This paper briefly explores Alaska Native music and dance in traditional culture and looks into culturally responsive resources available to music educators in the state who desire to incorporate this unique traditional music style into their music programs.
Traditional Alaska Native music and dance are primarily sociocultural and historically have played a key role in achieving heightened social cohesion among the native cultures of Alaska (Johnston, 1976, p. 34). Williams (2005) states, “Native people are deeply spiritual people; historically, they had a rich ceremonial life that was profoundly expressed through music and dance — core means by which people communicate their identities and beliefs” (p. 33). Music and dance have been and currently are essential parts of Alaska Native culture and act as a banner or badge with which to affirm cultural identity and belief (Johnston, 1976, p. 54; Williams, 2005).
After contact with western civilization (late eighteenth century to present) Alaska Native music and dance traditions struggled to survive the cultural shift that ensued. Developments such as trading posts, Christian missionaries, western education and western government had far reaching effects on Alaska Native culture. Traditional culture was not viewed favorably by and held no value for most westerners. Alaska Native language and ceremonial ways became a punishable offense in many communities around the state. A consequence of this loss of value in traditional culture has been that much of the pre-contact music and dance was forgotten. The music currently surviving is what Mishler (1981) describes as “contact-traditional,” music that is reflective of the cultural shift of the Alaskan Natives since first contact with western civilization (p. 5). Since the 1960’s, the beginning of the native solidarity movement, there has been a resurgence of interest in Alaska Native culture, music and dance. In the words of Squartsoff (2015),
Currently we are experiencing a renaissance in traditional music and dance around the state. There are many traditional dance groups that regularly perform at dance festivals and community events. Cultural preservation projects such as the Kingikmuit Dance Festival, King Island Preservation Project (Williams, 2005), and Alutiiqu Preservation Project (Squartsoff, 2015) are a few of the many projects that have been created in an effort to document the surviving traditional music and dance repertoires of Alaska Natives.
The traditional music of Alaska Natives is intimately connected with dance and drumming. Typical performances will incorporate singing, drumming and dancing simultaneously. In fact, it is so common to incorporate these three elements in unison that it would be challenging to understand the role of Alaska Native music in culture without viewing them as one unified element. Each lyric and corresponding dance move is typically of a fixed or improvisational nature depending on the song and the purpose of the gathering in which it is performed.
According to Johnston (1976), group unison story-dancing by both men and women was the primary musical performance among the different Alaskan tribes - with the male drumming ensemble as an essential element (p. 27). The most common themes in story-dance depict hunting episodes, animal behavior, myths, tales and legends (p.29). Other important types of dance are ceremonial (welcome, death, feasting, etc.), name-sake or personal song and game. Typical features of these dances are either fixed or improvisational motions that go with the lyrics, and the position of the singer/dancer: standing, kneeling, or seated. The most common instruments used are the frame and box drum with beater. Performers’ attire is formal. A typical dance outfit includes a parka and mitts. Additionally performers may wear a mask or a headdress and incorporate dance fans or dance wands in their performance. Some dances, such as the Eagle Wolf Dance (Kakaruk & Oquilluk, 1964), require many other special items such as animal skins, ceremonial poles, etc. The most common location for a performance is the village community hall. Johnston describes the scene,
The distinction between performer and audience is often blurred as the energy of the performance transports the audience into the song itself and the performance becomes a group experience.
