Debi Poore paints a sign at “Land Acknowledgement in Action: Sign Installation” last Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, at the Bishop’s Beach pavillion — the area known by the Dena’ina people as “Tuggeht,” or “at the water’s edge.” (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News.

Debi Poore paints a sign at “Land Acknowledgement in Action: Sign Installation” last Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, at the Bishop’s Beach pavillion — the area known by the Dena’ina people as “Tuggeht,” or “at the water’s edge.” (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News.

Sign making looks at land acknowledgment

Artists made signs to recognize that Indigenous people have long been stewards of lands we call home

In the annual fall campaign season, candidate and proposition signs pop up on roadsides like stalks of pushki. During political protests, people wave signs at WKFL Park. When Anesha “Duffy” Murnane went missing last fall, friends made signs in her support. And during the pandemic, hopeful signs by the South Kenai Peninsula Resiliency Coalition appeared in rows along city streets.

Last weekend, in “Land Acknowledgement in Action: Sign Installation,” sponsored by Bunnell Street Arts Center, artists made signs for a different purpose: to recognize that Indigenous people have long been stewards of the places in the lands we call home. On Saturday at the Bishop’s Beach pavilion and Sunday at Bunnell Street Arts Center, people repurposed old campaign signs or scrap metal and plywood, expressing their visions of what it means to acknowledge the Indigenous roots of Kachemak Bay.

Facilitated by Kenai artist Melissa Shaginoff, of the Ahtna and Paiute peoples, the signs said things like “Sustain indigenous knowledge” or simply the Dena’ina or Suqpiaq names for geographic features around the bay.

Bishop’s Beach, for example, is named after George and Jane Bishop, owners of Bishop’s Trading Post — the building that now houses Bunnell Street Arts Center — but the area at the mouth of Beluga Slough has the Dena’ina name of “Tuggeht” (pronounced “to-get”), meaning “at the water.” The Dena’ina word for the Homer Spit is “Uzintun,” meaning “extends out into the distance.” Argent Kvasnikoff, a Ninilchik artist, said Tuggeht also can mean the general area of the Homer bench all the way up to the hills of Diamond Ridge and Skyline Drive.

Asia Freeman, artistic director for Bunnell, referenced its history in the trading post on the center’s website page about its land acknowledgment efforts.

“Our work today is to reinvent this space, to foster and build this community as a place of cultural wealth and opportunity for all,” she wrote. “We all benefit from alignment with Indigenous practices of investing in community and sharing what we make, sharing our cultural wealth.”

At Saturday’s workshop, Shaginoff mentioned a sign referencing the COVID-19 pandemic that said, “We’re Alaskans. We can get through this.”

“We see so many signs these days,” she said. “If we can’t gather, maybe signs are a way to connect.”

Standing before a sign that said, “We are on indigenous land,” Shaginoff talked about the purpose of land acknowledgment. Through Bunnell Street Arts Center, and building on previous land acknowledgment work by Emily Johnson, this spring Shaginoff has been leading series of workshops and dialogues that were recorded as videos on Bunnell’s web page at https://www.bunnellarts.org/inspiration-and-adaptation.

The workshop series was funded by a Social Justice Award from the Alaska Community Foundation to enable conversations and training about land acknowledgment, Freeman said. Bunnell also received a Homer Foundation grant on “Decolonizing the Mind,” to look at the health impacts of colonization.

“We’re really trying to think about this in a systemic way — the impacts of changing and not changing,” Freeman said.

The pandemic pushed a series of dialogues into the virtual world of the Zoom networking platform — a necessity that turned out to have an unanticipated benefit, Freeman said.

“Zoom ended up being a fantastic platform,” she said. “… We were able to engage more people from the comfort of their own homes. … The adaptation we’re making are going to permanently change our course. We’re realizing the profound impact of becoming more accessible through these online platforms. That really supports our commitment to equity and access.”

The Homer Foundation also funded a grant in cultural competency, to engage arts and culture works in how to learn and understand the protocols for engaging artists and Indigenous communities. The Rasmuson Foundation gave a grant for permanent and ephemeral works relating to wayfinding and public art having to do with Indigenous land marking, Freeman said.

On Saturday, Ninilchik artist Argent Kvasnikoff showed models illustrating the Dena’ina wayfinding system, called “Tuyanintun.” That system has five directions, and when you follow a direction, you are said to be in that direction, not going to it, Kvasnikoff said.

A painted disk showing the lower Kenai Peninsula, for example, had five sections marked off like pieces of pie. Five concentric circles were painted on the disk radiating out from a center, with each circle representing about a day’s travel by foot. The center of the circle was on the highest point in the area, a hill in the Caribou Hills. Lines spreading out on the disk represented the river systems of the lower peninsula. Other lines indicated the coastline, with the Spit — Uzintun — easily identifiable.

Kvasnikoff also had a stack of five rocks topped by an agate. Those rocks represent the circles on the disk, and could be placed on a beach to indicate the direction of travel and how long it takes to get there.

At one of her workshops, Shaginoff noted that land acknowledgment means more than making statements, Freeman said — more than making signs. Freeman mentioned her experience growing up in Homer and going to school. She said the history of Alaska she learned began with the Alaska purchase brokered by William Seward.

“I never really knew any Dena’ina names, learned absolutely nothing about Dena’ina and Suqpiaq culture,” she said. “… It’s a very racist way of telling our story. It excluded that story of genocide and enslavement by the Russians, the impacts of the (1918) Spanish flu. … It suppressed the true history. This to me is an act of reparation; it’s an act of true and reconciliation.”

