Strengthening cultural traditions far from home

The Giving Thanks Dance Festival and Potluck is an opportunity for Alaska Native groups to share their traditional dancing and culture with the community.

The UAA Native Student Council hosted the fifth annual event.

“Many students aren’t able to go home for the holidays. This event is a way for them to connect with their community,” Aaron Tolen, a member of the UAA Native Student Council said.

Traditionally, students would go home for the holidays, enjoy a meal with family and then head to the gym for a dance festival. This event is a way for them to feel that sense of connection, even if they can’t go home for the holidays, according to Tolen.

The event featured a potluck meal and three dance group performing traditional and newly created routines.

Paniqkaq, also known as Agatha John-Shields, was presented an award from the Native Student Council for her dedication to the native community at UAA.
Paniqkaq, also known as Agatha John-Shields, was presented an award from the Native Student Council for her dedication to the native community at UAA. Photos by Chase Burnett.
The Dena'ina Athabascan dance group Ida'ina K'eljeshna performs a traditional dance routine.
The Dena’ina Athabascan dance group Ida’ina K’eljeshna performs a traditional dance routine.
The Tlingit and Haida Dancers of Anchorage perform a traditional dance routine.
The Tlingit and Haida Dancers of Anchorage perform a traditional dance routine.
A member of the King Island Singers and Dancers of Anchorage performs a traditional dance routine about a walrus
A member of the King Island Singers and Dancers of Anchorage performs a traditional dance routine about a walrus
The King Island Singers and Dancers of Anchorage perform a traditional dance routine.
The King Island Singers and Dancers of Anchorage perform a traditional dance routine.

Awards were presented to two UAA staff members for their dedication to the Alaska Native community at UAA.

Andre Thorne, director of the UAA Multicultural Center, was presented an award for his dedication to the Alaska Native community at UAA.
Andre Thorne, director of the UAA Multicultural Center, was presented an award for his dedication to the Alaska Native community at UAA.

Andre Thorne, director of the UAA Multicultural Center, and Paniqkaq (Agatha John-Shields), assistant professor of indigenous education, each received awards.

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Ida’ina K’eljeshna, the King Island Singers and Dancer of Anchorage and the Tlingit and Haida Dancers of Anchorage performed unique song and dance routines.

A member of Ida’ina K’eljeshna informed the audience his group was relearning their language in an effort to keep the culture and its traditions alive.

The sense of community was evident in the event hall. Each dance group featured an “invitational,” a dance during which the audience is encouraged to join in. Young children and elders alike danced together during these invitationals.

Although students weren’t able to go home for the holidays, the Native Student Council hopes this event will help keep that connection strong, Tolen said.

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