I grew up.

Whenever I ask elders about the traditional way of life on this land, they always say, “Caperrnarqellruuq – how difficult, how daunting it was back then.” Previous generations had to master a wide range of specific knowledge that was critical to their survival. You can see the meticulous care they took in making their tools: with a harpoon, you had to know the right wood to use, where to attach the lines, and how to balance it perfectly so that it would be effective. The values they lived by—cooperation, generosity, diligence, humility and respect for others—were just as important as skill and knowledge in sustaining their communities.

The contemporary Yup’ik lifestyle is easier than the traditional one, although people still work incredibly hard to provide for their families. We have Western schooling and such amenities as store-bought goods and clothing, although the cost of those things is high in rural Alaska. The environment around us remains the primary source of what we need, but it takes less effort to subsist by hunting and fishing with the guns, snow machines and other equipment that we depend on today than it took with the equipment of the past.

My grandparents helped care for me during childhood, and they were hard-working people who taught us how to honor Yup’ik values and utilize the resources of the land. I remember my grandmother preparing and preserving the food that my grandfather brought home from the wilderness in different seasons—blackfish, whitefish, migratory birds, caribou and moose. He had a full-time job, but was an active subsistence hunter as well. My grandmother was very concerned that we never waste food. Although she did not explain it directly, I came to understand that she was concerned that such negligence would show disrespect to the animals and diminish my grandfather’s success as a hunter.

Community and Family

At a certain time a child becomes aware of life. A baby will be sitting and looking around when an expression of surprise and delight comes to her face. My mom will say “Ellangartuq – she has just become aware.” Ella is the word for awareness, but it also means weather, the world, the universe; as human beings we gradually wake up to a consciousness of all that exists. Different stages of awareness occur during a child’s growth. For that reason it is important to be extremely careful around babies; their early perceptions will shape the rest of their lives. They will be stronger people later on if they have a quiet environment where they are never startled, or scared, or exposed to inappropriate behavior.

I grew up speaking Yup’ik as my first language and was also one of the first children to benefit from the bilingual education program that was started in the Napakiak schools. From kindergarten through elementary school I took classes that were taught in Yup’ik, and during those years I learned to read and write the language. Later on I took a Yup’ik course at the University of Alaska Fairbanks and after graduation used my training to work as a Yup’ik transcriber and translator. The work was extremely difficult at first! I was not an expert in the subtleties of grammar and structure, and the speakers used terminology that was new to me. I had to ask many people about some of the words and to check that I fully understood their meanings. I was excited by what I was doing and found it rewarding to learn new aspects of Yup’ik culture and history.

In listening to elders’ words, I have been impressed by the passion they feel about young people learning to appreciate the traditional values so that they can lead better lives and contribute to the health of their communities. Elders see how much has been lost as a result of cultural and material change and the shift away from Yup’ik ways of learning, being and speaking. Alcoholism, loss of respect for others, broken families and hopelessness come from losing that vital connection to cultural knowledge and identity.

Ceremony and Celebration

Our traditional spiritual life was based on the recognition that all things have ella, awareness. Elders were taught that if you are out walking and see a piece of driftwood sticking out of the mud, you should pull it out and turn it over so that the muddy part can dry. That piece of wood is alive and aware, and it will feel gratitude for your kindness.

Elders have told us about the masked dance ceremonies of the past. The winter celebrations honored the yuit, or inner persons, of the animals, and the dances were a kind of prayer that asked for these spirits to give their physical bodies to meet the needs of the community. Shamans made carvings or masks representing animals – walrus, caribou, seals and others. When the masks were danced in the qasgiq (community house), it was a petition for those animals to return in the spring. During Nakaciuryaraq, the Bladder Festival, the bladders of seals that had been taken by hunters during the year were returned to the sea through a hole in the ice, allowing those seals to be reborn in new bodies.

Kevgiq, the Messenger Feast, was a spring festival for sharing and bringing communities together. People worked hard throughout the year, gathering plants, hunting furs and harvesting food, and Kevgiq was a time to distribute some of what they had earned to others. Parents were especially proud if one of their children had contributed to the family’s effort for the first time – a son who brought home his first game or a daughter who caught a pike through the ice. Those events were recognized as rites of passage that meant the child was beginning a lifetime of providing for kin and community. By giving away at Kevgiq, a family ensured the future success of its children and the prosperity of the whole group. Villages still carry out the Messenger Feast tradition of inviting guests from other places and distributing presents to them. The dancing and gift-giving represent the same values as in the past, even if some of the items are store-bought goods. It is about giving generously to others and celebrating the success of the subsistence harvest.

Tags: Yup'ik, Alaska Native, Indigenous, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
20
 

The Athabascan Peoples and Their Culture

By Eliza Jones (Koyukon Athabascan), 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

When I was growing up in the 1940s and ’50s, our family moved in every season – to spring camp for ducks and muskrats, to fish camp in summer, and to hunting and fur-trapping sites during fall and winter. That kind of traveling life was once universal in Athabascan country, from the Arctic Circle to Cook Inlet in Alaska and across the western interior of Canada. It’s a vast territory, hundreds of thousands of square miles covered by boreal spruce and birch forest. The rivers that cross it were highways for dog sledding in winter and canoe voyages in summer. Today the rivers, along with air and snow machine travel, still link our scattered communities, but roads reach only a few.

Athabascan peoples are an ancient family that spread out across the land and gradually grew apart. Koyukon, Gwich’in, Han, Holikachuk, Deg Hit’an, Upper Kuskokwim, Tanana, Tanacross, Upper Tanana, Dena’ina, and Ahtna communities occupy different areas of interior and southern coastal Alaska. Their languages share the same complex grammar yet have developed different vocabularies. The people have varying subsistence practices, customs, ceremonies, and clan structures. The Eyak, who live on the southern Alaskan coast around the mouth of the Copper River, are more distant relatives.

In Athabascan belief, everything around us has life. The land and trees have spirits, and we treat them with respect. If we need to cut a tamarack, which has the best wood for making fish traps, it is Koyukon courtesy to explain our need to the tree and to leave an offering of a bead or ribbon behind. Animals and fish are given the same kind of care. Before bringing a mink carcass into our cabin, my mother or stepfather would rub its nose with grease so that its spirit would not be offended by the human scent inside. If they trapped a fox, they put a bone in its mouth, because the animal was seeking food when it met its death.

