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4-H culture camp in Clark’s Point focuses on Alaska Native heritage

Avery Lill/ KDLG

A three-day culture camp in Clark's point concluded Thursday as students danced to traditional songs about akutaq and the northern lights. They used dance fans and drums they made during the week.

About a dozen students, mostly elementary age, gathered around 4-H culture camp coordinator Deanna Baier with drums they made from fake leather stretched over embroidery hoops. They could barely contain their excitement or their drumming as she explained how to beat in time to a traditional dance.

“When you drum, you need to listen to your heartbeat,” said Baier, demonstrating with her own drum. “Pay attention to what’s inside you.”

Thursday was the last day of youth culture camp. Baier spent three days teaching students about area fish, insects and birds. She led them in traditional dances and helped them make traditional crafts. She also taught them to make herbal lotions and salves.

Credit Avery Lill/ KDLG
Jason Lee, 5, and Samuel Slattenguin, 8, watch Deanna Baier make chythlook and yarrow infused lotion.

Taking the students on a walk outside, she showed them how to identify chythlook, yarrow and plantain. Then, she used the plants they picked as the medicinal base for an olive oil and shea butter lotion. Even though these plants grow in abundance across much of Bristol Bay, it was an opportunity to teach students to take only what they needed.

“I try to get the kids to just pick a few leaves at a time and leave the plants and roots so that they can grow back,” said Baier.

This camp at Clark’s Point was one of three that 4-H put on this summer. Clark’s Point, Dillingham and Chignik Lake were each awarded a Bristol Bay Cultural Heritage Grant from the Bristol Bay Native Corporation Education Foundation. Each community received between $1000 and $3000 dollars to host a 4-H youth culture camp. The goal was to give students a deeper understanding of Alaska Native tradition.

“The values of sharing with others, taking care of our elders and respecting nature, not overharvesting the fish or the plants, all of those are essential,” Baier explained.

Credit Avery Lill/ KDLG
Kaitlyn Aikins, 3, plays her drum.

For five-year-old Kyson Ramondos, camp was as much about playing outside as it was making crafts.

“I climb the trees. I do my drum over there, bang on it, and then I play in the rain and get wet,” he said, listing the things he enjoyed.

As the campers practiced gymnastics and played tag between learning about the salmon life cycle and making dance fans, it was clear they were having a good time. However, when camp drew to a close with a village potluck, everyone settled down to show the community the traditional dances they learned. Then they handed out their herbal salves to the elders and sat down to a meal of moose, berry pie and akutaq.

Contact the author at avery@kdlg.org or 907-842-5281.

Credit Avery Lill/ KDLG
Olivia Harvilla, 8, gives away the herbal lotion she helped make.