UAF hosts 40th annual Festival of Native Arts

Brady Gross/ Sun Star Reporter
February 26, 2013

The UAF student club Festival of Native Arts, hosted and coordinated the 40th Festival of Native Arts that presented a mix of Native dance, traditional performance and culture. From Thursday Feb. 21 through Saturday Feb. 23, Native groups from all over Alaska gathered to educate and celebrate their heritage with the local Fairbanks community and UAF.

The Noolaaghe Doh Dance group made there presence known at the Festival of Native Arts on Thursday night, February 21, where the theme was "Unity through Cultures." Adam Taylor/Sun Star

The Noolaaghe Doh Dance group made there presence known at the Festival of Native Arts on Thursday night, February 21, where the theme was “Unity through Cultures.” Adam Taylor/Sun Star

Charles Davis Concert Hall was utilized to host three days of scheduled performances and dancing while Native art vendors were housed in the adjoining Great Hall. A display of locally produced art from UAF Native Studies students, professors and alumni adorned the UAF Art Gallery as well.

FNA began in 1973 when UAF students and faculty met to coordinate a festival that focused on artistic expression and cultural education, showcasing the variety of Native groups present in Alaska. After a successful debut festival, it became apparent FNA needed to become an annual event. In recent years, UAF students have taken the reins in coordinating, promoting and hosting FNA due to dwindling funds over the last few years. 

Since 2010, junior Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development student Sarah Walker has worked as FNA’s student coordinator and also serves as club president. According to Walker, FNA receives funding from multiple of sources.

The Department of Alaska Native Studies and Rural Development and ASUAF both help fund FNA in some capacity. Festival volunteer fundraising included bake sales, Nanook hockey game involvement through “Chuck-A-Puck,” and table fees for venders at FNA. “In addition, student volunteers send fundraising letters to regional and community organizations and apply for various grants,” Walker said. During the actual festival, FNA sold t-shirts, booklets and other collectibles.

Art vendors sell an assortment of books, jewelry, furs and apparel all centered on Native culture in Alaska. Native history writer Judy Ferguson and her husband Reb Ferguson, a local trapper, have sold their wares at FNA the past four years. Having lived in Alaska since the early ‘60s, the Ferguson’s expressed the importance of FNA and the way it curates community among Natives all over the state.

Da-ka-xeen Mehner, an Associate Professor in the Art Department, teaches Native Arts and emphasized that learning about the different art styling of Native groups across Alaska is important. “What unites art in Alaska is that everyone had to work with wood at some point,” Mehner said. Mehner held a table in the Great Hall during FNA, showcasing some of his students’ artwork and a slideshow outlining the process his class takes over a full semester.

Performances inside the concert hall began each night around 6 p.m. and sampled a range of traditional dance from Iñupiaq and Tlingit groups to local outfits such as Young Native Fiddlers. Ryan Slayton, a 13-year-old originally from Circle, performed for the Fiddlers for his second year. The group includes children ages four to 17 and are mentored by renowned Athabascan fiddler teacher Bill Stevens.

Walker, who is Yup’ik and Inupiaq Eskimo, performed with UAF’s Inu-Yupiaq Eskimo dance group, composed of UAF students and alumni. The group performs both Inupiaq and Yup’ik dances.

Children were encouraged to participate in the various dances and performances throughout the festival. Several FNA hosts spoke of how extremely important it is that Native children are involved from a young age so that their cultural traditions are carried on from one generation to the next.

To celebrate the 40th FNA, sweaters decorated with 1974 FNA logo were sold. Frybread and Eskimo donuts were sold in the UAF Wood Center each night as well.

Concerning the future of FNA, Walker said, “Each year the FNA brings about different challenges, where we might not be able to do as much as we did in the past year, or we might be able to do a little more.”

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