Teaching traditional Alaska Native music in our schools is a valuable way to enrich our students’ learning and understanding in a culturally responsive manner. The group nature of the music and dance lends itself well to music educational settings and it should be encouraged in our music programs around the state. Music educators are well aware of the value of teaching folk and world music traditions in their programs. So why not teach traditional Alaska Native music in the music programs in our state? Unfortunately, a majority of music educators in the state have limited exposure and no musical training in Alaska Native music. Additionally, there appears to be a limited amount of resource materials available to music educators who are interested in including traditional Alaska Native music and dance in their programs. Currently, the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) offers four courses on the topic: Music of Alaska Natives and Indigenous People of Northern Regions (MUS A215), Alaska Native Drummaking Techniques: Inupiaq and Yup’ik Style (MUS A218), Yup’ik Music and Dance Ensemble (MUS A356), and Inupiaq Music and Dance Ensemble (MUS A357). The University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) offers three courses on the topic: Alaska Native Music (MUS F223), Alaska Native Dance (ANS F160), and Advanced Native Dance (ANS F360). These courses are currently not required for music majors at either university, but starting Fall of 2016 UAF will require all music majors to take Alaska Native Music (MUS F223).
The most comprehensive Alaska Native music curriculum identified was in the Anchorage School District (ASD). This was developed through funding from the Title VII Indian Education Act. Title VII provides federal funding to meet the unique educational and culturally related academic needs of American Indian and Alaska Native students. This curriculum was written by Congdon and Hunt (N.D.), two ASD music educators, and includes lesson plans for grades 1st though 6th. Each lesson incorporates traditional knowledge and stories with singing, dance, and listening (via iPods). Currently the access is restricted. For the purpose of this paper, permission was obtained to share a lesson plan and the Alaska Native music resource page that are part of this curriculum (See addendum 1.1 & 1.2, for more information on how to obtain this curriculum please see the annotated reference and resources list). No Alaska Native music and dance curriculum was found for the middle and high school level. From 2001-2014 the Native Heritage Center in Anchorage hosted a cultural after-school program for high school students which incorporated music and dance. One of the educators who worked in this program, Marcella Asicksik, was able to share her rubrics for music and dance (see addendum 1.4, may be useful for assessment). Unfortunately, this program was not funded in 2015. The Alaska Native Heritage Center hopes to get the program re-funded in 2016. Neither the Alaska Native Cultural charter school in Anchorage nor the Effie Kokrine charter school in Fairbanks have a music educator on staff and neither have developed any curriculum concerning music and dance. Due to time limitations, rural school districts were not contacted.
In conclusion, preserving traditional Alaska Native music and dance, as well as developing quality curriculum that music educators can use in their programs seems of utmost importance. In order to support culturally responsive learning environments for all students (K-University) in the state, the development of quality teaching and learning resources seems necessary. The annotated reference and resource list provided at the end of this paper is a comprehensive list of what is currently available in print through the library. However, most of these sources are out of print, so obtaining more than one copy on loan from the library would be challenging, thus a barrier as a resource to educators. Thanks to digital archive projects at UAF and statewide, some material is now available digitally (see the hyperlinks in annotated reference and resource list). This list is a good starting point to continue the effort to provide music educators with quality culturally responsive resources for their programs.
Alaska Native Language Center (2006). Mikelnguut yuarutait yugcetun: Yup’ik children’s songs. Fairbanks, Alaska: Alaska Native Language Center.
A Yup’ik songbook that provides Yup’ik words to many popular American folk and teaching songs. Accompanied by a CD sound recording. A resource for educators wishing to employ Yup’ik language in their program.
Barker, J. H., John, T., & Fienup-Riordan, A. (2010). Yupiit yuraryarait: Yup’ik ways of dancing. Fairbanks, AK: University of Alaska Press.
This book is an excellent resource on Yup’ik Dance in history, culture, and practice. This books serves as an excellent model for quality research in the field. It quotes and cites many primary sources. Accompanied by a DVD of traditional Yu’pik dances, which includes interviews. A resource for researchers and educators.
Congdon, D., & Hunt, E. (N.D.) Elementary lesson plans for teaching Alaska native music and dance. Anchorage School District.
Restricted access, please contact current music department head Bruce Wood at email@example.com for more information and access to these lesson plans: Title VII iPod Lessons, available online at http://asd-classroom-music.wikispaces.com/
This is an excellent curriculum that includes elements of story, music, dance and listening. Please see addendum for 1.1 for the lesson plan example and addendum 1.2 for the resource page (a comprehensive list of recordings and materials intended for music educators). A resource for educators.
