Protect and Preserve
Warding against the
incalculable loss of
Alaska Native culture
By Judy Mottl
The Alaska Native population accounts for 15. 2 percent of Alaska’s 731,449 residents, according to July 2017 data
from the United States Census Bureau. Alaska’s Native population is dispersed among
229 federally recognized tribes, nearly half
of the 562 Indian Nations recognized in the
Alaska Native culture is diverse and
deeply rooted, and there’s a strong movement throughout Alaska to protect and share
Alaska Native heritage, culture, lifestyle, and
Dozens of organizations and groups are
driving preservation efforts, everything from
public education programs to sharing tribal
traditions with younger generations; cultural
events highlighting Native heritage; ensur-
ing tribal languages are not only kept alive
but are expanded; and the development of a
memorial park addressing historic and cur-
rent issues regarding ancestral remains and
A Park with Purpose
The Alutiiq Ancestors’ Memorial park project is led by the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository, a nonprofit organization
focused on preserving and sharing the cultural traditions of the Koniag Alutiiq branch
of Sugpiaq (the ancestral name for Alutiiq).
It’s slated to open next fall on a one-third acre
lot in downtown Kodiak situated next to the
The memorial space will feature four interpretive signs introducing the Alutiiq people
and their heritage as well as historic preservation messages. The park will also feature
a circular planter with bench seating and a
pathway. The circle is an important symbol in
Alutiiq culture as it represents the universe
in Alutiiq art, and circular holes can act as
passageways between the human and the
spirit world. A circle is also symbolic of vision and awareness.
Groundbreaking is planned for late May
with the official opening slated for Septem-
ber. The primary goal is to acknowledge the
contributions of the Alutiiq and other Alaska
Native communities to the cultural fabric of
Kodiak and encourage respectful treatment
of ancestral sites and burials.
“It’s one of the things our director has
wanted to do for a number of years—create a
very visible presence for the Alutiiq people in
downtown Kodiak. A place people could easily, freely gather to think about Kodiak’s past
and how the Alutiiq people have impacted
the fabric of the community,” explains Amy
Steffian, the museum’s chief curator.
The park is also a way to return a sense of
dignity to the tribal population and acknowledge its history—the difficult parts as well as
the celebratory parts—notes Steffian.
“It’s an acknowledgement to those who
shaped Kodiak with blessings and remembrances,” she adds.
The interpretive signs, she explains, will
also offer visitors insight on the need to care
for ancestral sites.
“Kodiak has more than thousands of archaeological sites and they are threatened
by erosion and by vandalism as [human]
remains are sometimes taken, not as much
by researchers anymore but by people who
don’t understand what they’re finding,” says
Sealaska Heritage Institute sponsors Baby Raven Reads, an award-winning program that promotes early-literacy, language development, and school
readiness for Alaska Native families with children up to age five.
Sealaska Heritage Institute | ©Brian Wallace