The Heartbeat of Mother Earth drum group is surrounded by dancers Saturday afternoon during the Nghu' gentnik "a gift from me to you" gathering at Kenai Central High School. The event featured cultural performances, a career and education fair and vendor booths.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The holidays are a time when many gifts are given, from the candy handed out to children on Halloween, to the offerings of food on Thanksgiving, to the exchanging of presents at Christmas, and several local Alaska Native organizations added one more day of giving this weekend as part of National American Indian Heritage Month.
"It's called 'A Gift From Me to You,'" said Dana Verrengia, with the Kenaitze Indian Tribe, in regard to "the day of culture and education" held Saturday at the Renee C. Henderson Auditorium at Kenai Central High School.
The Kenaitze Indian Tribe, Salamatof Tribal Council and Kenai Peninsula Borough School District's Title VII Indian Education Program hosted the event.
"Basically we teamed up in a collaboration to both celebrate National American Indian Heritage Month and raise awareness that we're here, reaching out to the community, and providing service to our youth," said Michael Bernard, Title VII Indian Education Coordinator for the Kenaitze.
Dee Komakhuk, right, and her granddaughter Booyoowakhuq Tukshaq are reflected in a mirror on a table displaying jewelry Komakhuk and her family made and had for sale at the event.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The day's festivities opened with a welcoming prayer and a grand entry by the seven dance and drum groups, roughly 70 cultural performers in all, which performed throughout the day as individual groups.
"Everyone was up there signing and dancing at the same time. It was awesome," said Amanda Attla, one of the organizers of the event and a coach for the Kenaitze's Native Youth Olympic team, which also gave demonstrations of Native games throughout the day.
Many of the cultural performers were local, but Attla said at least two had made a lengthy trip to attend.
"We had one from Anchorage and one from Seward," she said, referring to, respectively, the Lepquihm Gumilgit Gagsadim Tsimshian Dancers and Qutechak Dancers.
In between performances there were tables set up where Alaska Native arts and crafts were for sale, and since the event was about education as well as culture, there were more than 20 tables and booths for a career and post-secondary education fair.
To name just a few, there were booths representing schools such as Kenai Peninsula College, the University of Alaska Anchorage and Alaska Vocational Technical Center; employment centers such as Alaska Job Center; Native corporations, military branches, and several local tribal programs.
"We want to let the kids know what's available to them after high school," Verrengia said.
"It's never to early to get them thinking about the future, so hopefully they'll go away knowing some of the opportunities available to them," Bernard said.
Many in attendance said they found the day to be informative, such as Jerry Fogg of Seward, who was their with his foster daughter Kiia Kubbard.
"We attend everything we can to make sure she takes the right steps to getting an education and talking the correct path in life," Fogg said.
"We recognize the importance of education and since she's a junior (at Seward High School) she's starting to make decisions about what she wants to do after she graduates, and we wanted to come and learn about scholarships she may be able to take advantage of as a Native, and other job opportunities available to her. It's been great. We've really found out a lot," Fogg added.
After the day's educational events wound down, there was more entertainment in the evening. There was a short play by the Kenaitze called "Nightwalk," a theatrical interpretation of the history of the Kenaitze people, according to Verrengia.
She said it presented "the history from pre-contact, to the arrival of the Russians, to Americans, to the Forest Service, through to today."
Following the play, there was a concert by the band "Pamyua," which Verrengia said is "an Alaskan Native musical group that mixes traditional Yup'ik music with modern, new-world funk."
To learn more about how National American Indian Heritage Month will be celebrated locally, contact Michael Bernard at 283-6693.
Joseph Robertia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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