The Native Village of Afognak dedicated its new mess hall at the Dig Afognak campsite on Saturday to two elders who devoted much time to the camp.

Dig Afognak, a series of youth camps focusing on cultural activities during summer, has had separate tents for eating, cooking and storage for years.

“(Tribal administrator Melissa Borton) talked to our council and they had envisioned a no tent camp,” said development director Stacey Simmons.

Three tents required extra work every season, as they needed to be taken down, and since only the kitchen tent was heated, elders and everyone else were separated during meal times since the elders needed the warmer area, which couldn’t fit everyone.

“We couldn’t have a family-style eating area where elders and youth can sit together,” Simmons said. “They really wanted to make that a priority because in our culture, in the Alutiiq culture, family is important.”

They’ve slowly raised the money, including selling glass tiles with sponsors’ names that will be placed on one of the hall’s walls, to build a mess hall to take the place of all three tents.

In the new mess hall, there’s room for everyone to eat together, and the kitchen and food storage are in the same building, saving time.

Construction on the mess hall began in May and finished just days before the first Dig Afognak camp of 2015 started, Simmons said.

Although the building is enclosed, heated, has running water and is in use this summer, it’s not quite done yet. The interior still needs to be finished, permanent furniture needs to be purchased, and the sponsor plaques still need to be installed, which will all happen as funding comes in.

On Saturday, the mess hall was dedicated to the late Dennis and Julie Knagin.

They helped create and keep Dig Afognak going, Simmons said.

The building will have a photo of the couple and a dedication to them that reads in part, “We honor Julie’s belief that we cannot ever give up on a child because of their actions, we just need to work hard to find the happiness within each child and bring it out of them. We honor Dennis’s strong need to preserve our language and culture by remembering and honoring our history as Alutiiq people.”

Julie Herrmann is a staff reporter at the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at 486-3227 ext. 627.

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