Community and Family

Western cultural influence came to Athabascan country in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when Russian fur traders set up forts in southern Alaska and the Hudson’s Bay Company built a post at Fort Yukon. Later in the century, the U.S. government and the Alaska Commercial Company took over from the Russians. The gold rushes of the 1880s and 1890s brought a flood of miners, settlers, and traders into the region. Our communities became less nomadic, more tied to trapping and a cash economy, and increasingly dependent on clothing, guns, food, and tools from the company stores. Through the efforts of missionaries most Athabascans adopted Christianity by the early 1900s. The twentieth century brought new technologies, mass media and Western schools where the teaching was in English only.

One of the biggest changes in my lifetime has been in the way that our children learn. I grew up in an oral tradition in which all our teachers were family and kin. Story telling time, as we called it, began in October after freeze-up. We would be home in our small cabin, chores finished for the day, our mother sewing by the light of an oil lamp. My stepfather would tell a kk’edon ts’ednee, a story in our language about ancient times when animals were human beings. It would include a lot of repetition to make it easier to learn and remember and a lesson about living in harmony with nature and people. Before he continued the next night, we had to repeat the story back to him, line by line. At other times we listened while adults talked and reminisced but were not allowed to interrupt. If we had a question we asked our grandmother or someone else about it later.

I was taught to read and write in English by my mother, Josie Peter Olin, who was educated as a child at the Allakaket Episcopal mission school. I was fourteen when the first one-room government school was built in our village, and I attended it for three years to finish the work of all twelve grades. I moved to Koyukuk to marry Benedict Jones, and there we raised our children. I worked as a volunteer health aide, and he was village Chief. In 1970 we moved to Fairbanks, where I worked at the Alaska Native Language Center editing a Koyukon Athabascan dictionary compiled by Jules Jetté, a Jesuit priest who came to the region in 1898 and learned to speak our language fluently. That dictionary turned into my life’s work. It contains detailed information about Koyukon culture as well as language, including knowledge that no longer exists in our communities. After we retired and came back to Koyukuk, I taught Koyukon in the school, hoping that a new generation would know and continue our culture despite the huge changes and challenges that affect their young lives.

Ceremony and Celebration

Our midwinter celebrations take place between Christmas and New Year’s. There are church gatherings, children’s programs, snowshoe races, dogsled races and dances. On New Year’s Day we finish with a celebratory potlatch. People save and prepare special foods and make new clothing and beaded moccasins to wear for the dances. Spring Carnival takes place in early April at the end of beaver trapping season. We do a lot of traveling to other villages to share in their celebrations. It’s a wonderful and exciting time, with high-stakes dogsled races, snowshoe competitions, ice-picking contests, Athabascan fiddling and dancing every night.

Today, Athabascan communities hold potlatches on various occasions. Some are informal festivities to celebrate holidays, and others are formal and spiritual occasions to recognize turning points in the lives of community members. Potlatches can mark a first successful hunt, a homecoming, recovery from an illness or settlement of a grievance.

The most important and universal events are memorial potlatches held a year or more after a death to honor the memory of the deceased and to repay those who assisted the family during their time of grief. These are the helpers who built the casket, dug the grave, provided food for the vigil or sewed traditional clothing to dress the body. To prepare for a memorial potlatch, the hosts make, buy and gather large quantities of gifts and food. Often several families join together to share the financial burden. Hosts are not trying to show off their wealth. It is our way of thanking those who generously gave service. The protocols, songs, and dances for memorial potlatches vary among the different Athabascan peoples, yet the fundamental idea of the whole community marking the passage of a human soul to the world beyond is the same for all.

In Koyukuk, a memorial potlatch takes place over a three-day period. Residents and guests from other villages arrive with food for a gathering in the community hall. Friends and relatives sing songs they have composed for the deceased to commemorate his or her unique accomplishments, personality and service to others, and with the songs there is dancing. It is an emotional and difficult time for the family. To lift their spirits everyone joins afterward in singing old familiar songs and dancing to fiddle music or rock and roll. On the last day all of the guests sit down for a feast of special foods, including dishes that the deceased person most enjoyed. After the meal the hosts distribute gifts to everyone in attendance, with the finest presents reserved for the funeral helpers and composers of memorial songs.

Tags: Athabascan, Alaska Native, Indigenous, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
20
 

The Sugpiaq (Alutiiq) People and Their Culture

The Sugpiaq (Alutiiq) People and Their Culture

By Gordon L. Pullar (Sugpiaq), 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

The Sugpiaq homeland is large, spanning Prince William Sound, the Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak Island, and the Alaska Peninsula. Our climate is wet and stormy but mild. Massive glaciers flow from the high coastal mountains, but the sea remains unfrozen. Spruce forests cover the eastern areas but dwindle in the west, so that much of Kodiak Island and the Alaska Peninsula are treeless, windswept tundra. Along our coasts you can fish for salmon, halibut and crabs, hunt seals or sea lions, and walk the shore at low tide to collect shellfish and seaweed. Depending on the season you might search out an octopus under beach rocks, gather eggs on a seabird island, pick berries or go hunting in the hills for bears, caribou or deer.

Traditional Sugpiaq hunting depended on the qayaq (kayak) and angyaq (large open boat), both covered with seal or sea lion skins. Ancestral equipment included throwing boards, harpoons and arrows. Many communities today depend on commercial fishing for cash income, but in recent years that industry has faltered. Part of the problem today is the high cost of fuel for boats and home heating. An increasing number of people can no longer afford to stay in the villages and are migrating to cities such as Kodiak and Anchorage.

When the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in 1989 people were deeply shocked and depressed. Eleven million gallons of oil poured into Prince William Sound and then drifted west on the wind and currents, polluting fifteen hundred miles of shoreline. The huge spill coincided roughly with the geographic boundaries of the Sugpiaq culture area. Most sea life eventually recovered, but the communities that relied most heavily on fishing and coastal subsistence were disrupted for years and suffered deep economic losses. Today oil can still be found on the beaches, lying just below the rocks and sand. Its pollution still leaches slowly into the sea.

Community and Family

History has proven the Sugpiaq people to be highly resilient, despite the traumatic events of conquest and oppression. Russian traders in search of sea otter furs first conquered and then enslaved the Native population of southern Alaska. In 1784 a force led by Grigorii Shelikhov used guns and cannons to slaughter hundreds of Sugpiaq men, women and children on Kodiak Island. Men were forced to hunt otters in fleets of kayaks, sometimes paddling hundreds of miles and being gone from their homes for months at a time. Others had to provision the Russians with whales, fish and game. Women prepared plant foods, dried fish and clothing for the traders. During these years people suffered from disease and malnutrition. It was a dark, traumatic period when many thousands died.

