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The Third Weaver

An Anchorage teacher reflects on her Educator Cross-Cultural Immersion experience at Atka Culture Camp

By Christine Terry

Before I applied for the Alaska Humanities Forum’s Educator Cross-Cultural Immersion program this past summer, I thought the fact that I was a 60-year-old grandma who had only been in Alaska for one year made me a long shot. Also, I wasn’t 100 percent sure I wanted to go. I don’t like to camp. I don’t like to be cold. I am shy in new social situations. I haven’t gone without a daily shower in decades.  But I recognized what a unique opportunity ECCI was, and I was willing to venture outside my comfort zone.

After finding out I would be going to Atka for my ECCI experience, the first thing I did was figure out exactly where Atka is geographically. It’s 1,200 miles southwest of Anchorage, on Atka Island, in the middle of the Aleutian chain. Next I researched some of the history of the island. In brief, Russian

 fur traders made first contact in 1741. Then in 1787, they forced the men of Atka to hunt and held the women and children hostage to make the men comply. Later, during World War II, the Japanese attacked the westernmost Aleutian island, Attu, taking the Alaska Native population as prisoners. The American government evacuated the population of Atka to the mainland and burned their town to foil the Japanese.

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To Learn, To Teach, To Eat

Summer immersion in Native ways of life

New teachers Gabrielle Brugato, Paul Gilbert and Paul Kirby practice teamwork as they pulled in a net on the Buckland River. The culture camp served as a pre-service for teachers brand new to teaching and brand new to the Region. Photo by David R. Smith, Northwest Arctic Borough School District.

By Angela Gonzalez (Athabascan)

Fred John Jr. attended the Bantzanetas Camp near Mentasta, the home of his late mother, Katie John. He said, “My mom told us about the importance of culture camps. You invite people from all over. You’ll learn from them, and they’ll learn from you. Like an ambassador.” Many villages across Alaska host culture or spirit camps during the warmer summer months. It is a time to be immersed in survival, language, traditional storytelling and Alaska Native ways of life. People of all ages get away from everyday life to learn how to cut, dry and preserve fish or meat and pick berries. They get to eat traditional foods and gain an appreciation about how it is caught and prepared.

Cultural exchange is the basis of two programs at the Alaskan Humanities Forum: the Creating Cultural Competence of Rural Early Career Teachers Project (C3) and the Educator Cross-Cultural Immersion (ECCI) Program. C3 aims to increase teacher retention and positively impact student achievement. The ECCI Program is an experiential program to help public school educators in urban Alaska better serve their Alaska Native students, communicate across cultural differences, and incorporate Alaska Native ways of knowing and learning into their classrooms.

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Award-Winning Playwright Opens Conversation about Suicide in Rural Alaska

By Lillian Maassen 

Anne Hanley grew up in Boston and moved to Alaska in 1976, settling in to pursue her writing passion in Fairbanks. In 2002, she won the Governor’s Award for Alaska State Writer Laureate, which position she served until 2004. She felt that the experience opened some doors for her, affording her opportunities such as attending the first meeting of state writers in New Hampshire. Plus, she says, it was fun to represent Alaska.  One of her recent plays, The Winter Bear, visited Anchorage in September as one of many stops on its tour of the state. The Winter Bear is based on the life of Alaska Native leader Sidney Huntington, who recently turned 100 years old and has spent his life mentoring young Alaska Native men. The play tells the story of Sidney’s relationship with one troubled youth who is contemplating suicide; at first, the two clash, but grow to share a common language and learn together to transcend the dark events of their pasts. The Winter Bear is part of a larger suicide prevention project including workshops, networking, and an emergency help hotline, with the goal of ending the suicide epidemic in Alaska. Last week, Ms. Hanley spoke with the Alaska Humanities Forum about The Winter Bear – the play, the project, and the message of hope.

Award-Winning Alaskan Artists Create Dialogue between Painting and Poetry

A Conversation with Peggy Shumaker and Kesler Woodward

By Lillian Maassen

Poet Peggy Shumaker and painter Kesler Woodward met as colleagues at UAF, where they worked for years in the English and Art departments respectively. In 2003, both retired and began the artistic collaborations that would cement their friendship over the next decade. Their most recent project, Sparks: A Conversation in Poems and Pictures, explores a wide range of thoughts and emotions communicated between Kes’ paintings and Peggy’s poems. The exhibit will be proudly featured at the next Alaska Humanities Forum Second Friday event, September 11 at 5:30 pm. Last week, both artists spoke with the Alaska Humanities Forum about the project, the process, and the unexpected journey of self-discovery.

How did the idea for Sparks come about?

Alaska Humanities Forum Joins Statewide Efforts to Revitalize Alaska Native Languages

By Lillian Maassen

Alaska Native Languages MapAfter nearly two centuries of cultural suppression, almost all of Alaska’s 20 indigenous languages today are either endangered or extinct; many have just a handful of fluent speakers remaining. Alaska’s first languages were pushed to the brink of extinction by rigid English-only school policies and government mandates that actively worked to suppress Native culture. Tragically, the damage was done much more quickly and effectively than it can be undone, but there are those who are still hopeful that steps can be taken to restore Alaska’s many voices.

A Week of The Winter Bear in Anchorage: September 14 - September 19

The Winter Bear ProjectThe Winter Bear is a play that tells the story of an Alaska Native teenager who rises above the traumas of his past to become a leader with the help of a mentor, the Koyukon Athabascan elder, Sidney Huntington. More than just a play, the Winter Bear Project combines community discussion, workshops, and potlucks with the theater production to "change the climate of fear and hopelessness that breeds suicide by broadening awareness, stimulating dialogue, and promoting healing through the performing arts."

In mid-september, the Winter Bear Project will come to Anchorage for a week of project-related events sponsored by the Southcentral Foundation, Alaska Pacific University, the University of Alaska Anchorage, and the Alaska Humanities Forum. 


Monday | 9/14/2015 
The Winter Bear, a Discussion with playwright Anne Hanley and Poet Stephen Bolen
7:30pm-9:00pm | UAA/APU Consortium Library, room 307
3211 Providence Drive Anchorage, Alaska

Wednesday | 9/16/2015  
The Winter Bear Project Documentary Screening and Reception
5:30pm-7:30pm | Alaska Native Heritage Center Gathering Room & Theater
8800 Heritage Center Drive Anchorage, Alaska

Friday | 9/18/2015
The Winter Bear: a play by Anne Hanley
7:30pm | Alaska Pacific University Grant Hall Theater
4101 University Driver Anchorage, Alaska

Saturday | 9/19/2015
The Winter Bear: a play by Anne Hanley
7:30pm | Alaska Pacific University Grant Hall Theater
4101 University Driver Anchorage, Alaska

For more information about The Winter bear Project, visit the website at or follow the project on Facebook at The Winter Bear Project.

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