Nuuciq Spirit Camp celebrates heritage, arts, and language

Students hike around Nuchek Island during Nuuciq Spirit Camp. (Photo courtesy of Chugach Heritage Foundation and Chugach Alaska Corporation)

Commentary By Lauren Johnson

For The Cordova Times

Nuuciq Spirit Camp is located in Prince William Sound on Hinchinbrook Island and hosted every summer by the Chugach Heritage Foundation, the non-profit arm of the Chugach Alaska Corporation.

This camp provides an opportunity for students, elders, and instructors from the Chugach Region to share and learn the Native arts, lifestyle, and language of the people who have called this home for the last 5,000 years. Next year will mark the 25th year of operation.

Participants attended camp for a one-week session where they traveled by boat or floatplane to learn about and celebrate their culture and heritage. Classes offered from year to year include plant lore, bidarka (kayak) building, drum making, traditional song and dance, Eyak and Sugstun language, beading, basket weaving, fur sewing, carving, and subsistence.

Students attend a kayak class during Nuuciq Spirit Camp. (Photo courtesy of Chugach Heritage Foundation and Chugach Alaska Corporation)

Teaching the subsistence lifestyle is vital to ensuring our traditional knowledge is passed on for future generations to come. Participants were given a chance to catch, clean, smoke and can salmon. Seals, sea lions, and deer are harvested and processed. At low tide, chitons and snails are collected and eaten.

After projects are finished and a new skill is learned, campers spend the evening and weekends enjoying the beautiful nature that they are surrounded by; this is usually done in the form of a community walk around the island, bonfires, kayaking trip, or boat rides to observe whales, sea otters, and puffins.

Every year in July, the historic village of Nuchek, where our people once lived, comes back alive. This is an opportunity for our region to come together as one, to learn the history and share joyous events such as weddings and baptisms. This year at camp we celebrated the baptism of Taiana Kereti in the Church of the Transfiguration. Her patron saint is Helen, which is the same as her grandmother. We also had a memorial for one of our beloved elders, Henry Makarka. Makarka was 87 years old and had been a traditional teacher for many years. He was laid to rest in the graveyard behind the church. He was committed to the success of camp and the rebuilding of the old village of Nuchek, so that future generations of the Native people of the Chugach Region will never forget their heritage and the importance of the subsistence way of life.

Students, elders and instructors enjoy a bonfire during Nuuciq Spirit Camp. (Photo courtesy of Chugach Heritage Foundation and Chugach Alaska Corporation)

Lauren Johnson is the managing director of the Chugach Heritage Foundation.