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Free Public Lecture on Life and Death in the Arctic on January 15, 2016

Ernest “Tiger” Burch Memorial Lecture Series, 2016

Caribou, Cod, Climate, and Man: A Story of Life and Death in the Arctic

By: Morten Meldgaard, Natural History Museum of Denmark and University of Greenland

January 15th, 2016, 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. in the Baird Auditorium, National Museum of Natural History, Washington, D.C.

FREE AND OPEN TO THE PUBLIC

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Far from being a remote planetary ‘deep-freeze’, the Arctic region today is recognized as a dynamic environment that has played a major role in the evolution and spread of animals and plants as well as the migrations and development of peoples and cultures. This presentation begins by investigating why Late Quaternary megafauna like the mammoth and the woolly rhinoceros went extinct while others like caribou and bison prevailed. What caused these differential outcomes? And what was the role of humans and climate in the dramatic changes that took place subsequently?

In order to explore these questions we will consider the history of caribou and caribou hunting in Greenland, where excavations at the important site Aasivissuit (“the Great Summer Camp”) reveal a close human association for several thousand years. Archaeological evidence reveals that dramatic caribou population crashes have occurred time and again, forcing major changes in the human economies. The key to human survival has been the development of broad-based, resilient resource strategies.

To understand what this strategy looked like and how people coped with fluctuating resources we examine the 4000 year old Saqqaq site “Qeqertasussuq” on a small West Greenland island in Disko Bay that has produced a wealth of biocultural information from the frozen remains of seals, fish, caribou and whales. Ironically, in spite of apparent abundance, Saqqaq suddenly and mysteriously disappeared. What happened? Did the marine resource base disintegrate? Did winter sea-ice disappear? Were other agents in play?

Given recent history, one cannot but wonder if humans had a decisive role in cycles of key resource populations over time?  Archaeology and history shows that humans have decimated many Arctic animal populations and that the scale of human impact has changed dramatically with industrialized exploitation. Instances of local prehistoric population decreases and extinctions have been replaced by massive over-exploitation that is resulting in possible irreversible changes in the populations of keystone species and even in the structure of entire ecosystems, in the Arctic and beyond.

Dr. Morten Meldgaard (Ph.D. in Biology, 1990, University of Copenhagen) is Professor of Arctic environmental history at the University of Greenland. He served as the directors of Danish Natural History Museum (2007-2014), The North Atlantic House (a cultural center for culture and art, 2000-2005), and the Danish Polar Center (1995-200). He conducted zooarchaeological research in Greenland and Labrador and published widely on historical ecology, animal fluctuation cycles, Inuit use of animal resources, and application of mtDNA and other genomic data in studying ancient human migrations in the Arctic.



Yuungnaqpiallerput (The Way We Genuinely Live): Masterworks of Yup'ik Science and Survival – A Retrospective

By Chelsi Slotten with Ann Fienup-Riordan

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The Bering Sea coast is a sparsely inhabited bit of the sub-arctic Tundra. Despite this, the Yup’ik people have made their home there for centuries. The sophisticated design of their tools allowed the Yup’ik people to live in an area that no one else would inhabit. Despite having no word for science, the Yup’ik people’s tools, containers, weapons, watercraft and clothing were and are very scientifically advanced. Objects from 13 major US and European collections were used to explored the scientific principles and spiritual values that allowed the Yup’ik people to survive in the harsh environment they made home. The exhibit reveals the creative and inventive nature of the Yup’ik people in the past and looks at how their traditions influences their lives today. In recognition of the fifth anniversary of this exhibit I caught up with the curator Dr. Ann Fienup-Riordan to talk to her about her memories of this exhibit.

Q: What was your favorite part of this exhibit? Imageswap_6

A:  My favorite part of the exhibit was working with such knowledgeable elders and younger Yup’ik men and women who were learning along with me.

Q: Did you learn anything particularly unexpected while you were working on this exhibit?

