Bethel Community Celebrate Inaugural Indigenous Peoples Day

KuC Dancers perform during the Indigenous Peoples Day Celebration on the second Monday of October, Oct. 10th. photos by Tommy Bayayok

by Leona Long

The Bethel community celebrated Indigenous Peoples Day for the first time at an event hosted at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Kuskokwim Campus’s Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center.

“Including our community partners like the Association of Village Council Presidents, Kuskokwim Learning Academy and others was what made our celebration meaningful,” says Mary Pete, campus director for Kuskokwim Campus and dean for UAF College of Rural and Community Development. “The day and our celebrations can only grow and deepen our acknowledgement of the persistence, resilience, and honor of indigenous peoples, cultures, contributions to our lives, and futures.”

Vivian Korthuis, President of Association of Village Council Presidents, and John McIntyre led the welcoming ceremony blessing our students, campus, and the significance of the day. It included a smudging ceremony and traditional singing and drumming led by John McIntyre.

The celebration also included Alaska Native dance performances from groups at Kuskokwim Learning Academy and Bethel Regional High School. Native Youth Olympians demonstrated One-Foot and Two-Foot, which traditionally alerted to others that a hunter needed help with a catch of big game. Traditional Yup’ik foods like akutaq, dried fish and seal oil were included in the refreshments.

Resolutions from students, staff and faculty groups across the University of Alaska system unanimously supported recognizing “Indigenous Peoples Day.” Each campus hosted a culturally relevant event incorporating elements of the indigenous history of place, culture and language associated with their regions.

“The unanimous support for this special day acknowledges how the contributions of Alaska Native peoples and indigenous knowledge enhance education provided by the University of Alaska,” said Evon Peter, UAF’s vice chancellor of rural, community and Native education.”

This year, the Alaska Legislature passed HB 78, which permanently established the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day. Gov. Bill Walker signed the legislation into law in June. Alaska joined several states and dozens of municipalities and universities that voted to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day.