Alaska Native Heritage Center

Review

of an Exhibition

by Beth Redmond-Jones

Published on August 28, 2007

  • Description:

    After a 11 hour trip from Philadelphia to Anchorage, my 12 year old daughter, Naomi, and I visited the Alaska Native Heritage Center. I had been there several years earlier, but this was the first time for my daughter, so I let her lead our experience. Alaska’s Native people are divided into eleven distinct cultures, speaking over 21 different languages. The Alaska Native Heritage Center is organized based on 5 cultural groups which are similar in culture or geographic proximity. As we approached the entrance an large sculpture of a raven welcomed us to the Heritage Center. Then we entered into the large lobby and programming area called the Gathering Place. We looked at the map and Naomi immediately wanted to go outside and walk around Lake Tiulana and see the different native people’s villages. As we made our way from one village to the next, we found that the interpretive signs that showed where each native people lived was very helpful, but other interpretive signs were way too much information to read. The villages were very interesting architecturally and inside each house, visitors could see tools, games, animal pelts, and other items that that specific cultural group used historically and currently as part of their everyday life. The best part of the villages however were the interpreters. Each village had one or two interpreters from that cultural group. They discussed everyday life historically and in the present day, talked about where they were from, taught us some words in their language (which I hate to say I can’t remember now), and answered our endless questions. The thing that impressed me was their passion and their desire to engage the audience so visitors would have a better understanding and appreciation for the various cultures. Talking with each interpreter was the highlight of our visit. Back inside the Center, we were able to see one of the dance performances in the Gathering Place. Their dance program engages teens from the different cultural groups to learn the languages, music and dances of all of the cultural groups. The least engaging part of the Center were their exhibits. The objects were beautiful but lacked that engaging quality that the villages had. If they had had interpreters in the exhibit area to help interpret the objects, that may have helped. The final aspect of our visit was a visit to the artist studios where artists representing the different cultural groups displayed and sold their artwork which included everything from hair clips make of seal skin and whale bone and baleen, to walrus tusk necklaces, to paintings and photographs. Many of the items sold support subsistence living. Overall, we had a wonderful time and we highly recommend that if you are ever in Anchorage, you make a trip to the Alaska Native Heritage Center.

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