Tag Archives: Yup’ik culture

Yup’ik Museum Preserves Culture

By Tony Homsy and Erin Kurvers

In many modern day United States cities, it is not uncommon to encounter people stating they are 10% Polish, 15% German, 25% English, 20% Dutch, 10% Italian, and 20% Irish or some other combination of countless cultures and heritages. The recipe of heritages go on and on to the point where some people give up in trying to define a single cultural heritage.

Yet in Bethel, AK, the probability of finding a similar situation is much more unlikely. A small town in southwest Alaska, Bethel is one of the few places in the United States in which the native culture of the Yup’ik people is still visible in the everyday lives of the people living there.

Brian McCaffrey, one of the few non-natives of the town recognizes the incredibility of this, “There’s almost no where else in the world where you have an entire cultural group living in an area that is virtually in tact ecologically and in many respects still practicing practices that have gone on for centuries or millennia.”

One of the ways in which the Yup’ik people have worked to preserve their culture in a rapidly changing world, is through the Yupiit Piciryarait Museum.

The Yupiit Piciryarait Museum is the only museum of its kind in the Yukon delta region of Alaska. Founded in 1965 and containing around 2,500 cultural artifacts, the museum serves to remind the Yup’ik people of where they came from.

Eva Malvich, the museum director said, “The Yupiit Piciryarait Museum was put here because elders wanted people to know that even though we look a little bit different, maybe our diet has changed and we’re now working in a western society, we’re still Yup’ik people, we’re still relevant, we still value our subsistence lifestyle.”

Through the various exhibits that Malvich coordinates for the museum, she hopes to educate the younger Yup’ik generations as well as non-native people on the richness of Yup’ik culture.

The Yup’ik native said, “Our lifestyle is relevant and very important to us and we’d like to educate people on who we are and why were here.”

Melavich displaying the moravian children's home exhibit
Malvich displaying the Moravian children’s home exhibit

The museum has housed numerous exhibits in order to stimulate cultural education and honor the lives of generations past. For example, the museum’s most recent exhibit, featuring the work of Bethel local, Katie Baldwin Basil, is focused around honoring the many Yup’ik childhoods spent in the Moravian Children’s home.

While the event has been successful, Malvich explains that with every collection the museum faces difficulties. The extreme isolation of Bethel as well as technological setbacks are examples of problems that she cites.

The museum director said, “We have basic word on our computers, we have little printers just like in an office, we have a limited collection in the back as well, so we rely on people to donate objects or give objects on loan to us to show.”

Despite the setbacks, the museum hopes to build up a repository and hopefully gain more recognition throughout the community.

The museum is a nice beacon of hope for the preservation of culture in a country where distinctive heritage is slowly disappearing.

View the feature film here: The Yupiit Piciryarait Museum–Bethel

UAF brings college to the community

By Catherine Adams and Madeline Zukowski

After turning right and following the curve on Akiak Drive in the heart of Bethel, five buildings stand in a row, taking up about the space of two blocks. The three main buildings, placed one right after the other, are white with red roofs. The two other buildings, placed with space between them, are a light blue color.

This is the Kuskokwim campus (KuC) of the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) system, which according to its website, is the largest rural campus in the system.

KuC serves about 150-200 full-time and part-time students who take on-campus or distanced classes. KuC offers certificate programs, an Associate of Applied Science program, an Associate of Arts program and a Bachelor’s degree program.

Distanced classes exist to serve those students who live in the rural villages surrounding Bethel.

“Students can take classes from home,” Agnes McIntyre, the Emerging Scholars Program Coordinator at KuC and an academic advisor, said. “They use their landline phones to take classes or they can go on the Blackboard [an online learning system] using the computers. They have to have Internet and computer access to take those classes.”

UAF Kuskokwim campus (Photo courtesy of Catherine Adams.)
UAF Kuskokwim campus (Photo courtesy of Catherine Adams.)

Although many of the students who attend KuC live in outside rural villages, the campus has one dormitory, Sackett Hall, which holds 38 students. According to McIntyre, often times students who don’t have relatives in Bethel or can’t afford off-campus housing but want an one-on-one relationship with their educators live in the dorm. View our video about Sackett Hall here.

Much like Creighton Univeristy, KuC has a higher enrollment of females than males.

“I believe a lot of the females from the villages think beyond high school,” McIntyre said. “There’s education and they want to better themselves and they want to come back and get their degree and have a better job to raise a family. The males, right out of high school, they want to provide for their families [through] subsistence hunting and gathering food and I think they have that mind before they make major decisions of what they want to do.”

Unlike Creighton, the majority of students of KuC are older than the average college age of 18-22 years old.

“A lot of the students who are thinking about working in an organization with higher pay are those who went to school, dropped out and came back, because they know they have to have a degree to get a good paying job because everything is so expensive here,” McIntyre said.

A unique aspect of KuC includes the opportunity for students to take Yup’ik language and culture classes in order to make sure the Yup’ik practices are passed on to a younger generation.

“Some of the students, when they first come here, [are only] fluent in English and not in their own language,” McIntyre said. “We look at our Yup’ik language[and] it’s dying, but we want to make sure that it’s here for our younger generations.”

McIntyre hopes that enrollment at KuC increases in the future.

“I think we’re going to see more students out there with degrees in the future. I’m very very positive about that.”