Students celebrate culture through food

  • By Rashah McChesney
  • Wednesday, November 26, 2014 10:19pm
  • News

With the rich aromas of fry bread, Indian pudding, ham and moose soup permeating the hallways of Kenai Peninsula College, as so often happens when students of Alaska Native culture gather to celebrate, the final event of a November’s Alaska Native and American Indian heritage month brought more than a dozen together to eat, learn the Dena’ina language and watch a documentary.

The month has been peppered with cultural awareness events, including a fry bread social, a presentation on the Dena’ina people to one of the college’s English As a Second Language classes, a beadwork and fish skin basket demonstration, each designed to bring area students of Dena’ina, and others, a knowledge of the Alaska Native culture.

“Each one of the students made something and then they shared the Dena’ina word for it,” said Kenai Peninsula College, Kenai River Campus Rural and native Student Services Coordinator Sondra Shaginoff-Stuart. “Then we all ate, shared our words and then watched a movie.”

Dena’ina elder Helen Dick, of Lime Village, also gave a blessing over the food gathering. Dick is one of the few fluent Dena’ina language speakers left and has visited the Dena’ina language class, which hosted the foods gathering, to help the students learn pronunciation and hear the language spoken.

The documentary focused on the Oklahoma Indians and a type of gospel song that the group has incorporated into their own music and language.

“It became their own music and they were seeing correlations in the music with the Irish people and the African American people,” Shaginoff-Stuart said. “They all had the same songs, but they sang them a little bit different in their communities.”

Last year, the college held one event to commemorate the month, and this year’s events expanded exponentially, Shaginoff-Stuart said.

“It was a busy month, I’m kind of glad it can kind of wind down now,” she said.

The college will be offering several more Alaska Native studies classes during the spring semester including elementary Dena’ina II and Gwich’in I language classes.

Shaginoff-Stuart, who teaches the current semester’s Dena’ina language class, said the campus was trying to move toward offering more classes that could be used in the University of Alaska’s Alaska Native Studies minor.

For now, the small group who gathered on Tuesday evening has been enjoying its cultural explorations, Shaginoff-Stuart said. The foods gathering was organized by one of the students.

“They overwhelmed me,” Shaginoff-Stuart said. “I thought they were just going to bring a few things. They did it all. It really does feel like we’re a little family after this.”

Reach Rashah McChesney at

More in News

Kenai City Manager Paul Ostrander speaks at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at Kenai Municipal Airport on Friday, Aug. 6, 2021 in Kenai, Alaska. A kiosk that will offer educational programming and interpretive products about the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge is coming to the airport. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsua Clarion)
Wildlife refuge kiosk coming to airport

Kenai National Wildlife Refuge stickers, T-shirts, magnets, travel stamps and enamel pins will be available.

This illustration provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in January 2020 shows the 2019 Novel Coronavirus. (CDC)
5 more COVID deaths reported

The total nationwide fatalities surpass population of Alaska.

Velda Geller fills goodie bags at the Kenai Senior Center on Friday, Oct. 22, 2021 for next weekend’s drive-through trick-or-treat event. (Camille Botello/Peninsula Clarion)
‘This has been a lifesaver’

Seniors seek human connection as pandemic continues.

Kenai City Hall on Feb. 20, 2020, in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Victoria Petersen/Peninsula Clarion)
‘A very slippery slope that we need to be careful of’

Approval of library grant postponed after Kenai council requests to preview book purchases

This undated photo released by the Alaska State Department of Public Safety shows Robin Pelkey just before her 18th birthday. The remains of a woman known for 37 years only as Horseshoe Harriet, one of 17 victims of a notorious Alaska serial killer, have been identified through DNA profiling as Robin Pelkey, authorities said Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. (Alaska State Department of Public Safety via AP)
DNA match IDs serial killer’s victim after 37 years

Robin Pelkey was 19 and living on the streets of Anchorage when she was killed by Robert Hansen in the early 1980s, investigators said.

A moose is photographed in Kalifornsky, Alaska, in July 2020. (Peninsula Clarion file)
Illegal moose harvest down from past 5 years

The large majority of moose this year were harvested from North and South Kasilof River areas.

Renee Behymer and Katelyn Behymer (right) of Anchorage win this week’s vaccine lottery college scholarship sweepstakes. (Photo provided)
Dillingham and Anchorage residents win 6th vaccine lottery

“Get it done,” one winner said. “Protect us all, protect our elders and our grandchildren.”

Most Read