“Back when we were growing up, because of all the alcoholism, we were not proud to be identified as natives, because we thought native Aleuts were just a bunch of drunk people. But in reality that is not part of the culture. That was introduced,” Amodo said.
Now, some two decades later, Amodo, 55, can discern what effect Alutiiq Week, a program started in Akhiok back 23 years ago, has had on the generations that have learned the culture and handiwork of their forbears. When we started in 1991, Amodo explains, the children that took part in the Alutiiq cultural training during Alutiiq Week are actually better off now than the generations of children before this tradition began. “Now they are adults and they are parents, and you can see the change right from them,” she said.
Since 1991, Alutiiq Week spread to other villages on the island including Old Harbor and Port Lions. During the week, the entire village congregates at the schoolhouse to instruct children on Aluutiq traditions, culture, food, storytelling, music, and religion.
“Being native, being Aleut, being from Kodiak Island, you learn who the real natives were, how hard-working they were, how they shared everything. We need to teach our children who they are,” said Amodo. “It’s a healthy environment. They’ll be able to identify who they are and be proud of who they are.”
This year the program featured gillnet lessons from older fishermen. “They learned how to mend nets -- because that’s our livelihood,” Amodo said. Students also learned the craft of fur sewing, slipper-making, and knitting hats and gloves.
A lot about faith was extolled as well. And for Akhiok, that means learning a lot about Russian Orthodoxy. For Amodo, belief in God is why the tiny, little known village of Akhiok remains so strong, so vibrant, and so cohesive. “Not too many people hear about Akhiok and we don’t want too many people to hear about it. But there is a strong sense of community. We still have people here that believe in God, that fear God, and that love God. We believe in something greater than ourselves,” she said.
This year’s week featured a visit from St. Innocent’s Academy, which helped rebuild the village’s church, provided chess lessons, and taught the children how to play what could become a new beloved tradition in the village -- trash can. This game was popularized by the Academy at its home in Kodiak. It pits a hand-linked chain of participants against each other in trying to avoid bumping into a large trash receptacle while dancing in a furiously quavering and ever-shrinking circle.
Despite the fact that Alutiiq Week is held during the traditionally stringent Orthodox Lent, food shares the stage with all the other activities. This gives the village elders the opportunity to catechize youth on the art of cooking delicious foods that fall within the strictures of Orthodox Lenten fasting. “We cook, and we feed everyone in the community fasting foods,” Amodo said. “We’re teaching that you can still eat really well while you are fasting.”