On Mother’s Day a companion and I went to the Alaska Native Heritage Center for their 10 year anniversary celebration. The Alaska Native Heritage Center is located in north-east Anchorage, about 10 minutes from downtown Anchorage. The Center is a unique opportunity to experience many of Alaska’s native cultures and traditions in one location. For most visitors and Alaska residents alike, this may be the best opportunity to learn about native traditions as well as way of life.
We started our visit to the center by visiting the Welcome House which houses the Hall of Cultures, the Gathering Place, Theater as well as a café and gift shop. The “Gathering Place” is where they have native dancing and musical programs through out the day. The Hall of Cultures includes native artist studios and the cultural galleries which are well done and provide a realistic portrait of native life past and present. The theater continually runs films on Alaska native culture and is well worth enjoying if your time isn’t limited at the Center.
After exploring the Welcome House we stopped at the Raven’s Call Café which has an outdoor deck for relaxing and enjoying something to eat before starting the walk around Lake Tiulana to visit the 5 different Village sites. Each village site represents a different Alaska native culture and has a life-size traditional structure as well as related artifacts. The first village we came to was the Eyak, Tlingit, and Tsimshian Village. We talked with a native host inside this house about the totem outside. The host explained that the totem pole tells a story which starts at the top of the pole and ends at the bottom. As we explored each of the following villages – the Aleut and Alutiiq, the Inupiaq – St. Lawrence Island Yupik Village, and the Yupik Village; the village hosts were really good about talking to us about the houses we visited and about their cultural artifacts on display. The final village site we visited was Athabascan’s. The Athabascan native host explained how the Russians showed them how to originally place the logs for their walls horizontally instead of vertically to the keep the logs from sinking into the ground.
During the walk we saw a totem pole, kayaks, and a skeleton of a gray whale, a whale bone arch, a fish wheel and a cache. There are benches along the trail to relax and take pictures. After the walk we ended up back at the Welcome Place, where we went inside and enjoyed watching the native dancing, and musical programs, and watched a film.
We had a great visit; the Alaska Native Heritage Center is well worth taking time to experience. To make it easier to visit, the Center has its own complimentary shuttle from downtown. The shuttle departs on a schedule from the Anchorage Museum, the Sheraton Hotel, and the Visitor Log Cabin at 4th & “F” Streets.