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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


November 15, 2003 - Issue 100


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Kenaitze Director Keeps Heritage Alive

by Phil Hermanek - Peninsula Clarion
credits: Fred Bemis Raven Clan

Raven Clan by Fred BemisWhen asked to explain the red T-shirt she was wearing while addressing the Soldotna Chamber of Commerce on Tuesday, the cultural heritage and youth director for the Kenaitze Indian Tribe IRA translated the word printed on the shirt and described its importance among Native youth athletes.

"Ggugguyni means raven. The Dena'ina are raven clan," said Amber Glenzel, who also serves the Kenai Peninsula tribe as its resident anthropologist.

More significantly, though, she said the shirt with its Native word and raven illustration printed in black is an inspiration to tribal young people participating in this year's Native Youth Olympics.

"Their new uniforms gave them a sense of pride and were part of the reason our team received the Team Sportsmanship Award for 2003," Glenzel said.

The shirt is one component of the Kenaitze team's uniform, which also includes red, white and blue jackets and blue pants.

Glenzel described the Kenaitze tribe's youth program to the Soldotna business people, telling them of the program's history, its accomplishments and future endeavors.

The tribe has had a Native Youth Olympic team since 1991, she said, but until recently only a handful of young people participated.

Young athletes now number 17 on the varsity team and 14 on the junior team, plus many others under age 14 ‹ the minimum for traveling to competitions with the team.

In addition to the athletes, the tribe boasts a drum and dance group that includes 25 drummers and 35 dancers, eight of whom have been selected as Alaska cultural performers for the Arctic Winter Games in northern Alberta, Canada next year.

"We train the kids all winter long," Glenzel said.

"It's not just about winning. We train them to excel. It's about being the best you can be," she said.

Glenzel said she and her staff, which includes Laura Kroto, Hildur Feakes and Amber Gardner, teach cultural traditions to the young people and as a result, the tribe has many youth who are proud to be part of the Native group.

During Native Youth Olympics competition, team members compete in 10 different Eskimo games, each having a significant link to Native traditional hunting methods.

Among the games are the one-foot high kick and the two-foot high kick.

"When hunters were returning from a hunt, they needed a way to communicate to the village whether they had been successful," Glenzel said.

"The traditional Eskimo hunter would use the one-foot high kick to indicate the hunt was successful. The two-foot high kick meant he was not."

Another event, the seal hop, recalls a Native seal hunting practice during which Eskimos would dress in seal furs and hop like seals along the ice.

"By doing this, the disguised hunters could sneak up close to seals," Glenzel said.

The kneel jump hails back to the practice of Eskimos who would jump up from ice floes from a kneeling position while seal hunting.

Besides the various competitions, Glenzel teaches youth about traditional Native practices, such as fishing in Kenai Peninsula waters.

"The Kenaitze fished on the Kenai Peninsula thousands of years ago," she said. "It's nothing new."

She said she conducted a traditional fish camp for youth, and twice last year, the group placed Native fish traps in the Swanson River.

"We didn't catch anything, though. I don't know what I'm doing wrong," she said.

Although somewhat humorous, the tale does point to a problem Glenzel fears among her tribe.

"We don't have many elders left who know traditional ways. Many have only heard stories about them and passed them along," she said.

"Last year we did a language assessment and found there are only three speakers left who speak the Kenai dialect of the Dena'ina language," she said.

In an attempt to help remedy the problem some see as a disappearing heritage, Glenzel said her staff goes into Kenai Peninsula schools as often as they can to teach children about Native traditions.

She also informed the business people of an opportunity to help the Native youth team members pay for expenses when traveling to competitions.

"We will have an auction dinner Feb. 6. We would like to see you there," she said.

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