A Taste of Tradition

“Understand cultures other than your own. As your understanding of other cultures increases, your understanding of yourself and your own culture will increase exponentially.” -Tom Freston

Native dance and song performed at the Alaska Native Heritage Center

Cultivating an understanding of one’s culture is immensely valuable because it lets you recognize the morals, principles, values, practices and traditions which existed and were prevalent during the establishment and evolution of a certain people. Here at camp, the other teachers and I had an enriching opportunity to learn about the customs and culture of Alaska’s indigenous people at the Alaska Native Heritage Center. The center is filled with captivating exhibits which offer a lens into the beautiful culture of the Native Alaskans. One of the highlights of the visit was being able to watch traditional dancing and hear the customary singing- both rich traditions which have been practiced for hundreds of years!

One of the things which enthralled me was the electrifying and stimulating beat of the handmade drums. During various moments throughout each song, the bass would often intensify, the singing would increase and the dance moves would become more expressive. We were taught that the beat of the drum represents the heartbeat of a mother- a sound which every person is accustomed to right from the beginning of life.

This traditional style of dance and song is often used for the purpose of telling a story. Although this customary form of expression was and is still used as a source for entertainment and fun, many songs and dances are viewed as sacred and will only be performed in settings which are ceremonial, solemn and often private.

Being able to watch the lively songs and dance was an honor and privilege. It is evident that having students learn about this Native Alaskan tradition would help preserve this great history, enable students to expand their understanding of different cultures, and provide an opening for students to evaluate their own cultures and traditions. Additionally, teaching about this custom could afford students the opportunity to have them use the medium of song and dance in order to express a story. Embrace tradition and use cultural differences as a bridge for connecting one another.