After 1818 reform in the management of the Russian-American Company brought some relief. Alaska Natives officially became employees instead of slaves. Atrocities ended, and health care and education systems were put in place. Missionaries of the Russian Orthodox Church were influential in seeking better conditions. The U.S. government took over Alaska in 1867. In the new government and mission schools, children were beaten for speaking either Sugcestun or Russian. Educational policies were aimed at bringing about the assimilation of all to American speech, values and beliefs.

This history created complex feelings about identity. During two hundred years of Western contact and cultural change, Indigenous identity had been devalued and even shamed. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971 put a new twist on the situation. Anyone who had a one-quarter of Native blood was eligible to enroll, meaning that he or she would receive shares in the village and regional Native corporations. This was the first time for many that being Native had any positive benefits. The new opportunity generated tension when people redefined themselves and heard comments such as “He was never a Native before land claims!”

There was much turmoil, infighting, and litigation during the early days of ANCSA. The Kodiak Area Native Association (KANA), a nonprofit established to pursue land claims and later ran Native health and education programs, came under fire. When I became president of KANA in 1983, I was asked to rebuild the organization. Elders advised that the biggest reason for our problems was that people had lost touch with who they were. They didn’t know their history, and the traditional values of sharing and cooperation had been lost. We turned our efforts to cultural rebuilding through dance, traditional arts, kayak building, language renewal, archaeology, oral history, youth-elder programs and more. The idea was to build knowledge, pride, visibility and self-esteem as a pathway for healing. From the beginning we wanted to have a museum and cultural center that people would feel belonged to them and where they could celebrate their culture. The Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository opened its doors in 1995 and has realized the vision we held.

Ceremony and Celebration

Most Sugpiat have a firm belief that if not for the Russian Orthodox Church, the people would have been lost entirely. The population was in serious decline when Orthodox monks traveled to Kodiak in the 1790s. They were shocked at the conditions they saw, and the Church exerted its influence with the czar to ameliorate illegal practices of the Russian-American Company. That is why the Orthodox faith was embraced and why it has persisted so strongly to the present day.

Sugpiaq people recognized connections and similarities between their own spiritual concepts and those of the new religion. They believed in Lam Sua, the “person of the universe,” who as a supreme and all-knowing deity became equated with God. Their kassat (wise men) consulted with deities subordinate to Lam Sua and directed the performance of religious ceremonies. In these functions they were similar to priests who conducted Orthodox worship.

Traditional hunting ceremonies, held in October through March, were a means of communicating with sky gods and the spirits of animals. Performances and rituals wove together the arts of song, narrative, masking and dance. Visitors were invited from neighboring villages to share in rich feasts, gift giving and trade. These rituals continued in some communities until the late 1800s, coexisting with widespread Orthodox conversion. Over time, the Native practice of Russian Orthodoxy has absorbed certain aspects of the older winter ceremonies.

Cultural revitalization has taken hold in the Sugpiaq region since the 1980s, bringing new confidence and visibility to our people and culture. We have come a long way since the days when many suffered embarrassment and even shame to see the dance, regalia and cultural vibrancy of other Alaska Native peoples while not having our own to share publicly. We’ve listened to elders, encouraged Native language and arts, and reconsidered the meaning of events, some terrible and traumatic, that shaped who we are today. Sugpiaq young people have gained an appreciation for their rightful place in the world.

Tags: Sugpiaq, Alutiiq, Alaska Native, Indigenous, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
20
 

The Tsimshian People and Their Culture

The Tsimshian People and Their Culture

By David Boxley (Tsimshian), 2009

(This is shortened version of a longer essay from the Smithsonian book Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska.)

Land, Sea, Rivers

Most Tsimshian live along the coast of northern British Columbia between the Nass River and Queen Charlotte Sound. The shores and islands are covered by northern rain forests of hemlock, spruce, fir, red cedar and yellow cedar, woods that were the basic raw materials of our culture. Tsimshian territory extends into the mountainous interior as well, following the valley of the Skeena River.

At one time at least eight thousand Tsimshian lived there, located in twenty winter villages and many seasonal camps. Today about thirty-five hundred live in seven Canadian towns. In 1862, a Tsimshian group led by an Anglican missionary, William Duncan, broke away from Fort Simpson to found a religious colony at Old Metlakatla. Twenty-five years later they moved again, building New Metlakatla on Annette Island, in southeast Alaska. Generations have lived there since, and that is the community in which I was born and grew up. I was very fortunate to be raised by my grandfather and grandmother, Albert and Dora Bolton, who gave me a strong foundation in our culture. When I was young they took me with them to their fish camps and on trips all over our island for subsistence activities.

Most people still rely a great deal on fish, seals, berries and other traditional foods, supplemented by commercial fishing and other sources of cash income. In historical times, the year’s food gathering began in spring when the ice broke up on the Nass River and the eulachon began running there. People traveled from their winter villages to harvest the fish in nets, drying some and fermenting and boiling the rest to extract the oil. Trade in eulachon grease, which no other people could produce in such quantity, was one of the sources of Tsimshian wealth and prosperity. In spring they also gathered seaweed and herring eggs, fished for halibut, and collected bird eggs and abalone. During summer and fall they relocated to fishing sites on the rivers to catch salmon with weirs and traps, drying and smoking them for winter. At the winter villages they gathered clams, cockles and mussels, and if you visit those old settlements today you can still see the mounds of discarded shells. At different times of the year they hunted seals, sea lions, deer, elk, mountain goats and mountain sheep.

Archaeological sites in Prince Rupert Harbour demonstrate that this way of life goes back at least five thousand years. Crest objects such as chiefs’ headdresses and masks are connected to origin stories and to the succession of clan leaders who have owned and passed them down to their descendants, along with name titles and titles to land. This is important in British Columbia where the Tsimshian Nation is attempting to reclaim territories that were taken by the Canadian government in the 1870s. Crest objects and the histories attached to them validate those aboriginal claims and link the people to specific places on the land where they lived and harvested food in the old days.

Family and Community

My people are divided into four equal groups. Each is a pteex (clan) with its own principal crest: Eagle (Laxsgiik), Raven (Ganhada), Wolf (Laxgibuu), and Killer Whale (Gisbutwada). Crests are symbols of matrilineal connection, so whatever pteex your mother comes from, you will be the same. Because clans marry out, your father will be from a different one of the four. Within each pteex are multiple lineages, like branches on a family tree. Eagle, Raven, Wolf, and Killer Whale each have as many as twenty-five subcrests, a few available that are to everyone in the clan and the rest limited to certain branches. As a Laxsgiik, I may use the Eagle, Beaver, and Halibut crests; I inherited other, more restricted crests from my close maternal ancestors.

