Sugt’stun Immersion Camp in Port Graham [+]

Port Graham Chief Ratii Norman instructing Canquq Ukatish in the traditional techniques of net hanging. Photo by Ap’a Morris.

Port Graham Chief Ratii Norman instructing Canquq Ukatish in the traditional techniques of net hanging. Photo by Ap’a Morris.

Ten campers at the June language immersion camp gave a resounding “YES! I will return to camp next year.” Sugt’sturllinaq Nupuglluta: We Only Speak Sugt’stun, was developed by the Chugachmiut Heritage Preservation Department in conjunction with the Port Graham Village Council. The goal of the camp was an intensive culturally-based program through which students, apprentices and counselors learned traditional Native skills and arts taught exclusively in Sugt’stun.

Campers learned Sugt’stun during two hour sessions held each morning and afternoon taught by Ataaka Moonin and Kukuu Ash. When not in the classes, they were using and hearing the language as they learned traditional activities. Fishermen donated fish to be cut, smoked and packaged. Chief Pat Norman arranged for piles of driftwood to be delivered for smoking. He also taught students how to hang a net using Sugt’stun in the process. Campers made wooden halibut hooks and learned to process other foods from the sea gathered during a beach walk. Afanisia Jager hosted the group for a visit at the Port Graham Museum and Archaeological Repository. During that visit, Elder Iwanuq Moonin described ways that the artifacts were used long ago.

Camp Director Gguitka Ash pulled songs and dances from his repertoire and held daily practice so campers could perform during their graduation. Maliya Yeaton taught songs and dances from Port Graham. In the evening Elders came and told stories in Sugt’stun, giving campers an opportunity to listen to the flow of the language. Evenings were also a time to play traditional games. For some of the campers, the best part of the day was the nightly trip to the dump with Ap’a Bob, including peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for a snack afterwards.

Two more camps are planned. The second will be 14 days for thirty students; the third will be a 14 day camp for forty campers. The purpose of Sugt’sturllinaq Nupuglluta: We Only Speak Sugt’stun camps is to increase the language proficiency of students and apprentice teachers. This will help ensure the sustainability of the Native language of the region, a highly endangered language with only a few Elders who are Sugt’stun first language speakers.

Preserving the Sugt’stun and the Sugpiaq culture is the priority of Chugachmiut and the Heritage Preservation Department. Community surveys have shown that the traditional language is of extremely high importance to the people of the region, and that culture and language education are two of the most important services that Chugachmiut offers. Our goal is to bring Elders and youth together and create a program that can support a high school language credit.

The camp was a Sugt’stun Language Revitalization Project funded by the Administration for Native Americans.