A: I learned many many new and unexpected things—for example, how seal oil mixed with moss and left in sunlight becomes as strong as Epoxy; how one can make tools and clothing that fit perfectly by using one’s outstretched arms, fingers, and hands as standards of measurement; how putting one’s ear against a the handle of a paddle allows one to hear sounds underwater. Men and women had to learn so many things to live in southwest Alaska.

Q: What can we learn from the Yup’ik people’s culture?

A: I think the Yup’ik view of the world as responsive to human thought and deed is among the most profound things elders teach. This view is evident in many ways. For example, when they say, “The world is changing, following its people,” they are drawing our attention to the fact that not only human actions in the world, but human interactions, affect us all.

Q: Is there anything else you particularly want to share about this exhibit?

A: Not only do Yup’ik people know a great deal about living on the land and sea, they generously share this knowledge. Their generosity of spirit is their greatest gift.

This wonderful exhibit may no longer be on display here at NMNH but the content is available online at http://www.yupikscience.org/.


Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga- A Retrospective

By: Chelsi Slotten with William Fitzhugh

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Ask most people who the first Europeans in North American were and they would probably answer Christopher Columbus. They would also be incorrect. The first Europeans to land in North America were actually a group of Vikings sailing under Leif Eriksson almost 500 years before Christopher Columbus. Leif’s trip to North American resulted in a settlement at L’Anse aux Meadows in northern Newfoundland and contact with the Native American population there. The world became much smaller that day as human interactions circled the globe for the first time in human history. Monumental as this event was, Leif does not deserve all the credit. His eventual landing in Newfoundland was the culmination of 200 years of travel and exploration by his Viking ancestors. Fifteen years ago the Arctic Studies Center curated Vikings: The North Atlantic Saga to trace that journey across the Atlantic Ocean. In journeying across the Atlantic, questions of how we know our past and its relevance today were addressed. As the world continues to shrink as a result of better transportation and the internet it’s useful to reflect on where we came from and to that end I have a couple questions for Dr. Fitzhugh.

Q: What was your favorite part of this exhibit?  10-ship

A: Producing “Vikings: the North Atlantic Saga” was incredibly complicated and expensive. Hillary Clinton kicked off our fund-raising effort. Curators from seven nations participated  and a dozen museums loaned objects. The shop opened at the Smithsonian and then traveled around North America for three years. We published a great book(cover shown to right) and we connected with a huge population of Scandinavian and Nordic people in North America. Fifteen years later I’m still lecturing about Vikings!

The most exciting part of the exhibit was the opening when I met the kings, queens, and presidents of all those countries and had lunch with all of them and the Clintons in the White House. Dessert? Chocolate Viking ships filled with ice cream and fruit!

Q: Have there been any major discoveries in the past 15 years that change or deepen our understanding of Viking travel to North America?

A: Nearly every year archaeologists find new Viking sites and artifacts. Recently a mass grave was excavated in Britain, a Viking ship burial in Scotland; a Norwegian penny dating 1065-85 in an Indian site in Maine; spoils from a wrecked Viking voyage in North Greenland, and studies of Viking burials in Greenland showing—contrary to previous belief that the Norse did not adopt an Inuit economy-- increasing use of marine foods (fish, seals) in their diet during the life of the Greenland Norse colonies.

Q: Why do you think people are still so fascinated with Vikings centuries after their era ended?

A: Vikings are a touch-stone topic! Everyone learns about Vikings in grade school—especially the raiding and pillaging. We are fascinated by these ‘barbarians who turned Christian’, their bravery, their boat-building skills, their sagas and poetry. They sailed across the Atlantic in small boats; they voyaged to Rome and Istanbul. They were also traders and nation-builders. Who wouldn’t be ga-ga for Vikings!!!

Q: What can the Vikings teach us that is relevant today?

A: Vikings were the quintessential explorers – they explored nearly half the globe and were builders of the finest boats of their day. They braved the storms of the North Atlantic and lived at the edge of the known world for nearly 500 years in Greenland. As we reach for the heavens in our space-ships we are following the quest for knowledge and exploration demonstrated by Vikings a millennia ago.  

