From Nanwalek elder Nick Tanape’s desire to let people know “who we are that existed in Cook Inlet, Kachemak Bay and Prince William Sound, who were the first people here,” comes “Tamamta Katurlluta: A Gathering of Native Traditions.”
The celebration began in 1997 and has occurred almost every two years since then, organized by the Pratt Museum.
Tanape’s vision was for villagers to bring projects they had been working on to Homer, arrive by traditional qayak and be welcomed by dancers from this and other areas of the state.
That first year, he was surprised at the crowd of “something like 500 people” awaiting the arriving villagers. “It was a tremendous turnout,” said Tanape in a video of the event created by videographer Paul Gray of Exploring Alaska.
This weekend, Tamamta Katurlluta, literally translated “all of us gathering,” begins with a reception at the Pratt Museum on Friday evening.
“It is open to the public and includes Chugachmiut heritage kits,” said Scott Bartlett, Pratt’s curator of exhibits.
The gathering continues Saturday with a ceremonial landing of qayaks on the Spit near Pier One Theatre, carrying representatives from villages across Kachemak Bay.
Father Thomas Andrew, originally of the Yukon River village of Marshall and now serving at the Holy Assumption of the Virgin Mary Russian Orthodox Church in Kenai, will give a blessing to the qayaks and arriving villagers.
Then the arrivals will be welcomed with song, drumming and dance performed by Yurapik.
“We all reside here in Anchorage, but we’re originally from the lower Yukon,” said Valerie Tony, director of Yurapik.
The group has been performing since 2009, and has about 15 members ranging in age from 10 to 70 years old.
“The message that we like to share comes from our ancestors speaking,” said Tony of the group’s traditional Yup’ik songs, “some of them dating pre-contact, pre-Captain Cook, pre-1792.”
Following the format of Yupiit, plural for Yup’ik, the songs are constructed with a chorus providing the layout of the song’s story, followed by verses telling the importance or moral of the story.
“What was important for our ancestors also is important for us today,” said Tony. “That’s why we’re sticking to the older songs. … They have a melody and message that’s important, that’s worth repeating.”
The song chosen for the arrival of the qayaks is a blessing or a purification song.
“We learn how to purify ourselves no matter where we are, no matter if we are out at sea or on the land,” said Tony. “It’s appropriate to do it wherever you are. ... That includes thanking your creator all the time, thanking your creator for all you have. That is actually the underlying message of the purification song. It’s a thank-you to the creator.”
Back at the Pratt, activities throughout the afternoon include a community potluck and performances by Allison Warden, an Inupiat from Kaktovik. Area residents may remember Warden from her performance of “Ode to the Polar Bear,” which she performed in Homer as part of Out North Theatre’s Under 30 series. The potluck includes food from Nanwalek, Port Graham and visiting guests, said Bartlett, adding, “the community is encouraged to bring their own dishes to share.”
The afternoon program also includes demonstrations of the Native Youth Olympics and the Alaska Native Harbor Seal Commission.
The gathering wraps up at the Mariner Theatre with an evening of dancing and culture, featuring the Nanwalek Seal Dancers, the Paluwik Alutiiq Dancers of Port Graham and more from Yurapik.
“With every song we do, we want to encourage participation,” said Tony, not only eager to share the message in the songs Yurapik will perform, but also the dances they will do.
“When it comes to the point you can close your eyes and dance, wow, you’ve really gone on beyond what this world can offer,” she said.
Bartlett said the gathering is due, in large part, to an outpouring of community support.
“It’s another great community involvement project which has been a lot of fun,” he said. “We’ve very grateful.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at email@example.com.
Tamamta Katurlluta: A Gathering of Native Tradition
Organized by the Pratt Museum
5-7 p.m.: Welcome reception, featuring Chugachmiut heritage kits, Pratt Museum.
Noon: Qayak landing ceremony, Homer Spit behind Pier One Theatre.
1:30-5 p.m.: Community potluck, events and performances at the Pratt. Bring a dish to share.
7 p.m.: Evening of dance and culture featuring guest performers Yurapik and regional performance groups, Mariner Theatre. Admission $5 at the door; ages 12 and younger free.