Sharing Northern Traditions

By JR Ancheta
Sun Star Reporter

Isaiah Charles Sophomore from Emmauk, Alaska dances with the nu-Yupiaq Dance Group Sat Dec 4 at Rural Services Gathering Room located in the Brooks Building. JR Ancheta / Sun Star

The excitement filling the gathering room at the Brooks Building was contagious. The drummers sang powerfully while maintaining cadence, encouraging the dancers in front of them. Keeping their culture alive, the The Iñu-Yupiaq Dance Group meets twice a week to perform for one another, preserving their traditions through songs and dance.

In 1995, a group of students who wanted to continue their native traditions while attending college in Fairbanks formed the Iñu-Yupiaq Dance Group. The dance group continues today with as much enthusiasm as when it began. It provides opportunities for Native Alaskan students and alumni to learn about their Iñupiaq or Yup’ik heritage.

“I didn’t teach them all,” said advisor Joel “Ataat” Forbes. “We learned from different people who joined the group and they teach what they know. It’s really nice because everybody is from all over.” Song and dance are taught by members or by others in the community.

James Mills (left) and Isaiah Charles dance in their traditional men's kuspuk at Rural Services' Gathering Room located in the Brooks Building Saturday, Dec. 4. JR Ancheta / Sun Star

“I started coming to these practices and before, I didn’t learn,” said James “Maasak” Mills from Noatak. “Where I’m from, the dancing was sort of banned since 1908, so there’s very few people at home that actually know how to dance, but it was fun to finally learn.”

“It’s just pure joy!” said Catherine “Uyuriukareq” Moses, a recent graduate at UAF with a degree in elementary education. “The dances, a lot of them, are fun, so you just have fun doing it. You don’t think of anything else in the world but dancing. You hear your language being sung. There’s that connection you can’t get anywhere else.” She explains how she never had the time while in school, but joined now because of her three daughters. “It’s important to expose them and get to know who they are and how important it is to value their own culture,” Moses said.

As for the future, it is clear that the Iñu-Yupiaq dancers will continue sharing their traditions to others and to themselves. This organization hopes that by sharing tradition, it can be a “positive push for people to do school even,” Forbes said. “If you have a good community who are all striving to good, they’ll all help each other.”

The Iñu-Yupiaq Dance Group meets every Wednesday and Saturday from 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. at the Brooks Building’s Rural Services Gathering Room. All are welcome to attend.

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