Sunday, July 8, 2012

Wednesday, July 4: Happy Independence Day! Ron and I head for the Alaska Cultural Center after the best continental breakfast we’ve had this trip—hash browns, scrambled egg and sausage! The Center is amazing; the staff is so cordial and accommodating. There is an amphitheatre below the main entrance where we watch some young costumed natives dancing and drumming; traditionally, they did it mostly in the winter--it helped them keep warm. (We meet Roberta Lein’s grand-niece Caroline who is a dancer there!) The families lived in large groups in winter too for the heat! The amphitheatre is also the site of storytelling (Raven is a common mythical character) and demonstration of native sports. Then we go on a tour and see models of the houses of the five groups represented at the Center: the Inupiaq of the northern coast and the Yupik of near-by St Lawrence Island, the Yup’ik and Cup’ik of the western coast, the Sugpiaq of the Aleutian Islands and the southern coast, the Eyak/Tlingit/Haida/Tsimshian of the extreme southeast, and the Athabascan. The groups are divided by the languages that they speak. The coastal groups traditionally had houses that were earthsheltered because there was little building materials; the entrances were small to conserve heat and keep predators out. The reason they ate whale (and other meats) raw is because there often was no fuel to burn to cook. Driftwood was too valuable as building and tool material to burn up. The Athabascans closely resemble our plains natives in dress and had winter lodges of wood; it was plentiful and available. Most the groups moved around to gather food, and built temporary shelters at food-gathering camps. I was fascinated by each groups’ art, how items were of materials available to them and how they made the things they used everyday beautiful. My favorite is the Haida art—colorful and graphic, and they use buttons to decorate their robes. (Apparently the missionaries were unhappy with the way their clothes hung open, so they sent buttons—but with no instructions how to use them. The natives used them for decorations!) We have a tasty reindeer sausage on a bun, then head for Emmons. Sue and I go to the Anchorage Museum. There are exhibits of contemporary Alaskan art—very cutting edge, a huge exhibit about climbing Denali, a hands-on lab for kids, and extensive Smithsonian traveling exhibit about native cultures of Alaska, and an exhibit of historical items of Alaska’s past—wonderful! I knew that the Alaskan flag was designed by a 13-year-ole in a contest; but I didn't know his name was Benny Benson, he was a First Nation orphan sent to Seward to be raised, his house is still there, and he did it in 1928! The Emmons treat us to a barbeque rib dinner topped off with red velvet cake; then we say our final goodbyes. We head for Tok tomorrow. A little washing, a little cards and I’m pooped!

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