Fairbanks’ northern Alaska clime has a rich tapestry of indigenous cultures—Athabascan Indians in the Interior and Inupiaq Eskimos in the Arctic. Traditionally a nomadic people, many Athabascans retain a subsistence lifestyle which includes fishing, hunting and trapping supplemented by modern technology. The Inupiaq Eskimos subsist on the land and sea of northwest Alaska with its often extreme climate.
This rich tapestry comes to life through beadwork, ivory and bone carvings, dolls and skin sewing, and birch, spruce root and grass baskets—all handmade by Alaska Native artists. Dancing, drumming and storytelling also enjoy a rich legacy in the Interior and the Arctic. Dance along during the Athabascan Fiddlers Festival in November, learn more about Alaska’s Native culture at the Festival of Native Arts in March or see incredible feats of athletic ability at the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics in July. You’ll find beautiful beaded moose hide slippers, caribou skin masks, baleen baskets, walrus ivory cribbage boards and more on display and for sale. Outstanding Alaska Native artists offer a very real link to the past, as well as a bridge to the future.
Memories of the blanket toss at the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics: As the blanket was pulled out to set up for the Blanket Toss competition and its 50 or more pullers were balanced, the dance group sat alongside the arena in a yoga-like position with their legs pointed straight out and back upright and strong. As the blanket pullers rhythmically pulled the blanket, the drummer and singers of Tikigak began their soulful offering for all to hear. Beating in synchronicity to our heartbeats, the blanket, the drummers and singers began the most spiritual experience I’ve ever encountered. One could only hear the beats of a song long time passed on. Even the children were in awe of the sensory spectacle, and not boisterously running around with joy. It was quiet. This experience was beyond all others—it was the sharing of our heartbeats.