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Families Laying Down New Tracks

A project of the Old Harbor Alliance, supported by Alaska Children’s Trust

By Amy Peterson, Program Manager

The Old Harbor Alliance was established by community leaders of Old Harbor, Alaska, to seek funding for educational programs and projects that will bring our people together to build a healthy community with strong leaders for all generations.

Over the past year, Old Harbor Alliance, with grant support from Alaska Children’s Trust, hosted a series of events for families through a program called Families Laying Down New Tracks. These events provided culturally relevant family and community gatherings that incorporated positive parenting and highlighted the negative impacts of child maltreatment.

The first event, “Who Makes the Rules?”, took place last fall. The purpose of the activity was to create commonly accepted boundaries for when we are together in a gathering-type setting.

IMG_6190“Who Makes the Rules?” This question was asked to our participants, whose answers ranged from: parents, teachers, ourselves, grandparents, the police, The Father (Three Saints Orthodox Church), and the President of the United States. The group discussed that if someone tells you they have a rule that makes you uncomfortable, you should follow your instincts, leave, and talk with a trusted adult about the situation.

Once the group finished talking about the rule makers, we discussed making rules and expectations that fit everyone. To facilitate the discussion, we introduced six categories and then invited the students to come up with rules or expectations for each category that would work for a group of people of all ages. Participants had a great time running up with their sticky notes or shouting out their ideas.

  1. Ideas are never right or wrong; they are a beginning. Rules or expectations for this category included listening, participating, respecting opinions and thoughts, trying new things that aren’t your idea, encouraging others to speak up, and never saying someone’s idea is stupid.
  2. Humor. Rules or expectations for this category ranged from laughing, smiling, having fun and being friendly, to saying “no” to bullying and never making fun of someone.
  3. One person speaks at a time. In this category, participants said to ask questions, pay attention, not to interrupt, take turns, talk to someone new, and include everyone.
  4. Respect: give it to get it. Students had a lot to say about this category, offering rules like telling the truth, saying please and thank you, sharing, and being kind, grateful, positive, safe and responsible. Things to avoid included fighting, stealing, hitting, shouting, and laughing at others.
  5. Working together. Sharing, listening, teamwork, being helpful, and picking up after yourself were popular rules in this category. Participants also offered suggestions like “everyone is important,” “if you disagree, work it out,” “encourage and compliment each other,” “acknowledge each other’s feelings,” “use positive words and a positive tone,” and “check on your elders to see if they need anything.”
  6. Listening. This category also inspired many ideas, like “give your full attention,” “be still while someone is talking,” “be quiet so everyone can hear,” “wait for a good time to ask a question,” “encourage others politely to be quiet and still,” “respect your elders” and remember that “everyone’s time is important.”

When the group was finished sharing their thoughts and ideas, the participants had snacks and made posters to be shared around the village. Since this first event, participants have been seen sharing these ideas with others during gatherings.

This was a great beginning to our program, Families Laying Down New Tracks. We thank Alaska Children’s Trust for their support of healthy and positive gatherings! Quyanaa!

Alaska Children’s Trust awards grants to Alaska organizations like the Old Harbor Alliance, which are working to prevent child abuse and neglect. With the generous support of our donors, we have invested more than $5 million in Alaska children and families. Learn more about our grant program, grant recipients and upcoming opportunities on our website.

Celebrating Culture, Connecting Community

Old Harbor Alliance Aurcaq Carving Workshop

Growing up in a rural village, Melissa Berns didn’t have a close connection with her culture. “Back then, there was a kind of shame associated with our culture. We knew we were Alutiiq but we didn’t know what that meant,” she says.

Today, through opportunities such as the Aurcaq carving workshop held in Old Harbor in April, youth are experiencing – and enjoying – their culture, while participating in healthy, positive activities. Among these youth is Melissa’s son.

“He’s always watched me skin sewing and beading, and he would ask for my knife and make spears out of sticks,” Melissa says. “To have an instructor teach him was very beneficial. It was eye-opening for him. He’s been doing more carving since the workshop – all the kids have.

The week-long Aurcaq carving workshop, which was hosted by Old Harbor’s community and regional entities, kicked off a series of community events taking place throughout Great Lent. Aurcaq, a subsistence-focused marine mammal hunting game, is historically played only during the six weeks of Orthodox Lent. In years past, the Orthodox faith was strictly followed and the faithful were forbidden to hunt, gamble, eat red meat, or drink alcoholic beverages during Lent. The game of Aurcaq was believed to provide a social outlet for hunting and gambling at a time it was not allowed.

Alutiiq master carver and teacher Andrew Abyo came to the village to share traditional techniques used to carve Aurcaq game sets. Each participant completed a full set that they could take home to continue this tradition with their family and friends.

“The participants got to take a finished piece home and continue playing,” Melissa says. “They didn’t have to stop just because the workshop was over.”

In addition to exposing youth to the traditional game, the event planning team also wanted to encourage positive interactions between youth and adults. Traditional foods were a significant part of the week, which included nightly family-style dinners featuring sikyuk, salmon, alaciq, seal, sea lion, goose, clams, boiled cod, goat, deer and all of the fixings. At the dinners, elders, parents and children shared stories and visited about their daily activities, much like their ancestors did in years past.

“The workshop was a good mix of kids and adults working together. It helped bridge that gap,” Melissa says, adding that a total of 53 participants from 32 households participated throughout the week.

As the workshop finale, a community potlatch and Aurcaq tournament was held at the school. Youth and adults alike took great pride in their finely carved whales and laughter was heard throughout the evening. Instead of going home with material possessions won through gambling, there was a gain in cultural pride and the knowledge of an almost lost art, which can now be shared with generations to come. As the tournament concluded, smiles were seen on the faces of young and old, who repeatedly asked, “When are we going to do this again?”

“Activities like these give kids a sense of pride and a positive way to connect with their families and community,” Melissa says. “We can also pass on messages about respect, pride, and caring for yourself and your neighbor. Through these types of programs, we can perpetuate our art and build stronger leaders for the community.”

The Aurcaq carving workshop and tournament was supported by the Old Harbor Alliance’s grant through Alaska Children’s Trust, Alutiiq Tribe of Old Harbor’s Tribal Youth and Office on Violence Against Women Programs, Kodiak Area Native Association Family Violence Prevention Program, Koniag Inc., Old Harbor School and Old Harbor Native Corporation. The Aurcaq carving workshop is one of many workshops and events held throughout the year to perpetuate Alutiiq culture through the arts.

You can support efforts like these and make a positive statewide impACT for Alaska’s children and families when you Pick. Click. Give. to Alaska Children’s Trust!

Old HarborMelissa Berns is active in the community of Old Harbor and volunteers with youth programs as Nuniaq Alutiiq Dance Instructor, Nuniaq Traditional Camp Planner, Alutiiq Week Organizer and Old Harbor School Programs. Melissa perpetuates the continuation of Alutiiq Cultural Arts by teaching Subsistence Harvesting and Processing, Alutiiq Basket Weaving, Skin Sewing and Beading through youth programs year around.