Smithsonian Spotlight Talk June 2011: Ethan Petticrew and an introduction to Unangax culture

Every first Thursday the Artic Studies Center Alaska have what they call the “Smithsonian Spotlight” in the end of the Gallery (where you normally have the computer stations and visitor book). This is another way to make use of the collection and the ASC advertises these events by emails on several lists, and they are featured on the Anchorage Museum calendar (there it’s a little hidden at the bottom of the page I think) and on the Anchorage Event calendar .  There’s normally a good school class of people coming, a mix of culture/anthropology interested Alaska Native and non-Native people.

Last month it blended in with the Snowshoe Workshop, where the snowshoe masters talked to the public in a more formal setting than in the workshop area itself -but still with a personal and humourous tone.

This month the spotlight was on Unangax (some years ago called Unangan/Unangam Aleuts) culture and the outer Aleut Islands to the far west of Alaska with the multitalented cultural revitalizator, dancer, hunting hat carver, dressmaker, beadwork maker, teacher etc…Ethan Petticrew, currently working at the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

Instead of focusing on any objects in particular he decided to give us a personal introduction to the history of his people -which was very useful for an Alaska novice like me and apparently to the liking of the rest of the public too. He joked a lot, but what made the biggest impression on me was to hear how the generation of his parents had been evacuated during WWII and how that event was more destructive to their culture than the much criticized Russian colonisation. People were forced into camps on the inland with such inhumane condition that many died of sickness and even hunger, and this led to a cultural depression that they still struggle to get out of. It is always painful and uncomfortable to hear about such atrocities, even when it is not directly your own ancestors that can be blaimed for it.

So it was comforting to also hear the stories of how he and other of his generation have tried to revitalize their culture -and are continuing to do so and making people more proud of who they are. Especially touching to hear about when they had formed the first dance group and very nervously performed for the Elders to make sure that they were doing it the right way (having only learnt from documentation and stories). The Elders were silent, but impressed.

And so was I by this talk.

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About olaugirene

antropolog med forunderlig kjærlighet for museumsstøv
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