The hillsides are brown and the days short. Dead leaves crunch under foot and the smell of wood smoke fills the air. Winter is nearing, but not everyone is indoors. Alutiiq people are still harvesting plants. Some pick low bush cranberries whose brilliant red fruit has been sweetened by the cold. Others gather fallen salmonberry leaves for use in healing poultices, or pull dried grass stems and pound them into banya switches. Whether you are splitting fire wood, collecting kelp for pickling, or gathering Labrador tea to make a throat-soothing gargle, there are many useful plants to harvest at this time of year.
The Alutiiq Museum’s latest publication explores these plant traditions, and many more. Naut’staarpet–Our Plants, A Kodiak Alutiiq Plantlore, is 181-page paperback filled with traditional knowledge. It features the research of Priscilla Russell, an ethnobotanist visited Kodiak communities in 1990 with support from the Kodiak Area Native Association. With her notebook and camera, Russell worked with more than a hundred community members to document local plants knowledge. She visited in different seasons, collected with people, and sat in their kitchens as they cooked and made medicines.
A team of editors transformed Russell’s research into a book, updating her report, selecting photographs, and adding Alutiiq language vocabulary. The book features 184 images of people, plants, plant harvesting tools, and environments from both Russell’s research and the museum’s collections. Alutiiq plant names appear throughout the presentation and include both terms shared by culture bearer Ephraim Agnot in 1990, and words provided recently by a team of Elder Alutiiq advisors.
“Russell’s research is incredibly important archive of cultural information,” said Alutiiq Museum Executive Director April Laktonen Counceller. “Her work provides a broad view of Alutiiq plant use in the twentieth century and an in-depth documentation of our traditional ecological knowledge. It is also preserves the knowledge of many Alutiiq people who are no longer living, whose knowledge would otherwise be lost to time.”
Naut’staarpet is available from the Alutiiq Museum Store for $25, in the gallery or online. Quyanaa to the Kodiak Area Native Association, Koniag, Inc., the Institute for Museum and Library Services, and the Alaska State Museum for supporting its publication.
Award for Excellence
Congratulations to our board, staff, and community advisors for receiving the 2017 Museums Alaska Award for Excellence. The statewide professional organization recognized the Alutiiq Museum for its innovative, interactive exhibit Pililuki–Make Them! Pililuki invites visitors to learn about Alutiiq graphic art, create artwork in our gallery, and add their work to the exhibit.
The award committee wrote that the Alutiiq Museum has, “taken a large step in expanding how people perceive the role of museums and how they experience exhibits in Kodiak. The project not only works toward the museum’s goal of encouraging diverse audiences, but challenges customary ways museums present information.”
Pililuki–Make Them! will be on display until January of 2019.
Photo: A child shares her scratch card in the Pililuki exhibit.
Alutiiq Memorial Park Takes Shape
A lot on the corner of Upper Mill Bay Road and Kashevaroff Drive is empty today, but plans are underway to transform this small, brush-covered piece of downtown Kodiak into a new city park. The City of Kodiak is currently considering a proposal from the Alutiiq Museum to dedicate the .34-acre plot to a memorial park honoring the ancestors of the Kodiak Alutiiq people. The idea for the park came from the museum’s Executive Director, April Laktonen Counceller.
“We want to have a place where our Alutiiq ancestors can be publically honored and remembered in a culturally meaningful way”, said Counceller.
The City of Kodiak owns the land for the proposed park. The parcel lies behind the Alutiiq Museum, under a patch of alder and salmonberry bushes. With the assistance of Kodiak Mayor Pat Branson, and a community steering committee, the museum is developing plans for park facilities. The group envisions easy maintained landscaping and features inspired Alutiiq traditions. Counceller explains.
“Our working plan is to have a pathway across the lot that intersects a memorial area. The memorial would be a large concrete circle planted in the center with Forget-Me-Nots, and encircled by concrete benches. The circle is an important symbol in Alutiiq culture. Circles represents the universe in Alutiiq art, and circular holes can act as passageways between the human and the spirit world. They are also symbolic of vision and awareness. In addition, we would like to install signs that tell people about the memorial project and introduce Kodiak’s Native history.”
Funding for the project would come from donations and sales. Community organizations have already offered to provide labor and supplies, and the Alutiiq Museum proposes to lead the project and raise the remaining funds through grants and brick sales.
“People would be able to buy a paving stone for the park walkway, and to have a name engraved on it,” said Counceller. “We would welcome anyone to put their name on a brick, to share a message, or to remember a loved one. We see the park as a place for people of all heritages to learn about Kodiak’s past and to memorialize those who came before us. All of us have ancestors and a history that deserves understanding.”