On Sunday, artists completed the signs, now on Bunnell’s back porch. On Sept. 5 Bunnell will document the signs through a book project and a short movie where people talk about their signs and then install them on their land.

The land acknowledgment sign making workshop also had another aspect, Freeman noted: It was the first time since the start of the pandemic that Bunnell has held a public event where people could gather. Held outside, the participants practiced social distancing and wore masks.

Freeman said the land acknowledgment workshops fit in with Bunnell’s newly revised mission statement: “Sparking artistic inquiry, innovation and equity to strengthen the physical social and economic fabric of Alaska.”

Reach Michael Armstrong at marmstrong@homernews.com.

Argent Kvasnikoff of Ninilchik discusses a sign he’s painting at “Land Acknowledgement in Action: Sign Installation” last Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, at the Bishop’s Beach pavillion — the area known by the Dena’ina people as “Tuggeht,” or “at the water’s edge.” (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News.

Argent Kvasnikoff of Ninilchik discusses a sign he’s painting at “Land Acknowledgement in Action: Sign Installation” last Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, at the Bishop’s Beach pavillion — the area known by the Dena’ina people as “Tuggeht,” or “at the water’s edge.” (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News.

A sign at “Land Acknowledgement in Action: Sign Installation” shows the Dena’Ina words for Anchorage at the event last Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, at the Bishop’s Beach pavillion — the area known by the Dena’ina people as “Tuggeht,” or “at the water’s edge.” (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News.

A sign at “Land Acknowledgement in Action: Sign Installation” shows the Dena’Ina words for Anchorage at the event last Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, at the Bishop’s Beach pavillion — the area known by the Dena’ina people as “Tuggeht,” or “at the water’s edge.” (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News.

A clipboard shows the Dena’ina word for “tidal slough,” “Tl’ik’ts’itnu” with an illustration of the Old Town area of Homer. It was part of the material used in “Land Acknowledgement in Action: Sign Installation” last Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, at the Bishop’s Beach pavillion — the area known by the Dena’ina people as “Tuggeht,” or “at the water.” (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News.)

A clipboard shows the Dena’ina word for “tidal slough,” “Tl’ik’ts’itnu” with an illustration of the Old Town area of Homer. It was part of the material used in “Land Acknowledgement in Action: Sign Installation” last Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, at the Bishop’s Beach pavillion — the area known by the Dena’ina people as “Tuggeht,” or “at the water.” (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News.)

Sign making looks at land acknowledgment

A clipboard shows the Dena’ina word for “tidal slough,” “Tl’ik’ts’itnu” with an illustration of the Old Town area of Homer. It was part of the material used in “Land Acknowledgement in Action: Sign Installation” last Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020, at the Bishop’s Beach pavillion — the area known by the Dena’ina people as “Tuggeht,” or “at the water.” (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News.)

More in Life

Virginia Walters (Courtesy photo)
Life in the Pedestrian Lane: This and that

Organizations are running out of people to keep them going

This Al Hershberger photo of his good friend Hedley Parsons was taken in Germany in 1945, after World War II had ended. Parsons and Hershberger came to Alaska together a few years later, and in 2010, when Parsons was interviewed for this story, he may have been the last person living who had actually attended George Dudley’s messy funeral
This parting was not sweet sorrow — Part 2

The funeral was scheduled for 2 p.m. on May 5, and spring break-up was in full, sloppy bloom at the Kenai Cemetery

Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion
A copy of “People, Paths, and Places: The Frontier History of Moose Pass, Alaska” stands in sunlight in Soldotna on Friday.
Off the Shelf: Community history project a colorful portrait of hometown

The book features the work of students at Moose Pass School and integrates further stories pulled from a community newspaper

The Anchorage Bowl Chamber Orchestra performs. (Photo courtesy Anchorage Bowl Chamber Orchestra)
Anchorage orchestra group to visit Kenai Peninsula for 10th annual tour

Anchorage Bowl Chamber Orchestra will play four shows from May 30 to June 2

File
Minister’s Message: Boasting only in Christ and the Cross

The Reverend Billy Graham advised every president since Truman during his lifetime

Corn cheese is served alongside grilled beef, kimchi and lettuce. (Photo by Tressa Dale/Peninsula Clarion)
Planning barbecue with all the bells and whistles

Expect kimchi, lots of side dishes, piles of rice, marinated meat for the flame and cold fruit for dessert

Noa (voiced by Owen Teague) in 20th Century Studios’ “Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes.” (Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios)
On the Screen: New ‘Planet of the Apes’ expands, brings new ideas to franchise universe

“Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes” tells a story that feels more rooted in fantasy than the post-apocalypse vibe of its predecessors

A mural depicting imagery and iconography of Kenai brightens the entryway of the Walmart in Kenai, Alaska, on Wednesday, May 15, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
‘Visible art raises people’s spirits’

Local artist’s mural introduced as part of Walmart renovations

Former North Kenai resident George Coe Dudley, seen here during the winter of 1950-51, was a hard-drinking man. His messy funeral in 1967 in Kenai echoed his lifestyle. (Photo courtesy of Al Hershberger)
This parting was not sweet sorrow — Part 1

“Dudley was an easy-going, laid-back sort of guy, always laughing and joking, as well as hard drinking.”

Most Read