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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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Culture Torchbearer Helps Bring People Together

by Rose Cox Anchorage Daily News
credits: Linda Reinert, 9, and her mother, Cea Anderson, perform a contemporary Yupik dance "How to Build an Igloo" during a Native Culture class at the ARC of Anchorage. (Photo by Bill Roth / Anchorage Daily News)

Linda Reinert, 9, and her mother, Cea Anderson, perform a contemporary Yupik dance "How to Build an Igloo" during a Native Culture class at the ARC of Anchorage. (Photo by Bill Roth / Anchorage Daily News)Cea Anderson was an adult before she embraced her Alaska Native heritage, but she has made up for lapsed time in the past decade.

In addition to promoting Alaska Native and American Indian cultures through personal performances throughout the community, Anderson represents a host of local talent in the traditions of indigenous people from Ireland, India, Ecuador, Peru, Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the United States.

Through her business, Applause Lunaq, she helps promote and schedule singers, storytellers and musicians -- as well as a juggler, clown, polka band or a fire-eater or two. She is recognized in the community as a sort of cultural torchbearer with a gift for bringing people together.

"Cea is the perfect embodiment of how tradition can reach into the present day," said Kara Thrasher-Livingston, who schedules recreation activities at the ARC of Anchorage.

The Aleut word lunaq means "honor," as in your ancestors, Anderson said.

"I believe ancestors strengthen us and make us who we are," she said of her calling.

That's a concept valued especially by those who work with children.

"She's a proud woman and it really comes across as positive," said Colleen Kelley. "No matter what nationality you are, she says 'Be proud.' "

Kelley directs the YMCA's Youth Community Connection Program, which serves the 1,300 or so students suspended from school each year. She is the former director of the YWCA's child care development program, which provides activities for children during school and summer holidays and in-service days.

Anderson is a regular visitor to the YWCA, teaching everything from beading and other Native arts and crafts to telling stories and singing songs about Alaska Native folklore and history. Her message to honor your ancestors is one kids need to hear, Kelley said, and Anderson has a gift for sharing it.

"A lot of presenters show, show, show, but they don't really listen or get group discussion going," Kelley said.

Anderson, who has blond hair and green eyes, is Aleut, Russian, Swedish, Lakota Indian and French. Ties to her mother's Lakota Indian ancestors were severed when her grandfather was adopted through the Nebraska Children's Society. Her paternal grandmother, who was Aleut and Russian, died in Seattle in 1965 before Anderson could meet her.

Having little or no contact with Native relatives on either side gave Anderson a burning desire.

"I always wanted to learn more about where I came from because I didn't have the opportunity as a child," she said. "I didn't get to learn the language, songs and dances of the Aleut and Lakota."

She said she feels fortunate to have survived some rough patches in her life and credits her ancestors' reach beyond the grave for her perseverance.

"I feel a very strong ancestral pull," she said. "There have been times in my life when I should have died, but I was protected.

"I know there's a purpose for me, just like there is for every child and adult out there."

Anderson grew up in Spe-nard in the '60s and graduated from Dimond High School. It wasn't until her brother became sick and relatives suggested he go to the Native hospital that she discovered her roots. She learned her father was Aleut-Russian and Swedish, her mother French and Lakota Sioux. She is member of the Shoonaq tribe of Kodiak.

A growing interest in her ancestry led the former member of the Alaska Native band Medicine Dream to the University of Alaska Anchorage, where she studied Alaska Native history. For some, a blond, green-eyed woman performing traditional dances in Native dress might seem curious. Others see it as a plus.

"She's representative of a lot of people of Native heritage living in Alaska who have crossed cultural strains," said Deborah Tobola, former director of family services for Cook Inlet Tribal Council. "I think people relate to that."

Tobola hired Anderson to work for the council's cultural outreach program in the late '90s, and Anderson became one of the many performers who presented to thousands of children and adults through the council.

"The requests would pour in from elders at potlatches, elementary schools and prisons," Tobola said. "The more people who went out, the more requests we got. There was definitely that need."

Satisfying that need is more than valuable, it's essential, said Tobola, who now teaches art and drama in a California prison.

"You go into the melting pot and you lose who you are. It's people like Cea who keep a connection to the past alive. Otherwise what do you have? Shopping at Wal-Mart and watching TV.

"Eat the Native food, dance the Native dances and tell the Native stories. There's a lot of wisdom and beauty that will otherwise be lost."

Anderson has crossed other cultural boundaries in her work with the ARC of Anchorage, a nonprofit group that offers housing and recreation programs to people with mental disabilities.

"Cea means a lot to all of us," Thrasher-Livingston said. "Some folks at ARC don't have an opportunity to be part of their culture. When she's involved with what we do, she brings real feeling and happiness."

She is a regular presenter at the ARC, and has brought in other Native artists and dancers, African drummers, and Hawaiian and Thai dancers.

"She also helps with the spiritual part of what we do," Thrasher-Livingston said, drumming and singing at celebrations of life when someone connected with the ARC dies or holding healing circles at conferences.

The ARC will present Anderson with its Shining Stars and Golden Hearts appreciation award this month. It's one of a number of recognitions she has garnered through the years from groups such as the Alaska chapter of the United Nations Association and her former high school's culture club.

In 2002, she arranged performances at Women's Federation for Global World Peace conferences in Anchorage, and she hopes to work with them again. She envisions displays of Alaska Native art in the world's famous museums, creating a bridge of understanding between people who might otherwise succumb to stereotypes.

What the world needs now, Anderson said, is a greater understanding of and appreciation for all ethnic groups.

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