Cama-i welcomes back dance groups in 2022

by Greg Lincoln

The Cama-i Dance Festival has returned after a couple years break due to the COVID-19 pandemic as a two-day event at the Yupiit Piciryarait Cultural Center in Bethel and folks are happy to welcome back the return of live and in-person dance performances. This year it is the Cama-i Dance Gathering that took place on March 26 – 27, 2022.

The two-day event was sponsored by the SouthWest Alaska Arts Group (SWAAG), the recently formed merger of the Bethel Council on the Arts and the Kuskokwim Art Guild. They are hosting this year’s Cama-i Gathering, the Yukon Delta region’s premier culture and arts performance event.

The event began on Saturday, March 26th. Session I featured the customary welcome by Luumaq Louie Andrew, the Traditional Chief of the Orutsararmiut Native Council followed by the Lighting of the Flame.

Cama-i Co-coordinator Linda Curda encouraged everyone to look forward to next year for a full Cama-i Festival such as the ones held before the pandemic.

Dance groups performing included the BRHS Warrior Dancers, the Kwethluk Dancers, Yurartet Singers and Dancers, the Ayaprun Elitnaurvik K-2nd via video, the Caputnguarmiut Yurartait of Chefornak, the hip hop Underground Dance group, the Napaskiak Dancers, and the Unangax Dancers of the Aleutian/Pribilof Island villages.

A Fur Fashion Show also took place, emceed by hostess Minnie Sallison-Fritts. Golga Oscar of Kasigluk, and Darlene Kiunya and Amanda Anvil of Bethel modeled their parkas on stage with commentary. Curda invited an Unangax dancer to talk about her dance regalia. She shared all the aspects of her outfit – the tassels made from sea otter fur that normally are made from human hair, the lineage designs that each family has, the ladies beaded headdresses, and the mens’ painted faces. The audience appreciated the sharing with applause.

During Session 2 the audience was treated to a very special film production, “To Keep as One” – a short 12 minute film about the Newtok Village Relocation directed by Katie Basile of Bethel. The film followed a Newtok resident, Albertina Charles, as she moved from her home in Newtok to her new home in Mertarvik, 9 miles away on the Ningliq River. The film also showed the effects of erosion on Newtok. It was Basile’s wish to create awareness of how global warming is affecting our communities and to spark discussion on global warming and erosion.

The title, To Keep as One, alludes to how the villagers want to remain as closeknit and unified as one village even though some have made the move to Mertarvik.

An amazing assortment of arts and crafts were available for purchase at the Cama-i Craft Tables. Vendors had uluaqs, grass baskets, headdresses, fur sewn items, dance fans, beaded items, Eskimo dolls, ivory jewelry, ivory carvings, and qaspeqs, and other items.

Cama-i’s Living Treasure Albertina Dull who is over 100 years old was honored on Sunday. The Qasgirmiut closed out the dance gathering on Day 2 Sunday night.

The event can be viewed online at the SouthWest Alaska Arts Group facebook page. Quyana to all the volunteers and event organizers, dancers, and artists.