Q: Is there anything else of particular importance you want people to know?

A: Be a Viking! Explore. Search. Sing. Work hard. And you will change the world just like the Vikings did.

If you’re interested in learning more about this fascinating period in history the online exhibit is publicly available here: http://www.mnh.si.edu/vikings/.


Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People- A Retrospective

 

By: Chelsi Slotten with William Fitzhugh

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Ainu means “human”- Ainu means “us”. These powerful words are the beginning of a journey to understand the indigenous population of northern Japan-the Ainu. In the exhibit Ainu: Spirit of a Northern People, we meet a 10,000-year-old culture. Through select objects and artworks the themes of spirituality, trade, cultural identity, contemporary vitality, and fine art are explored. The effects of environmental, historical, and social forces on this culture are also considered.   Video commentary by curator’s Dr. Chisato Dubreuil and Dr. William Fitzhugh can be found throughout the online exhibit. Fifteen years after the closing of this exhibit I sat down with Dr. Fitzhugh to ask him some questions about his recollection of the exhibit.Ainu168

Q: What was your favorite part of this exhibit?

A: Meeting contemporary Ainu and coming to appreciate their culture, their art, ceremony, and oral history was truly exciting. But my biggest thrill was watching visitors in the exhibit hall—they were blown away by the beauty of Ainu objects and philosophy of life.

Q: Did you learn anything particularly unexpected or interesting while you were preparing this exhibit?

A: I could not avoid “becoming Ainu”! As a curator I immersed myself in the Ainu world, physically and emotionally. Chisato and I spent hours visiting her people and studying the Smithsonian 19th century collection of Ainu photographs and ethnographic objects. I began to see through Ainu eyes!    

Q: Have any major Ainu finds occurred in the last 15 years that help shed new light on historical Ainu culture?

A: After 150 years Ainu and their culture and language are finally being recognized by the Japanese people and government. There will be a national museum of the Ainu and more support for Ainu art and language. But still no land-claims or financial reparations. The Ainu and Japanese still have many issues to resolve.

Q: Is there anything else you particularly want to share about this exhibit?

A: Ainu honored the spirits they believed inhabit all living things and objects--even trees and rocks had souls. Today Ainu continue to honor the spirits of nature and practice rituals and ‘sending ceremonies’ that maintain the balance of nature. We have much to learn from Ainu culture.

For those of you whose curiosity has been peaked (I know mine was!) the interactive online exhibition can be found here http://www.mnh.si.edu/arctic/ainu/index.html.


Smithsonian Spotlight: Alaska Native Language Recovery

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Date: Thursday, November 5th at 7pm

Location: Arctic Studies Center at the Anchorage Museum

D. Roy Mitchell, research analyst for the Alaska Native Language Preservation & Advisory Council, discusses the causes of language loss including involuntary boarding school programs in the past to ongoing economic and political domination, and the work by Alaska Native communities to revitalize their languages.


This event is sponsored by the Recovering Voices Program, an initiative led by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.


Tracing Roots: Delores Churchill and the Hat of the Long Ago Person Found

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What would you do if you found a woven spruce hat in a retreating glacier?  For master weaver Delores Churchill, it was a chance to connect the past to her present. The National Museum of Natural History will host a screening of “Tracing Roots: Delores Churchill and the Hat of the Long Ago Person Found” on October 28th.   Please join us as we accompany her on a journey into the past to discover the origins of this unique artifact and what it means to the Haida culture. 

Delores Churchill is a Haida elder from Ketchikan, Alaska who has devoted much of her life to mastering the craft of weaving and preserving her cultural heritage.   As a child, she was forced to leave home and attend a residential school.  While there, she was not allowed to speak her native language or adhere to her tribe’s cultural practices.  Despite this, Delores remembered her language and tradition and is a strong proponent of keeping traditional language and culture alive.  She learned to weave from her mother Selina Peratrovich, a respected weaver in her own right, who taught Delores everything she knew.  Haida weaving uses cedar bark and spruce roots to create tightly woven baskets and hats.  The weaving is so tight as to be waterproof.   Traditionally only females were allowed to weave in Haida culture but males are now learning the craft as well.   Delores is certain that passing the knowledge down through classes and traditional channels will help keep the Haida weaving tradition alive and ensure that Native art is viewed as part of the modern world, not just as museum artifacts.

