Alaska Native Heritage Center

Friday, 27 August

Our bags are packed; online check-in is completed and boarding passes are printed. In other words, we’re all set to head back home tomorrow. And, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’re ready to go home.

I’m the vacation planner in our household. Usually, I leave the last day of any trip as a slow, go with the flow kind of day. I didn’t do that this time and that proved to be a mistake. I think our two weeks of being on the go non-stop caught up to us today. We should have just taken it easy; instead we went to a place that proved to be just a bit overwhelming. I’m Cultural Symbolssure the gloomy weather was also a factor in our funky mood, but still …

The forecasters were right on the money when they said to expect rain. The wet stuff fell throughout the day, see-sawing between light mists, drizzles, and downpours. After breakfast at the Downtown Deli and Cafe, we drove to the Alaska Native Heritage Center (ANHC) whose stated mission is “Sharing, perpetuating and preserving the unique Alaska Native cultures, languages, traditions and values through celebration and education.” (Click the image above to visit the ANHC website.)

Layout of the ANHC.
[scanned from the brochure]

The ANHC was nearly deserted when we arrived. We were greeted by a friendly Athabascan woman who encouraged us to hustle over to the Gathering Place, to watch the performance that was about to start. The first part of the show was a series of Yup’ik dances. The performers consisted of a drummer/singer and three dancers that told the story with the movements of their arms, bodies and sometimes facial expressions. Next came a story teller (who seemed less than prepared to be on stage), and a demonstration of native games designed to improve power, balance, and focus. Though it was all interesting, I somehow got the sense that it was the “B Team” that was on hand to entertain visitors today.

The dancers use fans (tegumiaks) as extensions of their hands.

(I’ll post Mui’s video footage of the performance when he finishes editing it. In the meantime, click here if you’d like to see the “Funny Seal” dance.)

After the show, we decided to take advantage of what looked to be clearing weather and went outside to tour the traditional village sites set up around a small lake. We were wrong about the weather, but that didn’t stop us from visiting the five village sites that represent the 11 native cultures of Alaska. (Rather than clumsily summarize what the native guide at each site told us, I’m going to link back to the ANHC site; click those links if you’d like more information about a specific group.)

Athabascan Village site …

Log Cabin and Cache
in colder areas, the cabins are sunk 2-5 feet (½-1½ m) into the ground,
but in areas with milder climate, the cabins are built above ground.

our guide tells us about the items in the cabin, including the
moose heart bladder and the birch bark basket hanging on the wall.

beautiful beadwork turns footwear into pieces of art.

Yup’ik & Cup’ik Village site …

The Qasgiq is both the men's house as well as the community center.
the post and beam driftwood structure is covered with grass and sod.
bearded seal or walrus intestine provides a removable
skylight window.

we learn about the features of a traditional drum.

male dancers use fans made out of feathers or wood.

Inupiaq & St Lawrence Island Yupik Village site …

this is the tourist entrance; and

… this is the traditional entrance into a Qargi.
to trap the cold outside, The entrance into a winter house is a long
tunnel built below the level of the living area.
(the long black articles on either side are baleen)

The arch is made from the lower jawbone of a bowhead whale.
(for perspective, i’m 5’2” (~1½ m) tall)

Unangax & Alutiiq (Sugpiaq) Village site …

The Ulax/Ciqlluaq (Long House) is a semi-subterranean structure
large enough to house four or more families.

Left: The traditional entrance is down a notched ladder through
the smoke hole.
right: an elaborate dance mask.

Excavations on the Aleutian Chain show that the Unangax (Aleuts)
hunted a variety of whales, including the gray whale.

Eyak, Tlingit, Haida, & Tsimshian Village site …

Clan House (L) and Carving Shed (R)
this clan house is the only one in the world where totem poles from
the four cultures can be found in one place.
(they were carved on site and erected just days before we visited)

Eyak (L) and Tlingit (R) totem poles

Haida (L) and Tsimshian (R) totem poles

If the rain was a factor in our enjoyment of the village sites, the crowds were a factor in our enjoyment of the museum itself. By the time we had completed our tour of the village sites, three busloads of visitors had descended on the ANHC. After a quick peek at the items on display, we escaped to the deserted theater where we watched an interesting documentary on the construction of traditional kayaks.

Left: Heehaaye (tanana athabascan: medium or speaking spirit)
right: Beaded moose hide vest & spiral headdress (deg Xit’an athabascan)

Beaded Moose Hide Cape (deg Xit’an athabascan)

After the documentary was over, we decided not to brave the crowds in the museum. Instead, we headed back to the hotel to get our packing out of the way. That done, we spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in the room … for me that meant blogging; for Mui, it meant surfing the news channels. By the time we headed out for our 7:00p dinner reservation (made through Open Table once again), our mood had improved considerably and we were raring to go.

This time we went somewhere new for us — Sack’s Cafe (recommended by our waiter at Glacier Brewhouse; he didn’t steer us wrong). The contemporary American restaurant had the right combination of casual and chic dining atmosphere for our last night in town. (Located on G Street, between 3rd and 4th West.)

Sack's Cafe

The food was as good as advertised — grilled king salmon for me (served with a deconstructed spring roll, Asian vegetables, soy maple glaze, jasmine rice, wasabi aioli, chili oil); pan seared, panko-crusted halibut for Mui (served with black beans, rice, lime and coconut croquette, asparagus, harissa and warm tomatillo salsa). The portions were reasonable enough that we decided not to split dessert — mango sorbet for me and a fresh berry brûlée for Mui.

Grilled king salmon (L) and pan-seared halibut (R) for dinner.

And that wraps our day. I had hoped to get to bed early, but the street noise tonight has kept me up (even with the ear plugs). Wish I had Mui’s talent to doze off even in the face of such noise pollution. At least I got this post written!


  1. I'm sorry the Alaska trip is about over. I have really enjoyed your travels. Love the beading here and that whale is incredible!

  2. Oh my.... splendid beading!
    I'll just assume those moccasins are arriving at my house wrapped in Christmas paper ;))

  3. I am from Alaska and so my Alaskan heritage is super important to me. This is such a fun place. If you have never been you should go.