Indigenous People’s Month

UAS celebrates native cultures with a variety of events

BAYLEE SCHNEIDER, Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong 

November is Indigenous People’s Month and UAS hosted multiple events to celebrate. 

Also known as Native American Indian Heritage Month, it was  first designated by Congress in 1990. The National Congress of American Indians recognizes Indigenous People’s Month as an “opportune time to educate the general public about tribes, to raise a general awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present, and the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges.”

At UAS, the Native and Rural Student Center hosted Formline Fridays. Students were able to select a t-shirt and use stencil formline designs made by Wayne Price, Associate Professor of Northwest Coast Arts, and program coordinator Davina Cole, as well as Lyle James, Native Art and Tlingit Language Instructor.  

Evening at Egan

During the month, Evening at Egan events featured Sol Neely, UAS Associate Professor of English, who traveled the Trail of Tears this past summer with his father and daughter. A citizen of the Cherokee Nation, Neely reflected on historical violence, the perseverance of the Cherokee people, and repair. Attorney and author Walter Echo-Hawk of the Pawnee Nation gave a lecture on his novel, “The Sea of Grass,” meant to inspire Native Americans to tell their own stories. UAS Associate Professor of Marine Biology Heidi Pearson helped the audience connect the Arctic regions through the science of blue carbon, stored in the marine environment. Finally, Portland State University Professor Emerita Swapna Mukhopadhyay argued that mathematics in school should relate to people’s lived experiences, called ethnomathematics. 

Native Youth Olympics

Native Youth Olympics kicked off its season at the UAS Recreation Center on Nov. 9, with a debut performance of the Yuraq dance group. There were an assortment of traditional games for people to watch and take part in, including the Alaskan High Kick, Inuit Stick Pull, Two-Foot High Kick, Triple Jump, Seal Hop, and Sledge Jump. This event was hosted by Wooch.een. 

High school students participated in Inuit Stick Pull during the Native Youth Olympics on Nov. 9 as Kaytlynne Lewis refereed at the UAS Recreation center.

Gathering of the Drums

On the afternoon of Nov. 16, the scent of yeasted dough filled the air at the NRSC as students made Indian Tacos to a blend of indigenous, hip-hop, and popular music. Then the tacos, hot drinks, song, dance, and storytelling were shared during the Gathering of the Drums at the Noyes Pavilion.

The Gathering of the Drums depicted the collaborative nature of the Juneau community and the cultures within it. James told his great-grandfather’s story about the first flood and his family’s migration due to the flood. Yuraq performed the “Seal Hunting Song,” and UAS students sang and danced along with Juneau community members. 

The new Yup’ik dance group, Yuraq, was organized  by UAS student Kaytlynne Lewis.

“I’ve been wanting to do this for almost two years now, and I’m finally deciding to make it happen,” she explained. 

Lewis is also a Native Youth Olympics coach, Wooch.een member, and I Toowú Klatseen (Boys on the Run) culture coach. She is from Bethel, where the Cama-i Dance Festival draws Native dancers from across the country. 

Participants warm their drums by the fire at the gathering of the drums at the Noyes Pavilion on Nov. 16.

Sharing Culture

“The main reason why I wanted to do this in the first place is so I can share my culture, help others understand where my people come from, and the traditions and the way of life of my peoples,” Lewis said. “I really just want to bring everyone together and learn about different cultures.” 

So far, Yuraq is composed entirely of women, but all UAS students are welcome to join.  

“You don’t have to be Native or you don’t have to be Yup’ik to be a part of my dance group. I want everyone to come join us, that’s the beauty of the experience,” Lewis said. “Yup’ik dancing is storytelling.” 

This sentiment was echoed by the stories told at the Gathering of the Drums, through the dances of Wooch.een and Yuraq, and the beats of the drums that unified the event-goers. 

It is important for the community to listen to Indigenous voices as they share their cultures every month of the year, but November is a great time to highlight the Indigenous community. 

Traditionally, dances have served as a form of entertainment, empowerment, and as a means to uplift the community, and it is especially important in the dark month of November that we find a reason to come together.

Diersen Bankert paints a shirt during a Formline Friday event.

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