Chenega Culture Preservation Program

With a steady decline in the number of Alaska Natives who have lived the traditional subsistence lifestyle and can speak the Sugcestun (pronounced: sooks-tun) language the culture and traditions of the Chenega people need to be preserved and passed on in order to survive

Chenega is very unique and their Sugcestun language is referred to as similar to the Yupik language dialect. Chenega Sugcestun speakers can understand some of the Yupik language.

According Dr. Michael Kraus, author of the Alaska Native Language Map, Sugpiaq is one of the twenty major Alaska Native language groups, like Yupik or Ahtna or Tlingit. Sugcestun is a cultural term used by the Native Peoples of Prince William Sound to refer to their language, especially the local indigenous dialects such as that found in Chenega Bay. Thus, they are used interchangeably.

Mission Statement

The Sugcestun Language and Cultural History Preservation Project committee’s mission is to preserve, strengthen, enhance and teach the Sugcestun language and cultural history for the present and future generation of the Prince William Sound Sugpiat.

Vision Statement

The Sugcestun Language and Cultural History Preservation Project committee’s vision is to capture our Sugpiat history and to teach our future Sugpiat through the preservation of our Sugcestun language and cultural heritage.

History

In 2004, the Chenega Corporation Board launched the Chenega Culture Preservation Program to address that need. A committee of Chenega Elders and Chenega youth engaged in strategic planning to develop a mission and vision for this culture preservation and goals and an action plan to achieve them. The original goals identified were:

  • Record Elders knowledge of Sugcestun language and cultural heritage.
  • Create opportunities to revitalize and revive traditional Alutiiq practices of religion, subsistence, education and community values.
  • Reintroduce a Sugcestun Language & Culture Preservation Program in the Chenega Bay School.

Projects

The Day That Cries Forever This compilation of first person accounts of the deadly 1964 earthquake and tsunamis that hit Chenega Island and claimed 26 lives, over 1/3 of the people. Chenega suffered the highest percentage of loss of life of any community in the earthquake. The book received national acclaim and recognition.

Chenega is Gone (DVD) This fifty-three-minute documentary, created by the Red Cross with its CBS affiliate TV station in San Francisco, chronicles the events that occurred in Chenega directly after the 1964 earthquake, as well as the months that followed.

We Are the Land We Are the Sea This compilation includes stories of a subsistence lifestyle and recipes of subsistence foods as told by the Native People of Chenega Bay, Alaska.

Subsistence Poster This colorful poster documents each month of the year naming the various subsistence harvesting, fishing and hunting that is done in and around Prince William Sound.

Twelve Language Posters with CD of pronunciations These Posters and CD compilations include the pronunciations of the words by Chenega Elders and phonetic spelling of the Chenega Sugcestun Language.

Archived Artifacts from an Archaeological Survey at the Original Chenega Village SitePrior to the construction of a pavilion on Chenega Island at the original village site, the National Forest Service conducted an archaeological survey where over 400 artifacts were found. Among them were chips of plates and cups, kitchen pots and ladles, guns, buttons, marbles, oil cans, perfume bottles and other remnants of Chenega’s past. Elders were filmed telling stories of the days these artifacts were once a part of daily life.

Russian Orthodox Christmas and Easter Songs (2 CD’s) The Russian Christmas traditions celebrated in Alaska were brought over by Russian frontiersman from the Ukraine, in the 1600’s. Russian Christmas like American Christmas, is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ. It is celebrated 13 days after December 25th, on January 7, 8 and 9. The Russian Orthodox Church follows the Julian calendar which calculates Christmas 13 days after the Gregorian calendar. Easter, or more commonly known as Pascha, also has Its customary holiday songs recorded on a CD. Each CD includes the voices of Chenega Elders singing the songs, with an accompanying song book.

Chenega Diaries: Stories and Voices of Our Past This compelling book and documentary DVD tells the story of life and times of the Chenega People circa the late 1940’s. Using the children’s diary entries, archived correspondence, and over 350 photographs, daily life in the Chenega Village during that time comes alive! Stories, myths, memories, recipes, and more from Chenega Elders were collected and added to the book, documentary and website: www.ChenegaDiaries.com as they recollect their memories of that time. With this project we also branched out into the community, sharing this publication package with teachers and administrators at the Chugach School District and statewide through the Alaska State Library System, sharing the Chenega story far and wide. Please note: The Chenega Diaries DVD plays best in a DVD player and may not work in all computers.

Chenega and the Church – Preserving the Traditions of our Faith This three-volume publication describes the history of Chenega’s Christian Orthodox faith and the traditions and recipes celebrated throughout the year, and throughout our lifetime. It also includes CD’s of Chenega’s Christmas and Easter songs.

Chenega Dictionary – Connecting and Preserving the Pieces of our Language This dictionary includes over 200 conversational phrases with 17 additional chapters of commonly used words, each with proper spelling and pronunciations.

Ojameltkatis beaded bracelet-making LessonThis instructional tri-fold brochure is based on a beaded bracelet design discovered in 1953 on an archeological expedition in Prince William Sound. It includes information necessary to learn the craft of making a beaded bracelet, armlet or neck bands designed to resemble those found during the expedition.

Resurrected a Chenega Song from 1900’s: “Gotta Go To School” The simple and timeless words and the tune of the song are easy to teach to children giving them a new appreciation for learning about their culture.

Baidarka Building Workshop with Mitch Poling Mitch Poling learned the art of bairdarka building from his early years in Chenega. In later life, under the tutelage of Chenega Elders, Mitch mastered the art, and today provides hands-on workshops to pass this craft on for generations to come. Chenega sponsored a 10-week baidarka building class in Chenega Bay, engaging the entire community with work, infusing a shared team spirit which yielded three beautiful two-seat baidarkas that are used today in the village for recreational purposes and subsistence hunts.

Today, the Chenega Culture Preservation Program is ongoing, meeting annually to capture the memories and experiences of the Chenega Elders and develop ways to pass them down to descendants for the benefit of generations to come.

Grant funding is essential to many of these initiatives in addition to the generous financial support provided by Chenega Corporation.

To make a donation or purchase a publication or one of our recordings, please contact Chenega’s Shareholder Services Manager at shareholderservices@chenegafuture.com