Talk of The Rock: How one museum is finding opportunities and spreading the Alutiiq culture during the pandemic


The pandemic has been an awkward time for many museums, but not for the Alutiiq Museum and Archeological Repository. Djuna Davidson and Dehrich Chya from the museum joined KMXT’s Dylan Simard to discuss the museum’s response to the pandemic, and the programs they have been able to run in spite of the challenge.

Davidson, Public Programs Manager for the museum, pointed to one program that has stood out during the pandemic.

“One of the things that we’ve pivoted is with our educational programming; we have these education boxes that teachers can check out and use to lead lesson plans in their classrooms about different aspects of Alutiiq culture,” Davidson said. “And we have nine different boxes that range from sort of the introductory ‘Who are the Alutiiq’ to very specific ‘Alutiiq Plant Lore,’ or ‘Alutiiq Dance’ or ‘Alutiiq Masks.’ This is a program that we’ve been doing since the museum began. And each education box has a variety of lesson plans, handouts, tangible, touchable items. Like in the plant lore box, we have samples of a lot of different local plants that were used in Alutiiq culture, and are still used today.”

Chya lends his voice for Alutiiq Word of the Week, and is the museum’s Language and Living Culture Manager.

“There’s sort of two sides to this, to the issue of having to move to this digital platform,” Chya said. “One is that again, it’s just so much easier on the participants to be able to see each other (in person) and then the latency, that delay, and everything is kind of difficult to deal with as well, because everybody eventually starts talking over each other, and then you can’t hear anything. So on that side of it, it’ll be great when we can have in person gatherings again. But on the other side, it’s easier to get people involved who don’t live in Kodiak.”

He says that the shift online has seen the Alutiiq language program expand outside of US borders.

“For the first time that I’m aware, we have people participating who don’t live in the state of Alaska, let alone in Kodiak. People in Washington state who are able to call in, somebody in Korea, South Korea calls in every week to participate in the Alutiiq language club,” Chya said. And so, I think it’s helped us to realize that maybe we should continue having some sort of online forum, even after we’re able to have these in person gatherings so that we can continue to let people get involved… not bound by geographic borders anymore.”

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