Crests represent social identity and its corresponding rights and privileges. Crest images appear on robes, button blankets, headdresses and other regalia that people wear at potlatches to show their ancestry. They are shown on ceremonial drums, staffs and rattles; on dishes and ladles used for serving food at potlatch feasts; and on the totem poles, house fronts, posts and screens of traditional lineage houses.

If you could go back in time to visit a coastal Tsimshian village of two centuries ago, you would see our social system at work. The community is built along the shore, with palisades around back to guard against possible attack from land. You arrive by canoe and announce your person and business while still afloat, waiting for permission to land. Jumping ashore without proper protocol would have been life threatening in those days. Coming up from the beach in the company of your hosts, you see the big red-cedar longhouses, lined up in a row with their doorways facing the water. Each is home to thirty or forty people, most of them matrilineal relatives but including wives and children of other clans.

The village chief’s house is the largest and is located in a central position. Its painted front panels show his crests. The other dwellings are positioned in relation to the chief’s house according to the social ranking of their household heads. In front of prestigious homes are totem poles, carved with crest emblems and figures. Poles are sculptural narratives, telling who lives in a house, the ancient origin and recent history of their lineage, and the achievements of their deceased chiefs and nobles.

Entering one of the longhouses requires that you stoop down to pass through a low door, a vulnerable position for any would-be attacker. Depending on the status of the house, the interior is lined with one or more levels of wood-planked sleeping platforms, like wide bleachers that step down to the central fire pit. The platforms are divided into family living areas, cordoned off with mats or boards. The house chief and his family have a private apartment at the far end of the house, behind a carved and painted wooden screen. Inside the house you see lots of preserved food—dried salmon and halibut, bentwood boxes filled with fish oil, seal grease, and berries; containers of dried meat. All of this came from hunting and fishing territories owned by the house members.

The original Tsimshian way of life began to change when British, Spanish and American fur traders arrived in the late 1700s. The Hudson’s Bay Company built Fort Simpson at the mouth of the Nass River in 1831, and missionaries of several Christian denominations came to work among the Tsimshian, Haida and Tlingit people who had gathered near the fort for trade. The missionaries were successful at converting a large part of the population, which was in rapid decline as a result of smallpox and other new diseases. The people gave up their traditional beliefs, ended their ceremonies and even cut down many of the totem poles.

The converts who followed William Duncan from Fort Simpson to Old Metlakatla and then to Alaska were making a new start, trying to survive in a world that was rapidly changing. Now, more than one hundred years later, Metlakatla is a pretty distinctive place. Little about its everyday appearance would remind a visitor of the lifeways of the past, but we are still proudly Tsimshian, with a strong sense of our unique identity. Our language, Sm’Algyax, has changed from the way it is spoken in Canada, and unfortunately Metlakatla has only a few fluent speakers left, all elders. That frightens me, and I’ve been trying very hard to hold on to what I know and to learn more. We are who we are, but we are what our language makes us, too.

Ceremony and Celebration

Halaayt is spirit power, which comes from above. It gave chiefs and high-ranking people the knowledge and strength they needed to be leaders and to make good decisions. Halaayt enabled them to be the link between their people and the next world, where our ancestors dwell, and to communicate with the spirits of animals. The frontlet of a chief’s ceremonial headdress was a symbol of his halaayt. The face in the center was a crest, surrounded by abalone, sea lion whiskers, feathers and ermine fur. The chief’s headdress, woven robe and Raven rattle all represented his leadership and spiritual power.

Historically, potlatch feasts celebrated events and transitions in the community – death, marriage, the completion of a new house, the raising of a totem pole, or the settlement of a dispute between clans. The largest and most important of these feasts were memorial potlatches, when new chiefs were installed and took the names of their predecessors. Potlatches have always been based on a whole system of reciprocity. During the feast, hosts of one clan recognize and repay debts that they have incurred through services given to them by people of other clans, who come as guests.

Three things are essential to a potlatch. First, it has to be done publicly. The guests are there to serve as witnesses to what is taking place, and that is what makes it legal. Second, the hosts have to gift every guest in payment for his or her witness. Finally, everyone must be fed and fed very well. More than they need. The food they take home with them is another gift.

In 1982, I set out to organize Metlakatla’s first potlatch. For our community it would be the revival of a tradition that we had left behind over a century before in the historical move to Alaska. Many potlatches have been held in Metlakatla since then, and one of the largest was in 1994. It was originally planned as a celebration of my grandfather’s hundredth birthday, but it became his memorial after he passed away at age ninety-eight. I realized that in order for the potlatch to happen on the scale that I had hoped, it would have to include all four clans. Their involvement not only ensured the amazing success of the event but also paved the way for the future, because so many participated and learned so much. We fed a thousand people every evening, three totem poles were raised, and over fifty-five button robes were dedicated on the first night alone. I feel lucky to have come along when I did, at a time when it was right for these changes to take place. The way I grew up, and the gifts of language and culture that my grandparents gave me, prepared me for the journey.

 

Tags: Tsimshian Alaska Native, Indigenous, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
20
 

The Unangax̂ (Aleut) People and Their Culture

By Alice Petrivelli (Unangax̂), 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

More than three hundred Aleutian Islands clustered in groups stretch westward across the Pacific from the tip of the Alaska Peninsula. In summertime they are just gorgeous. The mountains are snow-capped, with green grass and tundra plants spreading up their sides. Even out on the water you can smell the flowers. In fall the vegetation turns shades of red and brown, and in winter there is a clear, blue, endless sky between periods of storm. The islands have no trees, but driftwood from around the whole North Pacific washes up on our beaches. People of the Aleutians call themselves Unangax̂, meaning “sea-sider.” We are also called Aleuts – a name first used by Russian fur traders in the eighteenth century.  

To our south is the Pacific Ocean, to our north the Bering Sea. Everything our ancestors did was connected to the marine world around us. They built beautiful kayaks with split bow tips to cut swiftly through the waves. Their clothing was made of sea mammal hides and intestines and the feathered skins of ocean birds. The sea provided nearly all of our ancestors’ food – seals, sea lions, ducks, salmon, all kinds of fish and shellfish—and that’s still true today. From the time we’re little we’re taught to respect the water and to keep it clean, because that’s where our living comes from.

I was born in 1929 on the far western island of Atka and grew up speaking the Niiĝux̂ dialect of Unangam Tunuu (the Unangax̂ language). Until 1942 we used to go camping all summer. With the first warm days of spring we would travel by boat to Amlia Island, where we planted potatoes and other vegetables. Gardening was impossible on Atka, because rats had invaded from a shipwreck sometime in the past. We fished for cod and halibut, and later in the summer we’d fish for red, pink and dog salmon. We preserved fish by salting, drying, and smoking. We lived mostly on subsistence resources, because the supply ship came to Atka only twice a year, bringing in the staples we needed: butter, flour and sugar. Growing up I learned to fillet fish, hunt birds, harvest grass for weaving baskets, and gather roots, plants, and shellfish.

