The Kenai Peninsula College Showcase is returning Thursday with a presentation by KPC anthropologist Dr. Adam Dunstan, “The Past is Closer Than You Think, The Lands of Kenai River Campus: A Priceless Heritage,” about centuries-old Dena’ina villages and sites located in the community.
Starting at 5:30 p.m., Dunstan said he would be discussing the fact that residents of the Kenai Peninsula live on ancestral Dena’ina lands, what that means, and some of the area’s history. Then, he’ll discuss a Dena’ina site located both on campus grounds and in the neighboring state park: Slikok Creek Village.
“It was a site that was occupied probably from about 1300 to 1600,” Dunstan said. “It’s got six house pits, then about 60 or 70 salmon cache pits. It’s a large village structure.”
Weather permitting, after the presentation Dunstan will lead a walk to one of the house pits located around 300 meters down the trail.
Having access to these sites is “incredible,” Dunstan said.
“It’s very much a privilege, and something that we always want to make sure that we’re being good stewards of, especially because, for some people that live here in our community of Kenai and Soldotna, these are potentially where some of their ancestors might have lived,” Dunstan said. “It’s kind of holy ground in that regard.”
Dunstan said the site is part of the National Register of Historic Places, and one of the largest and most intact sites of its kind on the Kenai Peninsula.
Dunstan said the presentation is an opportunity for the anthropology department to highlight something fascinating that residents may not know about. The presentation is designed to be accessible to anyone who is interested, regardless of historical knowledge.
“To me, historic sites are not just for history buffs. They’re for anybody that wants to connect deeper with this amazing peninsula land that we live on.”
Dunstan said he is hoping that members of the Alaska Native community feel welcome and see it as a valuable event because “when people learn about their own ancestral past, that’s a powerful thing.”
The presentation could also serve to educate private land owners on how to recognize significant historical sites and on the importance of protecting them.
“It’s a chance for you to really learn about the history of Soldotna, the history of this place that goes back way deeper than the past 60 years or so,” Dunstan said.
He said looking to the past is a way to reflect on the issues of today. There is much to learn from these sites about how people were fishing before the arrival of Europeans. As society faces issues with sustainability today, Dunstan says we ought to “look towards the past and think about the future.”
Dunstan also promised to tell good jokes.
The KPC Showcase has been around since 1984, but during the COVID-19 pandemic it shifted to an online format, then went on hiatus for a year, coordinator Dave Atcheson said.
Atcheson said the showcase was started by instructors Jean Brockel and Dave Forbes, a way to show off the talents of students, staff and faculty, nearly 30 years ago. The program has expanded to include both local presentations and also feature visitors from around the state and the country.
Atcheson said there isn’t a set, regular schedule. When folks are available and have something interesting to show, it’ll happen.
Next week, another KPC Showcase will be held on Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in partnership with Cook Inletkeeper and Regroup, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act with a presentation of the film “A Plastic Ocean.”
The film will be followed by a discussion with Patrick Simpson of Alaska Plastics Recovery, who with Sustainable Seward is seeking to repurpose discarded plastic into a synthetic lumber. Plastic has been collected throughout the year for a process set to take place this fall. Cook Inletkeeper and Regroup have been maintaining plastic recycling bins in Soldotna since August to be sent to Seward for the project.
Nov. 10, two Alaska authors, Tom Kizzia and Richard Chiappone, will lead a discussion.
“And we’re working on others,” Atcheson said.
For more information about upcoming KPC Showcases, visit Kenai Peninsula College Showcase on Facebook, or check the events tab on the KPC website.
Reach reporter Jake Dye at firstname.lastname@example.org.