Fire Bags, 1883, Ethnological Museum of Berlin, image from AMRC
Although it is only just the start of summer, it’s not to late to think about an exciting exhibit at the Anchorage Museum that will open near the end of summer. Dena’inaq’ Huch’ulyeshi: The Dena’ina Way of Living will be on exhibit from September 12, 2013, through January 2014. If you’ll be in Anchorage during this time, be sure to check it out!
About half of Alaska’s residents live in traditional Dena’ina territory, but there is little general knowledge about the indigenous people who have called the Cook Inlet region home.
For 1,000 years before the founding of Anchorage, Dena’ina occupied 41,000 square miles of southcentral Alaska. They were once the most numerous of all Alaskan Athabascan groups. Since the late 19th century, the Dena’ina homeland has been subject to the greatest settlement, urbanization and population growth of any Alaska region. Dena’ina have become largely invisible as a people and a culture, their history unknown.
The Anchorage Museum has set out to change that. Starting in mid-September, “Dena’inaq’ Huch’ulyeshi: The Dena’ina Way of Living” will be the first major exhibition ever presented about the Dena’ina Athabascan people.
The exhibition will have films, life-size re-creations, images, hands-on learning stations, audio and more than 160 artifacts on loan from museums across Europe and North America. These objects include everything from war clubs to chief necklaces to a bear gut parka, as well as some artifacts on loan from the British Museum that were collected during Captain Cook’s Alaska expedition in 1778.
Visitors will also learn what it means to be Dena’ina in the 21st century. Today, many Dena’ina continue to live a traditional lifestyle; although not the same as their ancestors, they practice the same traditions passed on through generations and share their understanding of how land, stories, and people are tied.
Karen Evanoff, author of Dena’ina Elnena, A Celebration: Voices of the Dena’ina, and exhibit consultant and supporter for the Anchorage Museum summarizes: “The Dena’ina exhibit tells not only a story of the past, but a story of the Dena’ina people today. Dena’ina people lived in the Anchorage area long before outsiders moved in. In the midst of tremendous changes and influence from the western society, the Dena’ina people have maintained their identity. The exhibit represents the four Dena’ina groups, separated by differences in language dialect: Upper Inlet, Outer Inlet, Inland, and Iliamna Dena’ina. This exhibit recognizes the first people of the Anchorage area and will educate the public in multiple ways. Not only will you see what is on display, but a way of life shaped by deep beliefs, values, spirituality and a relationship with the natural world. The Dena’ina people are honored to share their story and also to recognize and honor their ancestors of the past and elders of today.”
If you want to find out more about the rich history of the Dena’ina, make sure to stop by the Anchorage Museum to see this first of its kind exhibit!