Community and Family

We have always had strong leaders in our communities. Traditionally a chief would inherit his position, but for his authority to be recognized he had to excel as a hunter and be spiritual, generous, fair and kind in his dealings with the people. The shamans, or medicine men, took care of the people’s medical needs. They possessed detailed knowledge of the human body and had names for every part of it, both inside and out. There were no elections until the U.S. government started them in the 1930s.

Russian fur traders came to the islands in the mid-eighteenth century following Vitus Bering’s discovery that sea otters were abundant there. The Russians set up a colony that lasted until 1867, and they were cruel, especially in the early years. They enslaved the people, forcing the men to hunt and the women to serve the traders. The population declined as a result of this mistreatment and disease until the majority of our people and over two-thirds of the original villages were lost. The Orthodox Church urged the Russian government to treat the people more kindly, and the situation improved. The Russians built schools to educate the Aleuts, and when the United States came in they reeducated us in the American way.

In December 1941, I was a twelve-year-old school girl when our teacher told us that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor. In April we learned that an invasion of the Aleutian Islands was feared and that the United States wanted to get us out of the way of the war. Only a few weeks later the Japanese bombed Dutch Harbor and invaded Attu and Kiska islands, at the west end of the chain. In June a U.S. Navy ship came to Atka to evacuate everyone. Before leaving, the navy burned our village to the ground, even the church. It was devastating to the whole community. No one was allowed to get anything from the houses before they were destroyed, and we left with only the clothes on our backs. No one told us our destination.

All of the Unangax̂ refugees were taken to internment camps in southeast Alaska. My family was at Killisnoo until 1945. It was very poorly set up, and we had little food and no medicine or appropriate housing. In that two and a half-year period we lost almost all of our elders and newborns, a total of seventeen deaths out of eighty-five who had left Atka together. We almost lost our culture entirely because of that, and the way I grew up no longer exists.

Before the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971 everyone had summer camps. When we got food, we shared it, and you could use another person’s camp as long as you kept it clean and replenished what you used. Land claims introduced the word "mine," as in, “That’s mine. You can’t use it.” After that, people didn’t share as much and started expecting to be paid to do things instead of just helping, as in building a house. And the Native corporation leaders didn’t want to involve elders in the new enterprises, thinking they were too old and not ready to do things in the Western way.

Those were the negative effects of land claims, but things have improved over the years, and ANCSA has brought us many benefits. I first went to work for the Aleut Corporation as a receptionist in 1972 and was eventually employed in each of the departments. I wrote up land selections, helped with the accounting, and ended up getting elected to the board in 1976. I served until 2008, including a long term as president. It was a challenging and terrifying ride, because we were a “have not” corporation with no forests, oil or minerals on our lands to generate profits. Yet we needed to do the best we could to support our communities and shareholders. Your heart really has to be in it, because it takes a lot of personal sacrifice.

Ceremony and Celebration

Father Yakov Netsvetov (later Saint Yakov), whose mother came from our island, was the first resident priest. He consecrated the church on Atka in 1830, and ever since then Russian Orthodoxy has been a foundation of community life. Christmas, New Year’s Day, Easter and other feast days mark our calendar of worship and celebration. Starring and masking – still practiced in some villages during the midwinter holidays – are similar to rituals carried out before the Russians came.

The original Unangax̂ festivals were held in the fall and winter, when people celebrated successful hunting and food gathering and asked for the animals to return. Those ceremonies survived Russian rule but were banned after the United States took over in 1867. In the decades that followed, the Aleuts adopted new music and dances for fun and entertainment, such as polkas, two-steps and waltzes. Since 1992, groups of young people have formed to restore and perform some of the original Unangax̂ dances.

Tags: Unangax̂, Aleut, Alaska Native, Indigenous, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
20
 

The Haida People and Their Culture

By Jeane Breinig (Haida), 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

It’s an endless cycle – gathering food, putting it up, sharing it among the people. Subsistence is fundamental to our being, even for city-dwellers. Every summer since the kids were little, we would return to Kasaan to join in harvesting activities with family and friends. Our traditions pass on through the foods, the seasons and the generations. I am Haida Yáahl-Xúuts (Raven–Brown Bear), of the Taslaanas clan (The Sandy Beach People) at Kasaan, Alaska. By the custom of our matrilineal society, I trace my descent and clan affiliation through my mother, her mother and a long line of Raven women going back through the centuries.

Haida identities are linked to the history of our people. Alaskan Haida look south to Haida Gwaii (Queen Charlotte Islands, Canada) as their ancestral homeland. The present villages of Masset and Skidegate were the only settlements that remained after a smallpox epidemic ravaged Haida Gwaii in 1862. Survivors from at least seventeen other communities found refuge there. Alaskan Haida are the descendants of emigrants who left Haida Gwaii sometime before European contact. Residents of Old Kasaan, one of the original Alaskan villages, moved to (New) Kasaan in 1902, and people from Howkan, Klinkwan, and other early Alaskan Haida settlements consolidated at Hydaburg in 1911. The distance from northern Haida Gwaii to Prince of Wales Island is not great, only about thirty-five miles. It is easy to imagine our forebears going across in their canoes: the Haida are justly famous as seafarers and boat builders. Our red-cedar canoes, some large enough to carry forty passengers, traveled up and down the coasts of Alaska and British Columbia and were sought in trade by Tlingit, Tsimshian and other peoples.

When the salmon start jumping in Kasaan Bay, it’s time to begin gathering the foods of our land. We pick sghiw (black seaweed) during the minus tides of May, when you can get out to the rocks where it grows. They spread it out on flat rocks to dry in the sun, took it home in gunnysacks, ground it up, and stored it as a savory food for winter. We love to eat it by the handful or sprinkle it on fish soup. As the summer goes on we fish for halibut and the different species of salmon that arrive in our waters. Sockeye from the Karta River, a staple of the diet in Kasaan, are smoked and preserved using an endless variety of family recipes. Clams, abalone, “gumboots” (chitons), crabs and shrimp are also harvested, and salmonberries, blueberries and huckleberries are picked as they ripen in succession. The men go deer hunting in the fall. Another staple is hooligan (eulachon) oil or “grease,” called satáw in the Haida language. Haida traditionally bartered for fish grease and soapberries from the Tsimshian in exchange for our dried seaweed and halibut. That kind of trading still goes on at the annual Alaska Federation of Natives convention every October, when everyone brings specialties from home to exchange for favorite foods from other places.

