Our Culture Today
Alutiiq Heritage Today
Alutiiq people are an essential part of daily life on Kodiak Island. We work in all industries – from education and fisheries, to medicine and the military. We own homes, send our children to public schools, run governments, and lead churches. Yet, beneath the familiar structure of American society lies an ancestral spirit – a deep connection to our heritage.
How do our people maintain their traditions in an increasingly global culture? For Alutiiq people, harvesting wild foods, speaking the Alutiiq language, creating artwork, and participating in heritage events maintains our link to the Alutiiq world and passes cultural knowledge forward. Being Native, however, isn’t about recreating the past, it’s about understanding the Alutiiq path and it incorporating into the present.
Alutiiq people no longer hunt with harpoons from skin-covered qayaqs. Aluminum boats and rifles are now traditional gear. Like all people, we continue to adopt new technologies. Yet most of our people still live a subsistence lifestyle, harvesting foods in time honored ways. We pursue animals as our ancestors did, with an intimate knowledge of the weather and the landscape, reverence for the animals’ gifts, and the desire to feed our communities.
Although nearly extinguished in the twentieth century, our language remains a central part of us. There are just a handful of fluent Elderly speakers, but many Alutiiq people understand the language and can speak words and phrases. Today, our young adults are learning, documenting, and teaching the language, reawakening Alutiiq speech. Alutiiq sounds are filling the air now, in conversations, songs, and even CDs, books, videos, and internet programs.
In the arts, Alutiiq people are combining old and new traditions to tell our stories. Carvers create masks with ancient forms, but they employ bright colors from modern fishing gear and materials from all over the world. Dancers perform in regalia inspired by historic dress, but they create songs and steps that recount events in their lives. And at our tribal museum – the Alutiiq Museum – artifacts educate thousands about the accomplishments of our people, while developing pride in our children.
Our culture is alive, and it informs and strengthens who we are today.
This cultural history is courtesy of Amy Steffian with the Alutiiq Museum