AFN Convention

Joy John, 2, of Anchorage, Alaska, performs with the Acilquq Drummers and Dancers during the annual Alaska Federation of Natives conference in Anchorage, Alaska,, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2015. The convention is annually the largest gathering of Alaska Natives in the state every year. (AP Photo/Mark Thiessen)

For the past 37 years, Quyana (which means “Greetings, thank you for coming!” in Yupik) has brought together traditional dancers to celebrate Alaska Native culture at the Alaska Federation of Natives convention.

Variety is the best word to describe Quyana, with more than 300 different dance groups having performed throughout the years. The 2019 AFN convention is no exception to this theme.

This year, Quyana will be celebrated Thursday, Oct. 17 and Friday, Oct. 18 from 7 to 11 p.m. at the Carlson Center. Admission is $10, with children under 5 free.

The first night’s lineup includes the JOM Potlatch Dancers, a youth group affiliated with Fairbanks Native Association. The JOM Potlatch Dancers began in 1991 and have performed at events in the Fairbanks area. They represent many Native communities statewide and are students in the Fairbanks North Star Borough School District, ranging in age from 5 to 18 years.

The Pavva Inupiaq Dancers from Fairbanks represent the culture and traditions of the Inupiaq people through song and dance. Pavva means “away from shore, landwards, toward the mountain.” The group selected the name because many of the dancers live away from the northern region where their families originally lived.

The Minto Dancers share the strong traditions of the Lower-Tanana Athabascan village of Minto. The members grew up learning songs and dances from the elders.

Representing Anaktuvuk Pass are the Nagsragmiut Inland Eskimo Dancers, a group of all ages, even babies, who love to share their culture through dance.

Hailing from Rampart, the Dlul Hutaneets Hut’aane Ch’egedelee (meaning “Rampart people are singing”) is a newer dance group. Rampart didn’t have a traditional dance group for a century and now has all the students from the Rampart School dancing and singing. Some of their songs were retrieved from the University of Alaska Fairbanks archives and some are recent creations.

The Nelson Island School Dancers are traveling all the way from Toksook Bay to perform. Their repertoire often includes a blessing song in Yupik and a piece about miners coming in a big boat to look for gold.

The Ovluaq Dance Group from Utqiagvik was organized and renamed after the late Warren Matumeak in honor of his dedicated selfless work in keeping Eskimo dance alive. Originally, the group was named Suurimaanitchuat, under the direction of Warren Matumeak and Walter Akpik Sr. Together, they created multiple songs and dances about their hunting experiences.

Emceeing on Oct. 17 are Ben Nemqerralria Anderson-Agimuk and Lorraine Cakataar Tom, both of Bethel. He is a local government specialist for the Alaska Division of Community and Regional Affairs and she is Miss Cama-I and Miss WEIO this year.

For the second night, Oct. 18, the Manley Hot Springs Traditional Dancers kick off the evening. Members represent Athabascan, Inupiaq and non-Natives. The group will dedicate their dances in memory of the late Judy Woods and the late Gladys Dart.

The University of Alaska Fairbanks Inu-Yupiaq Dance Group continues traditional forms of cultural expression through motion dancing.

The group performs contemporary and heritage songs from all corners of Alaska and provides a positive atmosphere for UAF students who are homesick, giving them an opportunity to practice their culture.

The traditional name of Tanana is Nuchalawoyya, which translates to “where the two rivers meet.” Nuchalawoyya was a meeting place for tribes up and down the Yukon and Tanana Rivers and their tributaries. It was considered neutral ground, and a place where important meetings and trading occurred. Traditional singing and dancing were always a part of every gathering and meeting and the Tanana Traditional Dancers continue the ways of their ancestors in song and dance.

The Taģiuģmiut Dancers of Utqiagvik formed in 2007 under the leadership of Vernon Elavgak. The songs came from a recording made in Barrow in 1946. Some of those songs hadn’t been heard for more than 50 years. They strive to keep the culture and traditions alive by teaching the younger generation.

The Kodiak Alutiiq Dancers formed in 1987 and continue to learn and share about their Alutiiq ancestral heritage and increase pride by reawakening their dance traditions. This group has been bringing back lost traditions by creating more diverse Alutiiq dresses, hats, bags, rattles, and other dance and ceremonial items. They learned the few remaining traditional Alutiiq songs, and have become songwriters to keep the tradition of song and dance alive.

Tikigaqmiut of Point Hope has performed in various gatherings across Alaska and even in Amsterdam. They continue the dances passed down from their ancestors, revolving around the bowhead whale and other animals that provide for their way of life.

Eric Reimers and Alice Qannik Glenn are the emcees for the second night. Reimers, originally from Iliamna, is a policy coordinator with the Alaska Native Health Board. Glenn, who grew up in Utqiagvik and now resides in Anchorage, is host of the podcast “Coffee & Quaq.”

The public is welcome to attend these performances at AFN, where attendees will see dances that have been handed down from generation to generation, connecting modern day Natives to their ancestors.