Family and Community

In a traditional Haida village, cedar-plank longhouses stood side by side, each paired with a tall pole displaying the crest animals of the clan members who resided there. An opening through base of the pole, representing the mouth or stomach of the lowest crest figure, served as the doorway to some houses. Like other southeast Alaskan peoples, the Haida are socially divided between Ravens and Eagles, each half (moiety) composed of numerous matrilineal clans. Traditional marriages were always between a member of a Raven clan and a member of an Eagle clan. The residents of a longhouse included multiple generations of male clan members and women of other clans who came there to live with their husbands.

Much of a child’s education was the responsibility of clan mentors outside the nuclear family: for a boy, this was his maternal uncle, and for a girl, her maternal aunt. On their pathways to adulthood, children received the names of ancestors, as well as piercings and tattoos that signified their clan and rank. Children still learn through watching and participating in the activities of the community. Our oral tradition is another participatory way of learning. Elders teach through stories, although the message may be indirect. If you seek an elder’s counsel, you might hear a tale about another place and time. It is up to you to think about the meaning and apply it to your own life.

The worst horrors of Haida contact with the West were waves of epidemic disease – smallpox, influenza, tuberculosis, whooping cough and others – that consumed the aboriginal population, unchecked by natural immunity. Perhaps fourteen thousand Haida in the 1780s had withered to six hundred by 1915. It is hard to imagine loss on that scale, not only of life, but also of culture and heritage. Most of the clan leadership was gone, and consolidation of the widespread population into just a few villages almost destroyed the complex social system as it had functioned until then.

Haida oral literature is renowned for its epic tales of battles and migrations, transformations from animals to human beings and vice versa, and journeys to spirit worlds in the sky and underwater. Other Haida tales, especially Raven stories, are simply fun with a touch of mystery. Raven, the comical trickster is always in trouble. Elders say that he turned black by getting stuck in the smoke hole of a house and being too fat and lazy to escape.

Today there are fewer than a dozen fluent Alaskan Haida speakers. I am fortunate that my mother, Julie Coburn, is one of them. Her Haida name is Wahlgidouk, “Giver of Gifts,” meaning a person who brings in presents to be distributed at a ceremonial giveaway, or potlatch. She has been giving the gifts of language and literature throughout her life. Keeping her language was a kind of heroism under all the pressures for acculturation. Her parents, concerned about their children’s survival in Western culture, spoke Haida to them at home but asked them to answer in English. At her boarding school in Sitka, speaking Haida was harshly punished. But as an adult in her fifties, she recognized that the language was fading away, so she relearned it and now has had the good fortune also to teach others. She participated in the Haida Society for the Preservation of Haida Language and Literature and contributed to work accomplished at the Alaska Native Language Center when Haida elders developed a standardized writing system.

Ceremony and Celebration

In 1880, Chief Son-I-Hat built Neyúwens ("Great House") near Kasaan Bay, a mile from the location where New Kasaan was later founded. That structure, today called the Whale House, was restored in 1938 by Haida craftsmen working for the Civilian Conservation Corps. The restoration included the house’s crest pole and carved interior posts, which portray Coon-Ahts, a legendary figure who captured the monster Gonaqadate and put on his skin to hunt whales. Surrounding the house are additional totem poles brought over from Old Kasaan and restored, along with copies of several more. The Whale House is the only surviving traditional Haida clan house in Alaska.

The English word potlatch has been used for traditional Haida ceremonies that centered on feasting, dancing and the distribution of property by chiefs and other leaders. The Haida word is 'wáahlaal. The largest potlatches marked the completion of a new clan house or the death of a chief and succession of his heir. Chief Son-I-Hat, one of the wealthiest Haida leaders, hosted numerous potlatches before his death in 1912. Potlatches were outlawed by the Canadian government in 1884, and they were discouraged by Christian missionaries who came to the Haida region in the 1870s and 1880s.

Despite attempts to suppress of our traditional ceremonies, we still hold feasts and memorial potlatches, but now in transformed ways. Traditionally, potlatches represented a time for the deceased person’s clan to repay those from other clans who had helped them at the time of the death. In many respects, a potlatch can be viewed as a social occasion but with very formal aspects, acknowledging the sadness of the loss but also marking the end of mourning. Potlatches are also the time to repay those who have served as witnesses for naming ceremonies. By accepting a gift, recipients acknowledge that the name is legally granted within the traditional Haida system.

We are celebrating and revitalizing Haida culture in southeast Alaska. Teaching the language and rebuilding the Whale House are just a part of it. Every summer in Kasaan, a culture camp for the kids is held, with storytelling, dancing and subsistence activities. They want to learn and are so proud of their heritage. What does it mean to be Haida? The answer now is different from that of the past, obviously. We need to know our history and learn from it. We need to know our culture and draw strength from it. We need to make it work for us today.

Tags: Haida, Alaska Native, Indigenous, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
20
 

Breaking Barriers: Race, Gender, and the U.S. Military

This collection brings together EDSITEment and Smithsonian resources to support the initial research into a project for National History Day 2020, "Breaking Barriers in History."

These resources—including photographs, objects, portraits, lesson plans, and articles—explore how individuals overcame barriers during and following their service in the U.S. military. Resources address how issues of race and gender operated as barriers to equal treatment for all those who serve in the U.S. military, as well as circumstances endured by veterans following the end of major wars. The experiences of members of the armed forces during the American Revolution, U.S. Civil War, WWI, and WWII are highlighted; however, other wars and perspectives should be considered when exploring these resources. The second resource of this collection contains questions to help with the analysis of a chosen topic alongside photograph, document, artwork, portrait, and object resources. 

By no means is this collection comprehensive; instead, it provides a launching point for further research.

This collection was created in collaboration with the Smithsonian Center for Learning and Digital Access.

Share your National History Day collections and let us know what you think! Write to us on Twitter: @EDSITEment and @SmithsonianLab, #NHD2020. If you publish a collection on your National History Day topic, be sure to enter #NHD2020 in the description!

Tags: military, soldiers, women, African American, Tuskegee, Airmen, Airwomen, war, World War One, World War I, World War Two, World War II, Red Jacket, Tayadaneega, Joseph Brant, Native Americans, American Indians, Horace Pippin, Theodore Milton Sullivan, J.W. Lucus, Buffalo Soldier, Charles Young, Carter Woodson, Willa Beatrice Brown, Bessie Coleman, Airforce, pilots, Jacqueline Cochran, Janet Harmon Bragg, Cornelia Fort, Nancy Love, WASPs, twentieth century, 20th #NHD

Cristi Marchetti
94
 

The Tlingit People and Their Culture

By Rosita Worl (Tlingit), 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

Lingít haa sateeyí, "we who are Tlingit," have owned and occupied southeast Alaska since time immemorial. When we say haa aaní, “our land,” we are speaking from the heart. Those words mean ownership, which we have had to defend through history. They mean identity, because this is our homeland. They mean the nourishment of body and spirit provided by bountiful rain forests, coasts and rivers. This land and its gifts have sustained us for hundreds of generations.

