The Urban Unangax̂ Culture Camp culture camp is offered the third week in June at the Unangam Ulaa (the Home of the Unangax̂) at APIA’s central headquarters, where Darling Anderson is the Cultural Heritage Coordinator. “My mom, she had six daughters and always made sure we knew where we came from,” Anderson said. Her mother grew up in False Pass and later moved to Anchorage. Anderson’s Unangax̂ name is Chngatux̂, and she lives and works in Anchorage, on Dena’ina homelands. She grew-up in Anchorage but spent summers in False Pass subsistence fishing and gathering.
“I am a Millennial, and my generation did not have many opportunities like culture camps,” Anderson shared. “Even when I was in high school, I knew some Native kids would pretend to be Hispanic or Asian. Fortunately, my little sisters grew up with culture camp experiences. It’s amazing to see all these kids today who are so proud to be Native. My mother was always so adamant about telling us about our culture and ancestors. She would give us books and share all these stories about Unangax̂ culture.”
The Indigenous term for the Unangax̂ language is Unangam Tunuu. It is estimated there are fewer than 90 Unangax̂ language speakers, and as a young adult Anderson decided to learn her language. Alaska Natives have survived attempts to suppress and extinguish their languages and cultures, and this affects generations today. Thankfully there are programs like the Urban Unangax̂ Culture Camp that provide opportunities for people who want to learn their Native language and lifeways. “Elders can come in at any time and teach whatever they want during the culture camps,” Anderson said. “We encourage them to be involved, and they always want to participate.”
APIA is dedicated to offering language and cultural heritage activities that are free of charge and accessible to everyone, and they develop programs with a different approach to learning compared to Western practices. “Native teaching styles are more about watching and listening, and then you try it,” Anderson said. In 2019, the Culture Camp had 239 participants, the most since camps began in 2008. Students learn arts and country food, all with an Unangam Tunuu component, including dancing and how to make drums, kayaks, jewelry and bentwood visors. Beyond learning, participants experience belonging and friendship within the Unangax̂ community.