Coray, C. (2007). Dnaghelt’ana Qut’ana K’eli Ahdelyax (They Sing the Songs of Many Peoples): The 1954 Nondalton Recordings of John Coray. Anchorage, Alaska: Kijik Corporation.
This book was inspired by a 1954 recording made by John Coray, a schoolteacher in Nondalton, Alaska. Perhaps one of the earliest recordings of Dena’ina music, Craig Coray (John Coray’s son) has transcribed the lyrics and notated most of the songs, as well as translated them into English. Includes rare performances on the plank drum. Accompanied by a CD sound recording. A resource for researchers.
Garfield, V. E. (1951). The Tsimshian: their arts and music. New York: J. J. Augustin.
This book covers has three sections written by different researchers: The Tsimshian and their neighbors, by V. E. Garfield, Tsimshian sculpture, by P. S. Wingert, and Tsimshian songs(p. 97-280), by M. Barbeau. Barbeau provides a brief history of Tsimshian music and dance as well as a large collection of songs with comments, translations, and transcriptions. Transcriptions include melody, lyrics, and drum parts. A resource for researchers.
Goodman, L. (1977). Music and Dance in Northwest Coast Indian Life. Tsaile, AZ: Navajo Community College Press.
This booklet covers Haida, Tsimshian, and Tlingit music, dance and ceremonial cultures. Includes a brief history, music and ceremonies, music and medicine, musical instruments, and a teacher’s guide. A resource for middle/high educators looking to introduce Haida, Tsimshian, and Tlingit music and dance, as well as researchers wanting an introduction to these three cultures music and dance. It would be great if an entire series of booklets like this were developed for each Alaska Native music and dance tradition. Unfortunately, only available through inter-library loan. Working with Alaska Digital Archive projects to get this digitized.
Ingstad, H. (1998). Songs of the Nunamiut. Oslo, Norway: Tano Aschehoug.
Helge Ingstad’s collection of 97 songs recorded in 1949-50 while living among the Nunamiut Eskimos in the Brooks Range. The booklet includes a short introduction and transcriptions of the recordings. Transcriptions are melodic, accompanied with sound recording. A resource for researchers available through the library.
Johnston, T. F., (1976). Eskimo music by region: A comparative circumpolar study. National Museum of Man Series, Canadian Ethnology Service Paper No. 32. National Museums of Canada, Ottowa.
This is a comprehensive study of Eskimo music and dance by region. Johnston makes cultural observations of the similarities and differences of Eskimo music and dance by region, as well as discuses the significance of Eskimo music in traditional culture. Excellent resource for researchers available for reference through the library.
Johnston, T. F. (1979). Music of the tanaina indians of south-central alaska. Tennessee Folklore Society Bulletin 45, p.12-16.
A brief ethnological report of the music of the Tanaina Indians of South Central Alaska. Detailed descriptions of musical applications in Tanaina culture and the components of Tanaina music. A resource for researchers.
Johnston, T. F., & Pulu, T. L. (1982). Koliganek Dance Songs. Anchorage, AK: Bilingual Education Program, Southwest Regional School District, Materials Development Center.
This book is an introduction to southern Yup’ik dance songs and dance motions and coordinates with a video produced by the National Bilingual Materials Development Center. A resource for music educators and well as researchers. However, without a digital version of the video a very challenging to use. I was unable to discover if the video was available digitally. The book is available at http://www.uafanlc.arsc.edu/data/Online/CY981J1981/CY981J1981.pdf
Note: This is the original manuscript, and is very hard to read.
Note: A digital version of the actual book. The print book is available through the library.
Johnston, T. F., & Pulu, T. L. (1982). Yup’ik Eskimo Songs. Anchorage, AK: Materials Development Center, Rural Education, University of Alaska, 1982.
