Volunteers help kids study Native language and culture

Sulho Honkola learns basket weaving in Jessica Weaver’s Kindergarten group. Photo courtesy of Danaya Hoover

By Danaya Hoover
For The Cordova Times

Updated 2:03 p.m.

Cultural Week is a jam-packed week of fun and learning about the Native cultures in Cordova. Native Village of Eyak hosts this event each year and it all happens at Mt. Eccles Elementary School. From Monday, Sept. 27 through Thursday, Sept. 30, school staff and teachers worked together with NVE staff and community volunteers to educate students on Indigenous experiences, languages, activities, crafts, and cultural traditions. Kids are grouped together by grades: kindergarten; first and second; third and fourth; and fifth and sixth.

Throughout the week, they move through the school to different stations where they learn through hands-on and interactive lessons. All age groups attend daily language and dance instruction with Shyla Krukoff, learning both Eyak and Sugcestun languages through songs, dances and games. Native Youth Olympics was taught by coaches Nick Tiedeman and Jake Holley, with the help of youth volunteers Kiley Burton, Andrea Ronker, Greyson Merek, Alice Graves, Aaliyah, Willow and Taylor Tiedeman, Braden Beckett and Asha Estes. Youth helpers receive give-back hours from the high school for their time. Native Youth Olympics teaches the basics of Eskimo stick pull, scissor broad jump, seal hop, and one-foot and two-foot-high kicks. It is great to be able to teach the kids these events during Cultural Week. It gets them excited and eager to join the NYO team which starts practicing later this fall. NVE has both a junior team for younger kids and a Jr./Sr. High School team that travel to Anchorage and compete with other participants from all over the state.

Kindergarten guest teacher Jessica Weaver made woven berry baskets, and perler bead berries to go inside. They learned all about the different berries of the area and participated in fun games that taught them the weaving techniques used in their projects.

From front, Henry Kruithof, in a seal parka and beaver and land otter hat, and Kiley Burton. Photo courtesy of Danaya Hoover

Students were taught by a different traditional presenter each day. Monday, they learned about smoking fish with Mark King. They watched a video of the whole process and were able to ask questions and even got to sample the delicious smoked fish that was made in the video by King and Tina Fox. Tuesday’s lesson by Jessicca Morningstar was all about petroglyphs, images carved or worn into stone, and pictographs which are painted images. These were used to tell stories depicting animals, people, and activities. On Wednesday, Jamie Foode shared an assortment of furs. Kids were able to see and touch the animal hides of wolf, caribou, fox, otters, martin, ermin, bear, sea lion, coyote, beaver, and seal. Thursday, Angela Butler taught the kids all about the yarrow plant and they learned to do a plant rubbing with crayon that transfers the details onto paper.


Students also participated in daily craft classes for the last hour of each day. First and second grade was such a large group we split them into 3 classes. Jessicca Morningstar, Jessica Weaver, and Danaya Hoover continued the petroglyph lesson and helped students to create their own pictographs, painting them on rocks, different coloring sheets and masks. The last day they learned about trade beads, making their own necklace, and playing a fun trading game with the beads to acquire different colors.

Third and fourth grade crafts taught by Angela Butler and Jackie Ladd focused on yarrow. Kids learned the process to make a salve, and each got to take home a sample in a seashell.  They also learned that yarrow can be used as a poultice for wounds and how to make tea from the plant.

Willow and Nick Tiedeman demonstrate the Eskimo stick pull. Photo courtesy of Danaya Hoover

Fifth and sixth grade instructed by Raven Cunningham were taught a new skill and made beaded cow hide leather card holders.

This was my first year coordinating the event as Cultural Director for the Native Village of Eyak. I want to give a special thanks to everyone who worked so hard to make this year a success. I couldn’t have done it without you. Staff and volunteers, and youth who gave their time to help, I cannot thank you enough. Thank you, Principal Stephanie Milner, and all the staff and teachers at Mt. Eccles Elementary School.  You all do such a wonderful job. It was a great time had by all the kids and I look forward to working with you again next year.

Danaya Hoover is the cultural director for the Native Village of Eyak.