Haskell’s Alaskan students share unifying traditions at school’s Welcome Back Indian Art Market

photo by: Elvyn Jones

With her traditional headdress and blue dress, Susan Hawkins, a Haskell Indian Nations University junior majoring in elementary education, dances Saturday, Sept. 7, 2019, with about 10 other members of the HINU Alaskan Club at the school's Welcome Back Indian Art Market.

Alaska is a big place, and the home of many different Inuit and Indian nations, but there are three things that unify the diverse peoples, said Susan Hawkins, a Haskell Indian Nations University junior.

“I would say our food, songs and dances,” she said.

Unifying the Haskell students from the state is the school’s Alaska Club. As they do every year, Alaska Club members shared their cultural heritage at the university’s annual Welcome Back Indian Art Market with a roughly 45-minute performance of songs and dances.

“There’s not too many people here aware of our cultural heritage,” said Hawkins, a member of the Inupiaq Tribe of Anchorage. “It means a lot to have the opportunity to share our cultural traditions with the community and other students.”

Traditional songs and dances play a large role in unifying Alaska Native peoples despite there being no powwow culture like that of the mainland Native Americans, said Armando DeAsis, president of the Alaska Club and member of the Tlingit Nation. However, they have developed a tradition of performance and cultural gatherings, at which the members of various tribes and clans get together to preserve their songs and dances by sharing them with others. The native peoples of southeast Alaska have a biennial gathering on even-numbered years that also serves as a memorial to those who have died during the last two years, he said.

Hawkins said the diet that Native Alaskans share is rich with fish and game such as moose and caribou, as well as native berries, vegetables and plants.

DeAsis, who transferred to Haskell this semester after a year at Southeast Alaska University and who plans to eventually transfer to the University of Kansas to study architecture, said those menu items, especially fresh meat, can be difficult to obtain in Kansas. However, relatives do send canned food, and he and fellow club members enjoyed a shared meal Friday.

“We had a rice, fish and seaweed dish,” he said. “It was comfort food.”

The Welcome Back Indian Art Market will continue from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the school’s powwow grounds, said Manny King, a Haskell counselor who helps organize cultural events. Haskell students will start performing at noon and continue through the afternoon, with the Alaska Club entertaining at 2 p.m.

In addition, “We have 135 vendors at the art market this year,” he said. “It seems to be getting more popular every year.”


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