“We play a mix of traditional games and modern, Alutiicized games and have fun practicing the language and introducing ourselves,” Alisha Drabek, Alutiiq Museum’s executive director told the Mirror at its second annual campout — a language and cultural Alutiiq immersion program.
Inclement weather that blew through early this week compelled Drabek to move the event indoors at Kodiak College this year.
The program used games, crafts and conversation to encourage language revitalization.
“The language is embedded with the culture, the way of seeing the world and the types of activities that we do as we are learning the language. The things you choose to talk about and the games that we play all pass on these types of values,” Drabek said.
Drabek reports there are 26 speakers of Alutiiq as their first language, and about 11 speakers of Alutiiq as a second-language.
Drabek, who led the activities in Alutiiq, is a second-language speaker.
“Our language movement has been going strong for the last decade, so I started learning nine years ago. Before that I only knew a few words. I’ve been studying with our elders several hours a day for several years. And we continue with that,” she said.
The two-day program was an add-on for what looks like an already full schedule for chances for people to hone their Alutiiq skills at the museum.
The museum hosts immersion sessions with Native elders every Monday, Tuesday nights at the museum, a language club on Wednesdays and a learners’ support group on Fridays.
The two-dozen or so first-language speakers of Alutiiq seems a far cry from the Russian colonial and pre-colonial days on Kodiak, when the region had thousands of Alutiiq speakers. Modern Alutiiq has around 15 percent of its words influenced by Russian, Drabek reports.
“People spoke Alutiiq all the way until the American period, so in the 1800s when America took over Alaska they changed the school system so that it was a policy of English-only,” she said.
“They visited homes and they told families, ‘Don’t speak your language to your children. You’re doing them a disservice, they need to learn English,’” said Drabek.
Families often complied with such requests to protect their kids from racial prejudice at school.
“Now it’s ironic for elders that grew up with corporal punishment in schools for speaking the language to now be invited back into the school to teach it. But they’re healing from it and they’re finally feeling comfortable with it. It’s quite a process,” she added.
The games include Maqa’iyuten, “you’re getting warmer,” Paaluc’kaq, an old-style hide and seek game and Alutiiq Twister. They also played Alutiiq baseball, called Laptuuk, in the ice rink at Baranof Park (story on page 8).
“Elders had wonderful games as kids. They played outside all the time and had all sorts of really interactive fun games so we make an effort to try and play those … so they’re not lost,” said Drabek.
Contact Peter J. Mladineo at firstname.lastname@example.org