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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


February 22, 2003 - Issue 81


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700 Gather for Inupiaq Celebration

by Joel Gay Anchorage Daily News

As We Drum, We Are One by Barbara LavalleeIn the time before time, the Inupiat neither drummed nor danced. Seeing their desperate plight, Eagle Mother had her son teach the people to build a large gathering house, to make drums to fill the hall with sound, and to create songs and dances that celebrate life.

Ever since, residents of Alaska's northern coast have congregated in midwinter to share the bounty of their world during three days of dancing, storytelling, Inupiaq games and feasting.

The messenger feast celebration, or Kivgiq (KIV-yik), died out for many years in the 20th century before being resumed in the late 1980s by North Slope Borough Mayor George Ahmaogak Sr. Starting today, the whaling captains of Barrow will keep the tradition alive by hosting Kivgiq.

Organizers expect nearly 20 dance troupes and 700 dancers from Alaska, Canada and possibly Russia, borough spokeswoman Margaret Opie said . "It'll be three days of celebration, from morning till 1 a.m.," she said.

Introductory festivities this morning culminate with the ceremonial lighting of a seal oil lamp. After welcoming addresses this afternoon, the festival continues almost nonstop for two more days.

Whale Sighting by Barbara LavalleeMost days begin with bartering and trading, storytelling sessions and clothing reviews. Dancing follows, and groups from Kotzebue, King Island and Savoonga, as well as all the North Slope villages are expected, Opie said. Inuit dancers from Canada and Russia also have been invited, and groups will fill the stage at Barrow High School every day.

The Kivgiq feast is Wednesday afternoon, and entire villages are contributing to the potluck.

"The response from the villages has just been great," Opie said. In the past, tables have been laden with muktuk and whale meat, seal flipper, polar bear and a wide range of fish, foul and game.

There should be plenty of whale to go around. The fall bowhead whaling season was good for North Slope crews, most of which landed their quotas.

Up, Up, and Away by Barbara LavalleeThe whaling captains have an additional reason to celebrate this year, after the International Whaling Commission last fall extended the bowhead quota by five years. The hunt had been jeopardized when Japan led a coalition of nations in opposing the subsistence quota of 51 bowheads a year. The coalition dissolved in the face of international political pressure led by the United States.

The Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission holds its annual meeting immediately after the Kivgiq.

Barrow was busy last week as organizers found rooms for nearly 700 dancers, stockpiled incoming food and read through the "What Kivgiq Means To Me" essay contest. "We're pretty upbeat," Opie said.

The sun started coming again in late January, and temperatures have been dropping to a bearable minus 20, she said, which should make Kivgiq visitors' stay pleasant. "If the wind's not blowing, it's not bad."




Iñupiaq History, Language and Culture
The mission of the Iñupiat History, Language and Culture (IHLC) division is to document, preserve, and perpetuate the history, language and culture of the North Slope region and to ensure that cultural issues are given appropriate consideration during the planning process. IHLC’s actions help fulfill the borough’s founding commitment to its Iñupiaq heritage and to protect cultural and subsistence resources for all residents of the North Slope.
editor's note: Check out the videos!


Kivgiq is a three-day, mid-winter festival held in Barrow that features dancing, trading, story-telling, gift-giving, Eskimo games, a traditional foot race and feasting.


Kivgiq 2003

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