Dance songs, story song, and game songs from Yup’ik culture. Includes 32 transcriptions of songs from Toksook Bay, Kasigluk and Pilot Station, Alaska. Each transcription includes melody, lyrics and translation. A stand-alone resource for primary and secondary teachers, and potentially useful for researchers. Available at http://www.uafanlc.arsc.edu/data/Online/CY981JP1982/CY981JP1982.pdf
Note: Excellent digital copy of the book, also available through the library.
Kakaruk, J. A., & Oquilluk, W. (1964). The Eagle Wolf Dance (Messenger Feast). Anchorage: Charles V. Lucier and William Oquilluk.
An oral history as told by Inupiaq elders born in the 1890s regarding the origins of the Eagle-Wolf Dance (last authentic performance in 1918) on the Seward Peninsula. This book would be an excellent resource for middle and high school educators looking for a primary source regarding Alaskan Native music and dance in culture. I could see many different applications of this text in education. I am working with the Alaskan Native Language Archive at UAF in an effort to get this book digitized, http://www.uaf.edu/anla/. This book is also an excellent primary source for researchers.
Mishler, C. W. (1981). Gwich’in athapaskan music and dance : an ethnography and ethnohistory. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Texas at Austin.
This dissertation goes thoroughly discusses Gwich’in musical styles, including fiddling, and modern styles as well as traditional. A comprehensive view of Gwich’in music. A resource for researchers.
Pulu, T. L., Johnston, T. F., Sampson, R. T., & Newlin, A. from information provided by David Frankson and Dinah Frankson (1979). Iñupiat Aġġisit Atuutiŋich: Iñupiat Dance Songs. Anchorage, AK: University of Alaska.
Introduction to Inupiaq dance as shared by Inupiat elders David and Dinah Frankson. Includes 21 transcriptions of songs from Point Hope. Each transcription includes lyrics, melody, and short history of song with images of dancers performing motions. Coordinates with video recording “Inupiat Dance Songs” of 1977 held in archives at University of Alaska Fairbanks. Excellent resource for educators, as well as researchers. No digital copy available of video, but a digital copy of the book can be found at http://www.uafanlc.arsc.edu/data/Online/IN979F1979/IN979F1979_smaller.pdf
Note: This is an excellent digital copy, also available through the library.
Pulu, T. L., Solomon, M., Johnston, T. F., & Jones, E. (1978). Koyukon Athabaskan Dance Songs. Anchorage, AK: National Bilingual Materials Development Center, University of Alaska.
Transcriptions of traditional songs from Koyukon, Nulato, Tanana, Huslia, and other interior villages as sung by elder Madeline Solomon. Transcriptions include lyrics, melody, translations and a short history of the song. This is an excellent resource for educators, as well as researchers. Digital copy available at http://library.alaska.gov/hist/hist_docs/docs/anlm/41699107.pdf
Note: Excellent digital copy, also available through the library.
Squartsoff, P., Drabek, A. & Blackwood, L. (2015). Alutiit Atuutet: Alutiiq Songs of the Kodiak Arichipelago. Kodiak, AK: Native Village of Afognak, Native Village of Port Lions, the Alutiiq Museum, Afognak Native Corporation, Administration of Native Americans.
This songbook transcribed by Squartsoff is part of a the Alutiiq cultural preservation project. A brief history of colonial suppression and cultural revitalization is provided along with the transcriptions and sound files. Transcriptions include author and composer, melody, lyrics, guitar tab, drum part, and a few translations. Excellent resource for educators, as well as researchers. Available digitally at http://www.alutiiqlanguage.org/files/Alutiiq%20Songbook%20NO%20glossary.pdf
Williams, M. (2005). To dance is to be: Heritage preservation in the 21st century. Alaska Park Science Journal, 4(1), 32-37.
