The Arctic Sounder

Utqiaġvik students entertain local seniors with a potluck and traditional dancing

In the Arctic, passing down the knowledge between generations often takes the form of a dance.

Iḷisaġvik College students and staff joined Elders at the Senior Center in Utqiaġvik on Aug. 25 for a potluck and performances. The students showcased their skills in traditional dancing, singing and drumming, said Frieda Nageak, external affairs coordinator at the college.

One of the students, Omkum Kenneth Soolook from Little Diomede, said that the importance of the event was in “showing what we’ve been taught growing up by our Elders so we can pass it down to the next generation.”

The Senior Citizen’s Program for the North Slope Elders invited organizations throughout the community to host a potluck on the last Friday of every month. The idea behind the event was to establish more activities at the Senior Center and ensure the continuation of Inupiaq traditions, Casey said.

“They share their knowledge and they are able to pass that along,” Casey said. “That’s an important part, and that’s what the potluck is for.”

Iḷisaġvik was the first to host the gathering, Nageak said. For the college students and staff, it was a chance to participate in community life and to exercise one of the most important Iñupiat values, love and respect for Elders and one another, Nageak said.

Celebrating Iñupiaq culture was another reason for students to embrace the event, said Iḷisaġvik College Dean of Student Services Hal Haynes Jr.


“Giving these opportunities for our students to share their talents with our campus community and at the same time connect with their rich historical culture is exactly one of our goals in promoting student engagement and success,” Haynes said.

Duck and tuttu soup, maktak, salmon and unalik, as well as fruit and macaroni salad, were some of the treats shared during the gathering, said Brett Casey, acting program coordinator at the Senior Citizen’s Program for the North Slope Elders.

Program Coordinator Bonnie Huddell said that “the Elders loved every bit of the meals, entertainment and prizes.”

“The dancing and drumming brought so much life to the event!” Huddell added.

Each Elder in attendance received a raffle ticket, and winners received an Iḷisaġvik bag with swag, Nageak said.

After dancing and singing, the Elders thanked the students for performing a Little Diomede song, Utqiaġvik student Aaluk Annie Saganna said.

“One of the important things about us dancing is we are all from different regions and how we embraced our songs and dances from each region,” Saganna said.

Student Nanauq Ronald Kippi-Kingik from Atqasuk agreed: “It’s important to keep our culture alive.”

Alena Naiden

Alena Naiden writes about communities in the North Slope and Northwest Arctic regions for the Arctic Sounder and ADN. Previously, she worked at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.