With a $49,564 grant from the Institute from Museum and Library Services, the Alutiiq Museum will host a tribal summit to discuss topics in recent Alutiiq history. The Difficult Discussions project, which started in January, is an effort to identify stories from the past 250 years of Alutiiq life that tribal members wish the museum to tell. Representatives from ten Kodiak tribes will gather at the museum for a two-day summit planned for June.
“When the Alutiiq Museum opened it was hard to learn about Alutiiq traditions, anywhere,” said Executive Director April Laktonen Counceller. “Twenty-five years ago, Elders urged us not to focus on stories of oppression, because of the great need for cultural education. But now, some tribal members want us to look at the ways recent experiences have shaped our community. They advocate for an honest telling of our history to promote healing and combat stereotypes.”
At the two-day event, tribal members will hear presentations from tribal historians Counceller, Alisha Drabek, and Sven Haakanson. Each will share a different aspect of recent Alutiiq history. Following these presentations, tribal representatives will participate in facilitated discussions to share their personal stories and give advice about the topics to share in exhibits and publications. The Discussions will be facilitated by the First Nations Institute and supported by a mental health professional from the Kodiak Area Native Association.
“Our ancestors and Elders have persevered through incredible challenges,” said Counceller. “The massacre at Refuge Rock, the smallpox epidemic, abusive educational institutions, and medical mistreatment are not easy to talk about. Yet, they are an essential part of our history and directly relevant to understanding our communities. By providing an opportunity to discuss community history in a safe supportive space, Difficult Discussions will help people learn and share.”
Based on the instructions of tribal members, the museum will update its interpretive plan—the document that guides its educational efforts. The museum will also create a series of educational handouts and a script for a future exhibit.
Counceller said, “This project will allow tribal members to tell the stories that are important to them and help the museum provide a fuller, more truthful account of the Alutiiq experience. Not all of these stories are about pain and loss. There are also remarkable examples of resistance and perseverance among our people. We want to tell all of these stories.”
The Alutiiq Museum is a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving and sharing the history and culture of the Alutiiq, an Alaska Native tribal people. Representatives of Kodiak Alutiiq organizations govern the museum with funding from charitable contributions, memberships, grants, contracts, and sales.