Further immersion in Native culture

Trip Start Jul 29, 2013
Trip End Aug 28, 2013

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What I did
Alaska Native Heritage Center Anchorage
Read my review - 4/5 stars

Flag of United States  , Alaska
Friday, August 23, 2013

I certainly didn't want to get up when I woke at 05.45 but had to if I wanted to nip in to see the native cemetery at Eklutna before returning the car, it was pouring when I left at 7.15am.

Just as well I had jandels on (different colours of course) as there was a fairly deep puddle between me & the gate into Eklutna cemetery. The area was first settled more than 800 years ago & is the oldest inhabited location in the Anchorage area. Russian Orthodox missionaries arrived in 1840 & the melding of Orthodox Christianity & native practices resulted in the brightly coloured spirit houses, as seen in the cemetery, the latter has been in use since 1650 & is now a historical park. The spirit houses are a uniquely Athabaskan tradition & are built by the family after the person's death. The graves are marked not just with their traditional spirit houses but also with an orthodox Christian cross.  There are also graves marked only with crosses, honouring the resting places of the Orthodox non native members of the church.

 Eklutna is the last of 8 villages that existed before construction of the Alaska Railroad brought an influx of American colonists around 1915. A railroad siding & station house were built near the village in 1918. Virtually all residents (population is estimated to be about 70) of Eklutna village are either Alaska Native or part Native. The federal government operated a boarding school for native children near the village before WWII.

I headed into the city allowing myself plenty of time to find Budget Rental Cars  as I didn't actually know how to get there. As it was I found it without much of a problem.

It was a nippy morning so I changed into trou before catching a bus into the city & walked down to Elderberry Park to see the Captain Cook statue only I couldn't find it in the park & was about to give up when a  couple called out from a high apartment balcony saying there were whales in the harbour. I asked if they knew where the Captain Cook monument was & the lady said that it was behind her. I continued walking round on the path, which seemed an awfully long way so went into a building which looked as though it could have an entry a couple of floors up onto street level. It did & I came out right beside the monument. There were a few people there & there was a great view of Knik Arm. A council man came along & looked over the railings to see if there were any homeless staying down below, I commented that it surely would be too wet for them & he said I would be surprised. I spoke with him for a while asking about benefits & what could the homeless & 'down on their luck' people do. He said that there are a fair number of job vacancies but many people don't want them, in addition to which one can't get a job without an address, although I was told later that it's not that difficult to get an address.

The sun was shining & it was a glorious day as I walked round the city looking for things I hadn't seen before.I took a reindeer dog with all the trimmings to Sheila & changed into shorts as I was boiled then went to 'Kobruk', a cafe & lovely gift shop with lots of unusual things, I could have bought loads to send home only the cost of postage is pretty high.

I had bought the ticket to the Native Heritage Centre a couple of weeks ago, it is a must see I had been told. As it is situated a few miles out of the centre there is a free shuttle several times a day which departs from various points in the city to go to the Centre. I caught the 2.05pm one & amongst the other passengers was a couple from NZ (Alexandra). An ad came on the radio about the State Fair & they asked the driver if he thought they should go to it. The driver didn't respond at first so I said that I thought that it is such an iconic thing that one should take the opportunity & go but if they take 2 cans of food tomorrow they will get in much cheaper (on reflection I think I put them astray with that as I think that only applied to yesterday but hey ho if they do that it will be another donation for The Food Pantry).

When we arrived at the Heritage Centre there was some dancing taking place by natives, they were all from different tribes. After that had finished one of the young dancers stayed to relate some native stories & legends, which I found very interesting but was conscious of the time & how much there was still to see so went to leave when an Australian lady a bit older than me approached & began talking about travelling on ones own. We chatted for ages then she asked if I was going outside to look at the village exhibits so we went together.

After nearly an hour spent looking at the replica houses & exhibits outside we went back in to watch some of the dancing as a new session had begun but then there wasn't much time left before the Centre closed so I hurredly looked around the museum part, which, although I had seen many similar things before in other museums etc I had visited I still found them most interesting. Too soon it was time for me to get out so the staff could lock up & go home. I was sitting in the sun when Sheila arrived to pick me up.

There was a traffic jam on the highway that was really bad so we were stop start the whole way, consequently the car was overheating. In order to cool it down Sheila had to put the heater on but her car windows do not open since a dog chewed through the wiring!!!! The car interior was getting very warm to say the least & we were beginning to bake so to let some air in we both held the car doors open as we drove along, the car wasn't going very fast though. That is until Sheila gave up with the traffic jam & came off the highway so we were driving a fair bit faster ..... with the doors open!! Luckily we didn't have to go far like that as we returned to the highway after seeing the traffic was flowing freely again. I suggested we go out for dinner & left it up to Sheila & Eddie to decide where to go to eat. Sheila drove us to a Mexican restaurant in Wasilla, it had begun to rain & there was lighteniing as we were driving along. Before long the rain got extremely heavy, we could hardly see, water was pouring off the roads & the ditches were overflowing. Eddie expressed surprise at how heavy the rain was & said that they never have rain like that. Sheila dropped us at the door,  went to park the car & met us inside. The restaurant was huge, I don't know why I was surprised as almost everything is bigger in Alaska. I was guided by Sheila & Eddie re what to order, although I couldn't decide which to pick & ended up having a dish that consisted of a taco, tamale & burrito with refried beans so that I could try more things.

The rain had stopped when we left the restaurant & on the way back to the house there was an incredible sunset & an unusual colour rainbow, which i simply had to photograph!!

We sat watching TV for a while & discussed the arrangements for my volunteering at the State Fair for the can run again. Eddie was going to be there about 8am but I didn't want to get there that early & Sheila said she could drop me off there on her way to work as she had to feed a friend's dogs whilst she was away. So when I went off to bed that was the plan - only with me plans tend to change, though I didn't know that at the time.


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