This article briefly explores the role of Alaska Native music and dance in culture and the cultural preservation projects that are currently in place in Wales and King Island. A resource for middle and high school educators wishing to introduce Alaskan Native music, as well as researchers. Available digitally at http://www.nps.gov/akso/nature/science/ak_park_science/PDF/2005Vol4-1/williams.pdf
6th Grade- Culture
Soulja and Other Songs
Composed/Arranged By: Students of Toksook Bay
Lesson By: Darinda Congdon
• iPods cart from Title VII/Indian Education
• “New Yupik Dance”
• “Bingo Song”
• Introduce the dances:
o Ask students if they have watched or done any Yup’ik or Inupiaq
o Talk about components of the dance: men in front, women behind. If the men are standing, it’s Inupiaq. If the men are kneeling, it’s Yup’ik. Drummers and singers are behind or to the side. Women keep their knees and feet together, men apart, etc.
o Remind students that the dances often tell stories or honor someone or something. Ask students if they think people are writing new dances today.
o Explain where the song is from. Explain that they will watch the video and are to see if the dance is older or new. There are clues...
• Review iPod procedures with students and distribute iPods
• Students watch “Bingo”.
• Students reconvene.
o Allow student response—things they noticed
o What is the dance about? How do the students know? Do the see the
motions for Bingo? How does the audience respond?
o Who is leading the dance? Why do they wait to start the dance? (Dancers traded—notice that they need gloves to dance).
o What is the different role of men and women? How do you feel about
that? How do you think the people involved feel about it? What other places in music do men and women sometimes have different roles?
• Explain that they will watch one more, for fun, and see if they can identify what the dance is referencing.
• Students watch “New Yup’ik Dance”
o Identify and discuss.
Is the student able to explain that dances are still created? Is the student able to narrate what these two dances are about?
Correlate with Gwich’in fiddle music.
National Standards: 1. Singing 2. Performing on Instruments 3. Improvising 4. Composing 5. Reading/Notating 6. Listening/Analyzing/Describing 7. Evaluating 8. Relationship between Music and other Disciplines 9. Music in relation to History & Culture
Eskimo Drum Making
Quilting Hopper - 14” diameter, 1” rim
Airplane fabric (Ceconite) - 16” circle
Handle made from 1-5/16” full round trim, 5.5” long with 1” dado cut to 1/2 depth where handle attaches to the hoop. Sand ends.
Glue Gun and glue
Colored chalk and fixative
Verathane, brush and paint thinner
Single edged razor blade
Newspapers or plastic bags for drying on
1. Cut a circular piece of fabric 16” in diameter (or 2” larger than hoop size) Take hoop apart, put a thin coating of Elmer’s glue all the way around the outside of the inside ring. Put a thin coating of Elmer’s flue around the inside of the outside ring. Lay the fabric over the inside ring and slip the outer ring over the fabric and inside ring. Adjust the fabric to remove wrinkles and wipe off excess glue. Tighten the clamp screw on the hoop and let dry overnight. Use enough flue so that it saturates through the fabric, but be careful not to get glue on the exposed drum head.
2. Attach the handle with the glue gun, clamp or hold tightly for a few minutes and then let the drum dry, preferably overnight.
3. Remove and discard the bolt clamping the rim together.
4. Cut off the excess fabric with a single edged razor blade and then use a candle or BIC style lighter to burn off any loose threads.
5. Set iron at rayon setting and iron once around the rim with the iron half on and half off the rim. Go across the surface of the drum 2 or 3 times until the head is taut and wrinkles are smoothed out.
6. (Optional) Plan and draw an Alaskan design on the top side of the drum head with colored chalk. Blow off any excess chalk and spray with fixative and let dry an hour or two.
7. Brush both sides of drum and rim with one light coat of Verathane and allow to dry overnight in a well ventilated area. The drum handles have a hole drilled in the end so that you can make a drying rack using a 2 X 4 or 2 X 6 on the floor with 8 penny finishing nails protruding, and the drums can dry standing vertically like lollipops.
8. When Verathane is dry, try out drums for sound. the head can still be adjusted with an iron after the Verathane has dried. Check for loose handles or hoops and repair with glue or in the worst cases, with screws as necessary.