Alutiiq Songs Returned During Sitka Visit

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Maggie Wall/KMXT

Five Alutiiq songs that were lost to local Natives during the Russian era have returned to Kodiak thanks to Tlingit tribal elders in Sitka.

The five songs were part of an exchange of information and experiences between elders and children at the Alutiiq-Tlingit Sharing of Cultures event held last week in Sitka.

The Alutiiq Museum’s Sven Haakanson was one of those attending the event. He says the songs originally travelled to Sitka with Native men who were forced to the Sitka area to hunt sea otters by early Russian settlers who held their wives and children captive.

Haakanson tells how the songs came to be preserved so far away from their origin.

Alutiiq songs 1 :37 sec "The story…never died."

Haakanson says local elders became aware of the songs years ago…

Alutiiq songs 2 :32 sec "We’d heard…this is amazing."

The cultural exchange was funded as one of the National Park Foundation’s "America’s Best Idea" grants. This nationwide program brings young people and underserved groups into the national parks for learning experiences.

Participants harvested food from the beaches and forests. Prepared food including salmon baked in the ground and fried bread. They also wove spruce root rope and shared stories.

In addition, one day was spent travelling by boat to Poison Cove, which is located about 35 miles north of Sitka on the southwest side of Chichagof Island. Poison Cove was the site of a significant loss of lives in 1799.:

Alutiiq songs 3 :43 sec "And the other…it was amazing."

Haakanson says it’s hoped that the ravens tail blanket will be used during a future performance of the songs. He adds that it’s great to be able to learn about pieces of Alutiiq culture. But the best part is being able to share that new-found knowledge with others.

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