Chukchi Campus celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day
Communities across the Arctic spent Monday celebrating the first Indigenous Peoples Day since it was signed into Alaska law atop an oil drum by Gov. Bill Walker in Utqiaġvik last year.
In Kotzebue, the University of Alaska Fairbanks' Chukchi Campus held a daylong celebration filled with food, family and fun.
"I think it's really important for people to stop their daily routines and just reflect on who they are, where they've come from, think about what type of person they want to become, have fun, and reflect on their traditions and cultures and connect with each other, too. I think that is really important," said the campus's Interim Director Kristin Dau.
The day started early with the screening of a few movies celebrating indigenous history and culture. Also in the morning, there was a qayusaaq-making event. Qayusaaq is a type of local and traditional cranberry relish popular in the Northwest.
"We had several food demonstrations so people got to get their hands dirty and learn how to make donuts, knead the dough and shape it, everything involved in making them from scratch," said Dau.
The woman who showed participants how to make qayusaaq also demonstrated her donut skills.
"She came in and made the dough and made the qayusaaq. There were a few people who came in to help her," said Mary Booth-Barger, who works on campus. "We also had that for our potluck, the donuts and qayusaaq that she made and the people who helped her."
Along with the berry treat, volunteers made a plethora of other dishes to share at the community potluck lunch.
"We had baked, stuffed trout, baked red salmon, smoked salmon strips, smoked salmon fillets, baked halibut, moose stew, clam chowder, chile verde, we had our Eskimo donuts, different types of bread — and you know we can't go without our Sailor Boy crackers — and we had raspberry jam, qayusaaq, vegetables, rice, blueberry delight, blueberry cobbler, peach cobbler and brownies," said Booth-Barger.
After lunch, there were some activities for local kids, including arts and crafts and storytelling by local Elders.
"We made papier mache globes and talked about what it would be like to live somewhere else and we talked about different indigenous cultures around the world. We played a couple of Native American games that were fun. The kids were running and getting exercise," said Katie Hansen, from the campus. "The kids had an opportunity to listen to a couple of the Elders tell stories. We talked about stories about when they were younger, hunting implements they would use. [One Elder] told them about his experiences as a kid. We also had some Elders telling stories to a more adult group of people about hunting and fishing in the past, how things were done and how things are different from how they are now."
It was an opportunity for members of the community to bring their own experiences to the celebration, she explained.
Booth-Barger said she was happy Elders made the trip from Utuqqanaat Inaat — the long-term care facility — to the campus to join in the festivities.
"It was an awesome day for us and it was awesome that the Elders came from the center to join us. We had a lot of Elders from the community who came here to eat with us. They really enjoyed it," she said. "This was our first one and it was awesome."
Rep. Dean Westlake (D-Kiana) also stopped by for part of the event. It was a fun day, said the representative who was also present for the bill's signing last year.
Now, the staff at the Chukchi Campus are looking ahead to next year's holiday.
"We were really, really excited here. We know what worked for us and we're so excited to start planning for next year. We just felt like it was such a good success. It was fantastic," said Hansen. "It was a great feeling of community and togetherness. We were so proud to be part of Indigenous Peoples Day and celebrate it. We really enjoyed it and we're really grateful for that."