Alutiiq Museum celebrates 15 years in Kodiak

By Louis Garcia
Kodiak, Alaska (AP) May 2010

The Alutiiq Museum celebrated 15 years of bringing native heritage culture and art to the people of Kodiak.

“Our successes have been great and further than we imagined,” Amy Steffian, deputy director, said.

The list of events at the May 15 celebration included hat making, mask making, dancing and the grand opening of the Wamwik play area for children.

The museum was originally funded by a $1.5 million grant the Kodiak Area Native Association (KANA) received from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trustee Council.

The grant was used along with a partnership with Natives of Kodiak to build the museum.

“Basically it was a joint operation between Natives of Kodiak and KANA to build the building which started in 1994,” Steffian said.

KANA at the time already had collections of Alutiiq items.

“A number of the founding collections were simply turned over from KANA to the museum,” Steffian said.

Steffian, who was the curator of the museum when it first opened and an archaeologist, said back then Alutiiq artifacts didn’t have a place to go.

“Alutiiq people didn’t have a place to store all of these wonderful things,” she said. “There wasn’t a place where they could be cared for or studied, stored and shared where they could become part of the fabric of the community and not just put on shelves.”

“It was a dream for a very long time to have a place where people could celebrate and feel comfortable about their heritage.”

Steffian feels that the goal they set forth 15 years ago of having a place for Alutiiq people has been met, but the museum continues to push forward with local, state and international collaborations as well as gaining national accreditation.

“We started with an empty building 15 years ago, built exhibits in it, filled it and created policies and reached the highest level of professional conduct,” Steffian said.

Now she says the museum is on the threshold of gaining accreditation – one of its biggest goals.

If the museum reaches that goal, which still has about a year to go, it would be only the seventh museum to be accredited in the state of Alaska, and only the second tribal museum in the nation.

Another future goal for museum staff is raising money so the size of the museum will be sufficient for the future.

“It’s time for the facility to catch up,” Steffian said. “Now it’s full and we need to expand.”

The museum continues the celebration over the next two weeks with numerous promotions and prizes based off of the No. 15.

Celebrating 15 years is just the beginning however, and the museum staff said they hope to continue giving the community the opportunity to learn about the Alutiiq history.

“It’s huge, we’re celebrating 15 years here,” said Carol Austerman, Alutiiq Museum business manager. “It’s been a big impact in the community for the entire 15 years and we want to stay for a long time, this is just the beginning for us.”