For hundreds of years, Sugpiat peoples across regions of the Alaskan Peninsula, Kodiak Island, and Prince William Sound relied on Angyaat (boats) for cultural sustenance, maritime activities, hunting, and war. The boats were more than just transportation vessels; they were essential linchpins of Sugpiat culture, imbued with social, political, and economic capital.
However, early in the 1800s, once Russian settlers began occupying the area, the Angyatt was suddenly at risk of annihilation. As a means to express power and desecrate the symbolic and practical value of these boats, Russian settlers began to take and destroy Anygatt. By the late 1800’s, the Angyaat was all but erased from the region’s culture. Remnants existed in archaeological sites, and small models were in the collections of regional museums, but, for over 150 years, an Angyaaq had not been built in the Kodiak region.
In 2014, Explorers Club fellow Dr. Sven Haakanson FN’20, set out to change that. Recognizing that many cultural items have ended up in museums around the world after being collected from indigenous communities, Sven collaborated with the Burke Museum at the University of Washington and the community of Akhiok to construct new boats from collected Angayaaq models. From 2015 to 2016, Sven and his team used what they learned from these reconstructions to build two, full-sized angyaaq. Thanks to collections like the model angyaaq at the Burke museum, Sven’s community was able to take back and celebrate their cultural ways and knowledge once again.
Join The Explorers Club to learn about Sven’s 22 year journey to research these collections and restore traditional knowledge to his community, the Sugpiat from Kodiak Island.
Co-hosted by Alaskan Chapter Chair Joshua Lewis FN’04 and Mead Treadwell FN’02.
Sven Haakanson is a leader in the documentation, preservation, and revival of indigenous culture, including his own native Alaskan Sugpiaq traditions. He is a recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship (2007), the Museums Alaska Award for Excellence (2008), the ATALM Guardians of Culture and Lifeways Leadership Award (2012), and his work on the Angyaaq led it to be inducted into the Alaska Innovators Hall of Fame (2020). He was Executive Director of the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository (2000-2013 Kodiak, AK), and joined the University of Washington as a Professor of Anthropology and Curator of Native American collections at the Burke Museum in 2013. He played a central role in the design of the new Burke “Culture is Living” Gallery (2016-19).
Dr. Haakanson engages communities in cultural revitalization using material reconstruction as a form of scholarship and teaching. His projects have included the reconstruction of full-sized angyaaq boats from archaeological models, as well as halibut hooks, masks, paddles, and traditional processing of bear gut into waterproof material for clothing. He continues to collaborate with the community of Akhiok at their Akhiok Kids camp since 2000. Through such hands-on collaborations Dr. Haakanson brings traditions alive and engages students through active learning methods. Dr. Haakanson serves as a board member of the First Alaskan Institute (since 2006), the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation (from 2009-2020, Chair 2016-20), and Koniag Inc. (since 2015). He is also an accomplished carver and photographer.
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