We believe that animals are our ancestors. Each matrilineal clan has its ancient progenitors. I am an Eagle from the Thunderbird clan, of the House Lowered from the Sun in Klukwan. I am proud to be a child of the Lukaax.ádi, or Sockeye, my father’s clan. The history of our lineages is portrayed by images of ancestral animals and by origin stories, ceremonial regalia, dances, songs and names. These things represent at.óow, or “crest” beings, to which each clan has exclusive rights. Mountains, glaciers and other places on the land are also at.óow, because they are linked to incidents in the birth of our people. For a Tlingit person at.óow embody history, ancestry, geography, social being and sacred connection. They symbolize who we are.

The Tlingit homeland extends from Icy Bay in the north to Prince of Wales Island in the south, some four hundred miles along Alaska’s panhandle. The population is about ten thousand, distributed among a dozen villages, cities and towns. The ocean spreads out before us, with a maze of wooded islands, fjords and channels that Tlingit seafarers historically traveled in cedar-trunk canoes. Behind us are high glaciated mountain ranges that extend inland from the coast.

Fish, especially salmon, is the most important and bountiful resource in the Tlingit region. Harvested in summer and fall and preserved by smoking and drying, it allowed the historical population to grow large, to live in permanent winter villages and to produce surpluses for trade. It is still the year-round staple of our diet. The winter is long, and we look forward to spring and to herring eggs. We pick spring greens as they come up. Through the summer people gather berries and put them away. Summer is the season for hunting seals, which are important both for meat and for their fat. Nutritionists note the exceptional quality of our traditional diet, which includes omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon, cancer-preventing antioxidants in blueberries, and the rich vitamins and proteins of wild meats and fish. We’ve always enjoyed the health benefits and superb tastes of those foods.

Community and Family

Tlingit are divided into opposing and complementary halves, Eagle and Raven, which are called moieties. Each moiety is composed of large extended families that we identify as clans. The clans, in turn, are divided into tribal houses. In the present day, many Tlingit people introduce themselves to others first by personal name and moiety—Eagle or Raven—and then by clan name and house. We inherit clan membership from our mothers but call ourselves the “children” of our father’s clan. In the past, children lived in the house of their father. But when a boy reached the age of ten, he went to live with his mother’s brother, who assumed responsibility for the schooling of his young nephew. A girl remained in her father’s clan house until she married.

Although locally organized by village and clan, our region was never politically unified until coming into conflict with the West. When the Treaty of Cession was signed in 1867 our great-grandparents were astonished to learn that Russia had purported to sell Alaska, including our aboriginal lands, to the United States. Tribal leaders sent a lawyer to Washington to tell the government, “If you want to buy Alaska, then buy it from us, its rightful owners.” The struggle for our land continued for more than a century. The Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Tribes, established during World War II, litigated for thirty years to reach a financial settlement over tribal property taken by the U.S. federal government to create the Tongass National Forest. In 1968, the Tlingit and other groups unified under the Alaska Federation of Natives to pursue both state and federal claims.

The Tlingit people, like all Alaska Natives, endured a long, hard fight for their civil rights. We were denied U.S. citizenship until 1922 and experienced decades of overt discrimination and segregation. Alaska’s own “Jim Crow” laws excluded us from stores, jobs, schools and public buildings. In 1945, the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood, based in southeast Alaska, finally won the repeal of discriminatory laws by the state legislature. To earn his Certificate of Citizenship, my grandfather had to pass an English-language and civics test administered by white schoolteachers and then have his application approved by a judge. To practice his rights as a citizen, including the right to vote, he was forced to show that he had given up his Native language and culture to lead a “civilized” life.

When he was dying my grandfather called me to his bedside. I was fourteen years old. He said, “I want you to build a fire in the clan house.” What he was saying is that my generation had to rekindle the fire of our culture and language. That became our responsibility. We have worked hard to help restore cultural knowledge, practice, pride and fluency among our people. We have had substantial success, as witnessed by the huge public expression of our cultures that takes place every other year during the regional Celebration gathering. Progress has been made with the Tlingit language as well, although I don’t know that we’ll ever speak it the way our ancestors did. I will tell you, though, that the voices of our ancestors will always be heard in our land. And our core cultural values will be maintained.

Ceremony and Celebration

One of our strongest values is the maintenance of social and spiritual balance between Eagle and Raven clans to ensure the well-being of society. In addition, we have spiritual obligations to ancestors and future generations, a concept of cultural perpetuation called haa shagoon. These traditional beliefs form the basis of ceremonies called ku.éex’ or potlatch in English. The most significant ku.éex’ ceremonies are memorials to those who have passed away. When someone of an Eagle clan dies, members of Raven clans come to assist the grieving relatives. They bring food, contribute to the funeral expenses and sit with the body through the night.

A year after the death the Eagle clan hosts a ku.éex’ for the Ravens, who come as guests. The hosts display their clan treasures, or at.óow. In this context, the word at.óow refers to works of traditional art that bear the images of crest beings. They include Chilkat blankets woven from dyed mountain sheep wool, button blankets, headdresses, carved and painted boxes, masks and drums. Clan ownership of these crest objects is revalidated by their presentation in the memorial ceremony, accompanied by a recounting of their histories and the origin stories of the crests themselves. Balance is maintained through the response of the Raven clans by presenting their own at.óow. The Eagle clan repays the Ravens, who came to the Eagles’ assistance, by distributing gifts and acknowledging them in oratory and song.

At a memorial ku.éex’ we name and honor the deceased person, our ancestors and others in the clan who have recently died. We feed these ancestors and departed relatives with their favorite foods, perhaps smoked cockles, gumboots (chitons) or deer meat. We transfer the food to the spirit world by fire or by giving it to the opposite side to eat.

If the person who died was a clan leader, his successor is named and assumes office at the time of the memorial ceremony. Therefore, a ku.éex’ has multiple functions: repaying the opposite moiety and reuniting with them, fulfilling spiritual obligations, and conducting legal and political affairs. This institution, which remains so vital and important in our contemporary lives, is far more complex than a stereotypical understanding of the word potlatch might imply.

Tags: Tlingit, Alaska Native, Indigenous, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska


Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
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The Eyak People and Their Culture

Coming soon!


