The Alutiiq Museum showcased Kodiak’s cultural diversity at Culture Fest with Alutiiq and Polynesian dance performances, and a Russian folk music show on Saturday. 

In conjunction with culture fest, the nonprofit museum also held its annual board meeting. 

“We thought, wouldn’t it be a lot more enjoyable to have a cultural festival to celebrate our heritage, but then also, at the same time, do our annual gathering with the board members and the membership of the museum,” said April Counceller, the museum’s executive director. 

More than 150 people attended Saturday’s festivities, according to the museum, which aims to preserve and share the heritage and living culture of the Alutiiq people, 

“Growing up as an organization, we’ve reached a certain level of popularity and interest in the community,” Counceller said. “It feels really good to see that appreciation for the (Alutiiq) culture and feels like our mission is having an effect.”

The event began with a lamp lighting ceremony, in which an Alutiiq elder and a youth lit an Alutiiq stone oil lamp, representing the passing of knowledge from one generation to the other, Counceller said. 

Following the oil lamp lighting ceremony, the Kodiak Russian Balalaika Players dressed in traditional Russian folk attire — lace or flower headdresses, long tunics — with floral babushkas draped over their music stands, played melodious and foot-thumping songs. 

The group played balalaikas and domras — guitar-like stringed instruments — as well as an accordion and percussion instruments, while singing Russian folk songs in English. 

After the balalaika players finished their music set, the museum’s board members met for their annual public board meeting. 

Counceller presented a financial overview of the museum’s fiscal year 2018 finances and 2019 program updates to the eight board members present and the three board members who called into the meeting. 

The attendees included two representatives of the Kodiak Area Native Association, two representatives from Koniag Inc., and one representative from each of the other Native corporations, Counceller said.  

The Alutiiq Museum received $330,000 from Gold Cache Bingo donations through its minority partnership with the Kodiak Area Native Association, “which is almost a third of the annual revenues for our organization,” Counceller told the board. 

Admissions and sales are also up for FY2019. 

Although the increase in sales could be due to the high number of cruise ships visiting Kodiak, Counceller said she also has observed an increase in sales among Kodiak residents. 

She noted that this year and for the past three years, the museum has had a surplus of money at the end of the year. 

“We’ve had an increasing amount of surplus at the end of the year, which is directly into the organizational savings,” Counceller said. “We are now approaching a million dollars in total net assets, which is the most our organization has ever had.

 “And we are now starting a burgeoning partnership with the Fish and Wildlife Service or refuge helping us a lot with repatriations,” Counceller said, referring to the  repatriation of human remains, funerary objects, sacred objects, and objects of cultural patrimony held in its repository, according to the museum’s website.

Counceller also highlighted the success of recent museum projects.

“The Ancestor Memorial Park project was a big success ... We exceeded our fundraising goal and established a $30,000 account to care for the park into the future,” Counceller said.

Alutiiq regalia arrived from France last year and included a beaded headdress, cuffs, and a dance belt that were collected in the 1870s in Afognak village. With funding from the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs, the museum in partnership with the Sun’aq tribe, will begin to study these items in November, she said. 

Following the board meeting, the Kodiak Samoan Dancers performed three dances and the Kodiak Alutiiq Dancers closed the meeting with chants, drumming and traditional dances. 

“When I was growing up we never did anything like this (event). I think when I was a kid they had the first Alutiiq dance group, but most people didn’t know about it,” Counceller said. ”The Alutiiq museum didn’t even exist. It wasn’t until I was almost out of high school that the museum was built.

“Now my kids have grown up having such an important place that helps protect our (Alutiiq) culture,” she said. “We’ve come a long way in the past couple decades.”

 

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