For the first time ever, this year’s Cama-i Dance Festival will have traditional Yup’ik talking and healing circles for men and women on opening day.
Several years ago, the First Alaskans Institute decided to tap into cultural strengths and traditions by bringing back the use of the Qasgiq annually at the statewide Elders and Youth conference that precedes the Alaska Federation of Natives convention.
Now this custom is being taken back to the Y-K Delta, where it originated.
First Alaskans’ Policy Center Director Andrea Sanders, whose Yup’ik name is Akalleq, said that the Qasgiq is the men’s house, and they decided to bring the women’s house with that.
“It’s a chance for our young people to really sit and listen and learn from the guidance of our elders,” Sanders said.
Sanders says that what’s talked about in the Qasgiq is determined by the participants. Everyone pays attention, and each person speaks in turn.
“Taking the time to share knowledge, love one another, and make sure that nobody is feeling alone or unheard, or isolated, with the way that modern society can make our young people feel,” Sanders said.
Sanders will host the women’s house with Institute CEO Liz Medicine Crow and staffer Angela Gonzalez. Hosting the men’s house will be Samuel Johns and Torin Jacobs of Bethel.
“One of the things that the men’s house has done in the past is to lay everything out, to teach the boys how to be men, not just as hunters, not just as fathers, but as husbands, as lovers, as educators, as everything that you could possibly think of to make a human being proper,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs describes the experience as “strengthening,” and Andrea Sanders speaks of “interconnectedness” that she hopes young people will be able to feel as Cama-i gets underway.
“There’s a reason that we’re still here, that we still dance, that we still gather,” Sanders said. “That we still celebrate our traditions and that if our youth are able to tap into that inner strength and that inner spirit, that they will feel that connection, that they will feel that they’re part of something really powerful that is healing, that is strength, that is love. I hope they’ll feel that if they join us in the Qasgiq.”
That starts tonight at 6 p.m. at Bethel Regional High School in classrooms C-22 and C-23, and is open for all to attend.