Adorable 4th graders pose with Octopus Bags they made during Culture Week. Photo credit Amanda Williams.

The Native Village of Eyak hosted Mt Eccles Culture Week: Mending Cultural Connections last month. Throughout the week, students’ grades K-6 enjoyed an array of culturally significant experiences, ranging from dance and language lead by Shyla Krukoff-Olsen to traditional way talks about regional species and uses, hunting, gathering and subsistence. The youngsters made beautiful mandala dream catchers, raffia dance fans and octopus bags during the craft sessions.

“This year is our seventh year of Cultural Week. The theme goes along with this year’s Sobriety Celebration theme, ‘Mending Cultural Connections.’ Throughout the week Monday Sept. 26 through Thursday, Sept. 29, Mt. Eccles Elementary students are submersed into a cultural learning experience … we have special guests this year from Chugachmiut that traveled from different parts of Alaska to teach traditional ways presentations, said Danaya Hoover, cultural director for the Native Village of Eyak.  “Each day covered different topics educating the kids on regional animals and their uses, traditional watercrafts, hunting tools and techniques, as well as hunting and gathering, respect and regional values. The kids also get to learn a craft project in the afternoons.”

On Friday, Sept. 30, an all-school assembly was held, inviting parents to come and see what their kiddos had learned during this very special week of celebration and learning.

“This year’s event falls on Orange Shirt Day so we will be inviting students to wear orange shirts to bring awareness and recognize survivors from (Native) residential schools, and the harm they caused to them,” Hoover said.

Lead by Jason Holley, Native Youth Olympic Events were also incorporated into the high energy week. Students learned the kneel jump, Eskimo stick pull, Alaskan high jump, 1-foot-high kick and 2-foot-high kick, arm pull, scissor broad jump and wrist carry.

“The beauty of Culture Week is that these young kids get to experience everything from language to Native Youth Olympics. It makes me happy doing this with the kids and that they are enjoying it. It’s like carrying on a legacy,” said volunteer and 11th grader Grayson Marek, who shared he is of Tlingit descent.

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Subsistence was also a big part of the weeks array of workshops. A traditional dish called Akutuq (also known as Alaskan ice cream) was made for the students with more modern ingredients. Tribal member Altana Hamilton, born and raised in Cordova, talked to the students about what foods grow in abundance in Cordova, and what we can eat from the earth to sustain us. Hamilton shared her mother was from Tatitlek, Alaska and her father was from Cordova.

“She (my mother) raised us to doing as much subsistence as we could. She did a lot with Bidarki (a common name for a species of chiton) did a lot with seal, a lot with fish. We berry picked a lot. My favorite recipe from my dad was pickled salmon, and my mother made great BBQ seal meat in the slow cooker,” said Hamilton.

“Native Village of Eyak and myself would like to thank Mt Eccles and their staff, and all of the volunteers, traditional presenters, craft teachers and everyone who helps make this special event possible. We are proud and happy to share our native history, culture and traditions with the youth of Cordova. It warms my heart to hear parents tell me how excited their kids are for Cultural Week,” said Hoover.

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Amanda Williams is a freelance reporter for The Cordova Times. She is also Aquatics Resource Management Assistant for Copper River Watershed Project. Williams is a Navy veteran who served during Operation Iraqi Freedom. She has worked for a variety of newspapers in the Lower 48. She first came to Cordova as a VetsWork intern working for the Forest Service as a public outreach specialist on the Cordova Ranger District.