As students walked across a stage at Romig Middle School this week, they wore beaver mitts, seal gloves, beaded headdresses, mukluks and dance fans chosen as part of the Anchorage School District’s third annual Indigenous Fashion Show.
Avery Evanoff, 14, wore a blue qaspeq, fish-skin earrings and a beaded headdress — all gifted to her by her grandma. The Goldenview Middle School student said participating in the show felt like a way to celebrate her Unangax̂ and Aleut heritage.
“Growing up in the city, you don’t get a lot of opportunities like this. It’s just nice to be able to show what is special to me about how I grew up,” she said. Her family is spread out across the Aleutian chain and Bristol Bay.
“To me, it’s all about revitalizing culture,” said Mo Spooner, 16, who is Sugpiaq and a junior at East High School. He wore what his grandmother described as a snow-falling parka — regalia worn by Alutiiq dancers during celebratory dances.
“It’s about practicing all the traditions that generations before us weren’t allowed to do, and were silenced for,” he said. “I think it’s beautiful to practice these traditions for those who couldn’t.”
Staff who helped coordinate the show said they hoped the event would help students feel and show pride for their cultural identities.
“I have been a wallflower my whole life,” said Diana Boggess, who is a cultural immersion specialist with the district, and helped plan the show. Boggess, who is Siberian Yup’ik, said she “never was taught or encouraged to put myself in a place of risk. What we’re trying to do is empower students to take that risk, to be seen, to take that initiative.”
The fashion show is part of an effort by the district and its Indigenous Education department to create more opportunities for cultural celebration by students, specifically around regalia, said Helena Batman, who is the department’s director.
In recent years, advocacy by students and family prompted the district to adjust its policy around what students can wear at graduation ceremonies.
Last year, students graduating from the Anchorage School District were allowed to wear traditional regalia in place of a cap and gown. Previously, the district had required pre-approval for students to wear regalia — a policy that drew strong pushback.
This year, the district is hosting several regalia-making workshops at schools with graduation styles in mind, staff said. The fashion show is part of that broader effort to give students opportunities to wear traditional regalia with pride, they said.
“We just really wanted to create an environment where kids were thinking about their regalia, asking questions with their families and learning about things they may have worn traditionally,” said Boggess.
“Seeing a lot of students come off that stage, and the pride and energy that they are experiencing, it’s really powerful for me,” she said.
Spooner said he hopes his peers feel empowered to participate in events like these.
“Have fun. Know that your Native culture is still alive, still strong. Don’t be embarrassed to be yourself,” he said.