Tags: Eyak, Alaska Native, Indigenous, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
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St. Lawrence Island Yupik Lessons: Language and Culture

The Alaska Office of the Smithsonian’s Arctic Studies Center hosted a St. Lawrence Island Yupik language and culture seminar in January 2012, bringing together seven fluent speakers: John Apassingok, Lydia Apatiki, Ralph Apatiki, Sr., Elaine Kingeekuk, Christopher Koonooka, Merlin Koonooka and Angela Larson. They met for five days to discuss Yupik objects in the Smithsonian exhibition Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska at the Anchorage Museum.

During the seminar, the St. Lawrence Island Yupik language was documented and language and culture teaching materials were written for use in schools and homes throughout Alaska and beyond. Twelve objects from the Smithsonian collections – with links below – are featured in the guide and lessons presented here. These resources pair with twelve video lessons that offer teachers, students, parents and lifelong learners access to the St. Lawrence Island Yupik language and lifeways.

Tags: Alaska, Native art, museum, education, language, Indigenous, St. Lawrence Island, Yupik, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
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St. Lawrence Island Yupik Language and Culture videos

The Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center hosted a language and culture seminar at the Anchorage Museum in 2011, bringing together seven fluent St. Lawrence Island Yupik speakers for five 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 on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska for the Yupik 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 St. Lawrence Island Yupik with subtitles in English and Yupik, for following along in both languages. An educational guide with twelve lessons is included below, along with links to objects discussed from the Smithsonian collections. 

 Tags: Alaska, Native art, Native culture, Indigenous, museum, education, language, St. Lawrence Island, Yupik, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
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Sewing Gut videos

The art of sewing sea mammal intestine – also called gut – is an ancient and practical one used to create water-repellant clothing and bags, as well as ceremonial garments. During a week-long residency organized by the Arctic Studies Center at the Anchorage Museum in 2014, Alaska Native artists Mary Tunuchuk (Yup’ik), Elaine Kingeekuk (St. Lawrence Island Yupik) and Sonya Kelliher-Combs (Iñupiaq-Athabascan) studied historic gutskin objects and demonstrated how to process and sew gut to students, museum conservators and visitors. A two-day community workshop in Bethel followed, taught by Mary Tunuchuk and hosted by the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center with assistance from Director Eva Malvich.

The video set presented here introduces the artists, examine historic objects made with gut from the Smithsonian collections, and offers detailed explanations and demonstrations. Learn how to process and sew sea mammal intestine (and hog gut as an alternative material for non-Alaska Natives); prepare grass and tapered thread for sewing; and complete a gut basket or gut window project. Links to a selection of Iñupiaq, St. Lawrence Island Yupik and Yup’ik objects from the Smithsonian collections made from gut are included below.

Tags: Alaska, Native art, museum, education, Indigenous, sew, gut, intestine, sea mammal, walrus, seal, St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Inupiaq, Iñupiaq, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
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Tsimshian Bilingual Guide: Twining Cedar

Red cedar bark twined basketry is a distinctive Tsimshian art form. With the passing on of elder master artists and the demands of contemporary lifestyles, it became at risk. A handful of weavers today are working to master and revitalize twined cedarbark basketry, reconnecting with a proud heritage. In 2016, the Arctic Studies Center collaborated with The Haayk Foundation of Metlakatla to document the materials and techniques of cedarbark basketry. The project included a harvesting and processing workshop and a weaving workshop in Metlakatla, and a residency at the Arctic Studies Center in Anchorage where artists studied baskets from museum and private collections, practiced and refined weaving techniques, and taught museum visitors and school children about basketry.

Teaching was led by Haida master weaver Delores Churchill, who learned from master Tsimshian weaver Flora Mather, with assistance from her daughter Holly Churchill, an accomplished weaver. In addition to Metlakatla students, three advanced Tsimshian weavers participated in the project, sharing techniques learned in their families and communities and learning new ones: Kandi McGilton (co-founder of The Haayk Foundation), Karla Booth (granddaughter of Tsimshian master weaver Violet Booth) and Annette Topham (niece of master Tsimshian weaver Lillian Buchert). Metlakatla elder Sarah Booth, a fluent speaker of Sm’algyax (Ts’msyen), assisted Kandi McGilton in documenting indigenous basketry terminology for use in language classes.

The bilingual guide below pairs with a set of 15 instructional videos included here. The guide provides step-by-step details about cedarbark basketry from harvesting materials to twining techniques in Sm’algya̱x (the Tsimshian language) and English. A twined cedarbark basket from the Smithsonian collections is also included below.

Tags: Alaska, Native art, museum, education, Indigenous, Tsimshian, cedar, bark, Metlakatla, weaving, basket, David Boxley, Kandi McGilton, Delores Churchill, Karla Booth, Annette Topham, Holly Churchill, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska
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Twining Cedar videos

Red cedar bark twined basketry is a distinctive Tsimshian art form. With the passing on of elder master artists and the demands of contemporary lifestyles, it became at risk. A handful of weavers today are working to master and revitalize twined cedarbark basketry, reconnecting with a proud heritage. In 2016, the Arctic Studies Center collaborated with The Haayk Foundation of Metlakatla to document the materials and techniques of cedarbark basketry. The project included a harvesting and processing workshop and a weaving workshop in Metlakatla, and a residency at the Arctic Studies Center in Anchorage where artists studied baskets from museum and private collections, practiced and refined weaving techniques, and taught museum visitors and school children about basketry.

Teaching was led by Haida master weaver Delores Churchill, who learned from master Tsimshian weaver Flora Mather, with assistance from her daughter Holly Churchill, an accomplished weaver. In addition to Metlakatla students, three advanced Tsimshian weavers participated in the project, sharing techniques learned in their families and communities and learning new ones: Kandi McGilton (co-founder of The Haayk Foundation), Karla Booth (granddaughter of Tsimshian master weaver Violet Booth) and Annette Topham (niece of master Tsimshian weaver Lillian Buchert). Metlakatla elder Sarah Booth, a fluent speaker of Sm’algyax (Ts’msyen), assisted Kandi McGilton in documenting indigenous basketry terminology for use in language classes.

The videos below pair with a bilingual guide included here. The videos provide an introduction to the artists and to Tsimshian twined cedarbark baskets, and they provide instruction on how to harvest and process materials and on how to weave a basket from start to finish. A twined cedarbark basket from the Smithsonian collections is also included below.

Tags: Alaska, Native art, museum, education, Indigenous, Tsimshian, cedar, bark, Metlakatla, weaving, basket, David Boxley, Kandi McGilton, Delores Churchill, Karla Booth, Annette Topham, Holly Churchill, Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center in Alaska

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