Moose statue outside of Anchorage Museum
What is that bright object in the sky? Donning sun glasses for the first time in several days we walked to the Anchorage Museum this morning. It is a beautiful, modern building with 4 levels of exhibits, a planetarium, a restaurant, and a Discovery Center for children. On Level 2 the exhibit we were there to see is called, I Am Inuit. The exhibition features the photographs of Anchorage – based Inupiaq photographer Brian Adams. Adams traveled to Inuit communities throughout the Alaska Artic to capture Inuit life, taking pictures of individuals and telling their stories. The picture of Lyndon Wegionanna in Shishonaref, AK shows her standing by the sea shore. She shared her perspective of being Inupiaq in this part of Alaska: “I am 18 and every year I see the land slowly decreasing. People call it climate change; others call it the big bologna. If they came up here with us for a year they would see what we are talking about…” Another young woman who is a rapper put it simply: “I can’t live without ice.” For all of these “first people” of Alaska whether they are Athabascan, Inupiaq, Tsimshian, Tlingit, Haida, Yupik, or Alutiiq / Sugpiaq value their culture. The elders of their tribes speak with one voice in telling their young: “Always know who you are”
This afternoon Debbie and I went to the Alaska Native Heritage Center. This unique center just north of Anchorage is a place where engagement with native culture is encouraged and questions are welcomed. Notable to me at this place were the number of young people involved in every part of the Center. Dressed in Native dress, they guided us through exhibits, danced, and made themselves available in many other ways to answer questions. We watched a short film about totems adding to what we learned in Ketchikan at Totem Bight. As we walked through the indoor exhibits there were Native artisans working. A man who makes brightly colored tiles from the clay found in Cook Inlet; several women threading tiny beads to make beautiful jewelry, including one woman who works beside her 85 year old mother! There were salves made from local herbs and plants, carved walrus ivory and semiprecious stones set into pendants and other jewelry.
If you look closely at the woman’s face in the picture above you will notice some lines that are tattooed below her mouth. The women of this Native tribe have researched the facial markings that their female ancestors wore and are restoring this tradition . These lines represent a woman coming to age or to womanhood.
In the late afternoon we watched as Native women danced, performing to the drumming and singing of the men. Each song represented a story about tribal life and nature. Behind the performers on the stage was a map of Alaska with different colors representing the areas of each tribe. The men start very young as you can see in these pictures:
And here is a sample of the dancing, drumming and singing that we saw:
Before the afternoon was over we walked around the lake behind the Center to view the various village sites representing the major cultural groups. Each tradition opened up their distinctive way of living whether the long houses of the Haida or the underground houses of several other traditions In one village setting the jaw bones of a great whale were set into the ground like a parentheses on the shore of the lake. Travelers spotting this gate of greeting would know they had come to a safe place. Jaw bones which are 8 – 9 feet high certainly lend a whole new picture of how Jonah was swallowed by a whale!
One treat of being in Anchorage with people who have been here before is the chance to visit their favorite eating establishments. Here are a couple of pictures from our dinner Friday night. We were at the Glacier Brew House. The waiter Mark was so cute with Aida!
Tomorrow we leave on the train for Denali. We will see if the great mountain will show herself to us as we tour this National Park.