IT'S TOUGH TO BE A KID - just ask one. Growing up surrounded by both positive and negative influences isn’t always easy, especially once kids begin to question who they are, and how, and why. In Alaska, Native Youth in particular are constantly bombarded by past, present, and future all at once, and without some serious roots to set down at an early age, kids often take the path of least resistance.
The state’s Native groups have responded, showing real-life examples of success stories and offering opportunities for all kids, not just those with an Alaska Native background, how important it is to connect with one’s culture. Across the Last Frontier, museums and cultural centers strive to be living, breathing examples of Alaska’s texture, helping kids see that a tapestry of people is not merely one, but many. Below are a few of our favorites. We hope they will inspire your family the next time you visit these Alaskan communities:
Juneau : Alaska’s state capitol is home to the Alaska State Museum, where visitors can immerse themselves in past and present with a comprehensive eye. Featuring both perpetual and temporary exhibits (the most recent was about hats), the State Museum is an excellent place to begin an investigation into Alaska’s rich history. Best for school-aged kids. Open all year.
At the helm of a merchant ship at the Alaska State Museum in Juneau
Sitka: The Sheldon Jackson Museum sits on the former campus of the college of the same name, and boasts one of the most extensive collections of Alaskan artifacts ever assembled. Housed in a rotunda, the museum houses drawer after drawer of art, tools, clothing, household items, and toys, and a number of life-sized exhibits that are sure to capture kids’ attention. Preschool through high school ages do best in this smallish museum.
Anchorage: Many believe the Alaska Native Heritage Center is strictly a “summer-only” facility, and indeed it does not hold regular hours between Labor Day and Memorial Day. But, ANHC offers a consistent docket of events that are well-worth attending, and all include free admission. Try the Multicultural Drumming and Dance Festival in March for a daylong celebration. Check the ANHC website for a complete calendar, and don’t be shy about jumping in to the music or dancing; that’s the whole point. All ages are welcomed, and indeed embraced at all ANHC events.
An Athabascan fiddle lesson in the Hall of Elders in the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitor Center in Fairbanks
Fairbanks: The Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center on Dunkel Street is a wonderful opportunity to wander through the seasons of Interior Alaska and immerse your family in the vibrant colors of the Native people who have thrived for centuries. See how the Athabascans take time to teach their younger members the valuable skills that will carry them through life, hear some fiddle music, or take a peek at Native art that always tells a story. The entire family will enjoy this facility, a cooperative effort among the Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau, Alaska Geographic, Alaska Public Lands Information Centers, and the Tanana Valley Chiefs Conference.
If it takes a village to raise a child, then I am happy to do my part. Find more cultural experiences at AKontheGO.com.