This program on October 28th is free and open to the public. The film screening begins at 6:15 in  Q?rius Theater at the National Museum of Natural History. After the screening, there will be a discussion session with Delores Churchill and producer/director Ellen Frankenstein where we welcome your questions, as well as a weaving demonstration. Earlier in the day, Delores will demonstrate her weaving in NMNH’s Q?rius Education Center.

Please RSVP for this event here


Harvest: Quyurciq and other films

PWilliams by Fabio Domenig CROP

 

Date: Sunday, October 11th at 2pm

Location: Anchorage Museum auditorium, FREE

 

Documentary shorts about Alaska Natives, including Harvest: Quyurciq featuring Peter Paul Kawagaelg Williams (Yup'ik) of Sitka. Other films are A Way of Making Life Beautiful: Yup'ik Art Between Two Worlds, Trapping at 15 Below, and The Story of NANANordic. A question and answer session with Williams follows the film screenings. Free. Enter through the Seventh Avenue entrance.

Photo by Fabio Domenig


Material Traditions Artists' Residency

Tsimshian whistle 014171_000 smVoices from Cedar: Carved Whistles and Rattles of Southeast Alaska

Whistles, rattles, and clappers summon spirits and echo their voices during the dances and ceremonies of Southeast Alaska. Carved from red or yellow cedar, these traditional instruments blend distinctive musical sounds with complex beauty of form. Master carvers John Hudson (Tsimshian), Norman Jackson (Tlingit), and Donald Varnell (Haida) will demonstrate how they are made and share knowledge of their cultural meanings during the Voices from Cedar artists’ residency October 5th-9th at the Smithsonian Arctic Studies Center, located in the Anchorage Museum. The artists will teach students and museum staff, and compare their own work to historical examples in the Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage exhibition. Museum members and the public are welcome to meet the artists during open house hours on Thursday Oct. 8 and Friday Oct. 9 from 1-3pm.

The program is sponsored by the Surdna Foundation, CIRI Foundation, and Smithsonian Council for Arctic Studies.

Photo: Tsimshian whistle. National Museum of the American Indian collection.


Smithsonian Spotlight: In the Scheme of All Matters Iñupiaq

Edna MacLean EQ smallDate: Thursday, September 3rd at noon 

Location: Arctic Studies Center gallery at the Anchorage Museum

According to Iñupiaq scholar Edna Ahgeak MacLean, Ph.D., "Courses of change to the Iñupiaq people of the North Slope will require strong programs for the retention of our identity as Iñupiat." In this lecture she discusses how her recently published North Slope Iñupiaq dictionary plays a part in this process.

This event is sponsored by the Recovering Voices Program, an initiative led by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.


Arctic Studies Center & Anchorage Museum Host Skateboarding Events

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The URBAN Interventions series of Polar Lab motivates and empowers youth through creative, healthy expression. The first program in this series, Skate Art, brings New York-based skateboarder Jim Murphy to the museum. A member of the Lenni Lenape tribe, Murphy is the co-founder of Wounded Knee Skateboards and the director of the Wounded Knee Four Directions Skateparks program of the Stronghold Society, a non-profit organization working with Native and non-Native youth through skateboarding and the arts. The museum hosts Murphy as he works with local youth to personalize skateboard decks with art inspired by Anchorage Museum and Smithsonian collections.

Additional free public events are: 

Public Lecture and Film Screening
7 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14 

Skate Jam
3 to 5 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 16
Spenard Recreation Center at the Anchorage Museum
Music, prizes, demos
Boarders and spectators welcome