Gathering in Homer connects past, present

Posted: Thursday, September 12, 2002

As kayakers from Nanwalek, Port Graham and Seldovia cut through the satin-like, misty water, onlookers were treated to the echoes of traditions hazed over by time.

Generations ago, hunters returning after months away gathering furs were welcomed home by the entire village. Dancers performed as they pulled up on shore, and food and festivities were prepared in their honor.

While today the furs may be replaced with Gore-tex, a reenactment of a traditional Alutiiq vessel landing ceremony Aug. 31 bridged the span between cultures and eras, said one of the event organizers, Nick Tanape of Nanwalek.

"The big thing has always been being recognized for who we are, and recognizing ourselves, too," Tanape said.

The kayakers, many of whom were dressed in traditional garments and hats and head dresses, pulled up on the beach behind Pier One Theatre on the Homer Spit and were met by a group of five Alutiiq dancers from Kodiak who danced and sang in traditional vivid red, black and white clothing.

The vessel landing ceremony was part of "Tamamta Katurlluta -- A Gathering of Native Tradition," a weekend of events and festivities put on biannually by the Pratt Museum and the surrounding villages. Other events included a performance of Native dance and Native Youth Olympics demonstrations, as well as a potluck and harbor seal bio-sampling.

Tanape said he suggested such a celebration several years ago with the hopes of including more people in the experience of Native culture and traditions, and since then, the idea has taken off. This year, he said, he noticed more elders participating.

The festival has helped bring the communities across the bay and Homer together.

In the future, he said, he hopes more people will participate in the vessel landing, in all sorts of kayaks.

"I would like to get more people involved, people from other cultures," he said.

As well as the vessel landing ceremony, the museum's current Alutiiq exhibit, "Looking Both Ways," provided more opportunities to explore Native culture, both past and present.

Two men who contributed to the creation of the exhibit, Sven Haakanson and Gordon Pullar, both originally from Kodiak Island, discussed their efforts to rediscover the Alutiiq heritage with a packed room Aug. 30 at the Homer Council on the Arts.

Pullar said he became involved in rediscovering Alutiiq culture after rifts formed among people belonging to various Native associations.

As the president of the Kodiak Area Native Association at the time, Pullar was asked to do something about the problem.

"We had a lot of division on Kodiak among the villages and regions," he said. "We had lawsuits going in every direction."

Pullar said he asked Native elders what to do, and they told him people had gotten away from their culture too much.

"They told us people were not thinking as a group, they were thinking of themselves as individuals," Pullar said.

Over the next 20 years, emphasis on Alutiiq cultural activities not only helped bring the community together, it caused a cultural revival, Pullar said.

When it came to light that the Smithsonian Institute archives contained Alutiiq cultural items that had all but disappeared from contemporary cultural knowledge, an effort was launched to bring those items back to Alaska.

With the help of money from the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Kodiak Alutiiq Museum was born, and from that, the "Looking Both Ways" exhibit formed.

"I was told you can't really know where you are going if you don't know where you have been," Pullar said. "The events of the past influence where we are today."

"Looking Both Ways" will be on display through Sept. 15 at the Pratt Museum.

Carey James is a reporter for the Homer News.

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