Hungry students and visitors got a taste of traditional Kenaitze fry bread Thursday during the first of several Alaska Native/Native American Heritage Month events.
Sponsored by the Kenai Peninsula College Showcase Series, the University of Alaska Anchorage Diversity Action Council and others, the fry bread social treated dozens of residents and students to a snapshot of local Alaska Native culture in the McLane Commons at the college.
“We’re just trying to highlight activities and events that we can bring to our campus more activities to help welcome our Alaska Native students,” said Sondra Shaginoff-Stuart, one of the event organizers. “I used to work for the (Kenatize Indian) tribe and these are the things we used to do to bring people together, and so that’s all we’re trying to do — just bring everybody together.”
Shaginoff-Stuart, a coordinator for the Rural and Native Student Services, helps pick out activities for the heritage month each year. She and Diane Taylor, director of the college’s learning center program, are part of a larger committee at UAA that selects events and activities.
“I did a little grant writing to get some additional funds from UAA, from the diversity action council,” Taylor said. “In this case, we found people liked it (the fry bread). So this was a good way to kick it off.”
Julie Wilson of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe got up at 4 a.m. to start the process of baking the bread for the event, Shaginoff-Stuar said.
Tribal representatives attended the social with information about the tribe’s many programs.
Shaginoff-Stuart and Taylor said the purpose behind the month’s events are twofold. First, they provide enjoyable activities for the community to come together to participate in. Second, they seek to educate residents and students about the Alaska Native people and cultures around them.
“Students may be coming from a different place and they don’t even know, they’re just going to school here,” Shaginoff-Stuart said. “And then even local students that may not know that the tribe’s also available for them.”
Soldotna resident John Roberts takes classes at Kenai Peninsula College and happened upon the fry bread event as he was walking by.
Though he hadn’t heard about the social beforehand, he said he is no stranger to the traditional treat.
“I’m from South Dakota, so I’ve had it there,” Roberts said. “It’s kind of a common thing there also.”
Students from the Kuspuk School District were also at the event with EXCEL Alaska, an organization that takes students in grades seven through 12 from southwestern Alaska to events and activities to help with career exploration and leadership skills.
Students were visiting Kenai Peninsula College for a tour and did not know there would be a fry bread event beforehand, said Emily Peterson, a ninth-grader from the Kuspuk School District.
“It seemed like it was pretty cool,” she said of the social. “It just seemed nice, and it made me feel like I was back home.”