Cultural Revitalization


Bringing Museum Research Home

Sven Haakanson, Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, U of Washington, Seattle

When we are talking about cultural revitalization it is important to keep in mind we are working with losses and tragedies that continue to impact our communities health. While the term can be seen in many ways it is my own understanding that doing this we are take the knowledge that is embodied in each piece so it can to be returned, understood and used once again in our lives. I have called this repatriating knowledge that was once forgotten and is now being reawakened once again through pieces from the past.

In starting a major project in a community one needs to start with establishing a consistent and long-term goal that brings a community together. Over the last twenty years this has been one of the lessons I have learned over and over in working on such projects. Just remember consistency is key to long term success.

What is the long-term vision and goal for doing such a project and how sustainable will it be once it takes off? Are you willing to work for free if it comes down to that? If you are then you will be okay for a time.

In 2015 we worked with everyone at the Akhiok kids camp and constructed a 16 foot frame of an angyaaq from scratch.

In 2016 we finished the tying, wrapped the frame with a fabric and went paddling in the angyaaq. This was the first time an angyaaq was sailed on Kodiak since the late 1800’s. 

What has made the projects I have worked on most successful is ensuring that the communities I am working with have ownership and control over what we are doing and having the willingness to step aside once this becomes part of how they see a project.

In starting the angyaaq project I had the privilege to research, document and photograph the 13 angyaat “open boats” that I helped identify in museums in Germany, Russia, France, and the US. These models were collected in the mid to late 1800’s and the largest collection is in Russia at the MAE. Currently we don’t know of any full sized Angyaaq from Kodiak that exists from this time. We were only able to learn about this boat from models, drawing from Cooks expeditions in 1778 and archaeological pieces from a site at Karluk, Alaska dating back 600 years.
Thanks to these museum collections, in my case the Burke Museum, I was able to fully examine the details of this boat and out of this reversed engineered the model to create kits so that we could make them. In the summer of 2014 I worked with the community of Akhiok at their Kids Camp held in August to construct 13 angyaaq models following traditional methods taught to us by a traditional kayak builder Alfred Naumoff, “no glue or nails.”

Young Sugpiat men with their completed model angyaat. This was the first time on Kodiak to have this boat made in a camp with students.