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Alutiiq Legends Book Published

Dec 28, 2021 | Alaska Native, Media & Arts, News

A portion of “Bear Woman” by Alyssa Ugausqaq Madrid, used as the book cover.

Alutiiq Museum

The Alutiiq Museum has released Unigkuat—Kodiak Alutiiq Legends, a book featuring sixty-two traditional tales from the Kodiak Archipelago.

First of Its Kind

The 279-page paperback compiled by Dehrich Chya and Amy F. Steffian presents Alutiiq tales from sources dating from the eighteenth century to 2005. The legends talk about the creation of the world and the cosmos, the exploits of heroes, and the wisdom of shamans, spirits, and animals—all while providing lessons about proper living. Unigkuat is the first publication of its kind for the Kodiak region.

“These legends are treasures passed down through the generations,” says Alutiiq Museum Executive Director April Laktonen Counceller. “Several of them are from recordings of my great-grandmother, Fedosia Anaknak Laktonen, made in 1962. Finding these tales, transcribing and editing them, and assembling them in one place was a big task. However, when viewed together, they provide a rich view of the Alutiiq world, of the beliefs and values that have shaped our communities for centuries.”

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In the Alutiiq world, pictures are an important part of storytelling. Following this tradition, the museum invited community artists to create illustrations for the book. Thirty-one artists participated in creating thirty-nine black and white images. Many are digital compositions, like Alyssa Ugausqaq Madrid’s “Bear Woman.” This piece, featured on the book’s cover, shows the transformation of a woman into a bear. Other illustrations are paintings, drawings, woodblock prints, and a fabric collage.

Copies of Unigkuat are being distributed to Kodiak schools, libraries, and Native organizations. The museum is also in the process of creating an ebook, which will be available for free download from the publication page of the museum website. Paper copies are available at the Alutiiq Museum Store for $20.

In 2022, the museum will feature a selection of the legends in a monthly podcast. Community members will read the tales, which will be shared via Anchor.fm, the museum’s website, and social media on the first Friday of every month.

Funding for the development of Unigkuat was provided by the Munartet Project, a multi-year collaboration between the museum, the Kodiak Arts Council, Kodiak College, and the Kodiak Island Borough School District, funded through the Alaska State Council on the Arts. Project partners work to train early career teachers to teach in and through the arts and culture in Kodiak. (“Munartet” is the Alutiiq word for artists.) Additional support was provided by the Kodiak Island Borough School District READ program.

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