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Preserving Gwich'in culture through fiddling

  • Author: Loren Holmes
  • Updated: October 18, 2016
  • Published October 18, 2016

In a back room at Fairbanks' Carlson Center, Evon Peter, a UAF vice chancellor and Gwich'in from Vashraii K'oo, or Arctic Village, was teaching old and young alike traditional fiddle dances.

"The fiddle was introduced to our people a few hundred years ago, by French fur trappers," Peter said. "Our people took it up and made it our own, and now we have a whole genre of fiddle music."

"We came down here to do our native dances," Fort Yukon elder Geno Fields said. "And we're hoping that we can help the young people learn our dances. I'm glad the young kids got into it, because that's what it's all about."

Peter and Fields both learned the traditional dances just by being a young kid in Gwich'in country. "In our village, especially during the holidays, we would dance seven or eight days in a row," Peter said. "We'd be dancing from 7 or 8 p.m. until sometimes five or six in the morning.

"As kids we'd always end up falling asleep underneath the benches on jackets," Peter said. "But pretty much all of us who grew up there learned these dances just growing up. It's just part of what you did."

According to Peter, fiddling is a key component of the Gwich'in culture. "It's a way for us to come together and enjoy food, it's a really great time for our elders. It's a really important part of Gwich'in culture, and it's something that my kids enjoy, and I enjoy too."

"You got a good thing going, so why not keep it going," said Peter.

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