05 Jan A Taste of Their Heritage
Child & Family Services plans a cycle of subsistence and cultural activities to engage families throughout the year
Last August, families who participate in CITC’s Child and Family Services (CFS) programming spent a day on the Kenai River. They pulled salmon from the river with a set net, cut the fish, then packed it to take it home. Thanks to a generous donation from Charlie’s Produce, they enjoyed healthy snacks while they fished.
The day-long summertime outing was an opportunity for families to learn about and engage in a traditional activity that connects them to their culture, said Viola Smith, program manager for CITC’s Luqu Kenu program.
Luqu Kenu—a Dena’ina Athabascan word that means “everyone is family”—provides parenting and wellness supportive services, navigation services, and opportunities to socialize with other families.
“It was the very first time one family had fished, and it was such a good opportunity to teach them how our ancestors did the same thing to get the fish and put it away for the winter months,” she described.
With these activities, she added, “we tell our families, This is who you are. Your parents, your grandparents, even if you didn’t know them—this is who they were, what they did to survive.”
Based on the success of the fishing trip, Luqu Kenu plans to schedule additional subsistence and cultural activities throughout 2023 for its families.
“Traditionally, you have a short period of time to gather as much as you can to sustain you through the winter,” Viola explained. “So, we’re showing our families how that cycle continues through the year. It’s an opportunity to get a taste of their heritage.”
Even today, in rural Alaska, people gather, hunt, fish, and rest according to the seasons. Winter, as described by “Observing Snow” from the Alaska Native Knowledge Network, was a time for the Athabascan people to hunt and break trail. People would also visit each other and spend the long, dark evenings telling stories and sharing knowledge.
For Luqu Kenu families, winter will bring sledding outings and ice fishing.
“We shift gears in the winter to include fun activities that allow parents to meet families from other programs and departments,” Viola said. Luqu Kenu frequently partners with other CITC programs for outings. In summer 2022, for example, participants from the Parents’ Journeys program—which has been fishing with the Kenai set net for years—helped Luqu Kenu families learn to fish and process what they caught.
For hunters and gatherers, spring brings the return of birds and signs that it’s time to gather wild greens, like wild onions and Labrador tea. Luqu Kenu families will similarly venture out to harvest greens that can later be combined with eucalyptus or chamomile and made into salve.
“Many of our Elders have used plants and herbs for medicine, so we teach how they made those things from our lands,” Viola said.
She hopes that spring will also provide an opportunity for families to try hooligan fishing, an activity Luqu Kenu missed in 2022.
Berry-picking, dip-netting, set-netting, fishing, cutting and smoking fish: Summer is a bountiful and busy time for those who engage in subsistence activities. Luqu Kenu families will likewise have a bounty of opportunities for summer day trips—including a journey to Seward in June this year for fishing with a rod and reel.
Because CITC serves families in Southcentral Alaska, berry-picking time is focused on what’s available locally, including salmonberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, and cranberries.
Families in Luqu Kenu come from many Alaska Native cultures, though, so Viola and other CFS staff make a point of highlighting differences between what’s available according to other regions and how different cultures might go about similar traditions in a variety of ways.
“When we have participants who come from Southeast Alaska, or the interior, we stop and talk about how their ancestors would have had a fish wheel, or might have processed salmon a different way,” she explained. “We try to be culturally relevant for everyone.”
Fall is traditionally hunting season. But it’s also a time to prepare for winter. In addition to drying and storing salmon and harvesting late-season berries, for Athabascan people, autumn was also a time to settle in at the fall camp, where they would stay through the freeze-up.
“We hope our participants will learn the subsistence way of living through these activities and teach this way of life to their children,” said Viola.
Throughout the year, Luqu Kenu families will also have opportunities to try traditional crafts like beading. Several other programs across CITC also offer workshops where people can learn jam-making, qaspeq-sewing, drum-making, and more. (Check the CITC calendar or follow us on Facebook to see upcoming opportunities!)
Learn more about Luqu Kenu and other CFS programs here.