Matter of Fact 1.

Webster’s dictionary defines exhilaration as a gladdening or enlivening; the act of enlivening the spirits; the act of making glad or cheerful.  It is the state of being enlivened or cheerful. 

One of the facts of life in the Aleutians is that the weather is never boring.  In fact, it is somewhat… exhilarating.  One of the values of the Unangas is that you should never say anything bad about the weather.  And so we don’t; or, at least if we do, we immediately note that we have inadvertantly done so.

The Aleutians are known as the birthplace of the winds; the cradle of the storms.  It is rarely ever still.  There is always a breeze wafting around, even on our calmest days, and a calm day is any day when the wind is below fifteen to twenty miles per hour. 

I often find myself in awe of our weather, either because of the wildness, the force, the absolute beauty, or the serenity.  I am contantly exhilarated.

Nawan Alaxsxan Ax^anan helps Unalaska celebrate MLK Day

Unalaska celebrated Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, by celebrating diversity.  In a program presented on Monday, January 18, I inadvertantly captured the Nawan Alaxsxan Ax^anan (The Unalaska Island Dancers) on video, and then did it again, and again.  Unfortunately my captures are quite unprofessional…I will have to practise.  I like totally forgot that my camera did video…hahaha…old timer!

So this is a clip of Qalngaagin, or Raven.  It was composed and choreographed by Laresa Syverson.  The unfortunate part of this clip is that I cut it off before the dance was totally complete…just a few seconds, but…  The song sings about the ravens seeking food near the beach, flying and performing in the sky, chasing each other.  Then flying toward the mountains, landing in the snow and sliding.  Just typical raven behavior!

Drummers from right to left:  Jacob Hawthorne, Nicky Hawthorne, James David Gregory.  Dancers from right to left:  Delores Gregory, instructor Laresa Syverson, Ariel Gustafson.   (Unalaskans:  After it buffers through, you can hit replay for a smooth version!)

Unangam Hitnisagin with the 3rd graders.

Eagle’s View Elementary Achigaalux was the host for the first week of the Unangan Language and Culture Program this past week.  With the assistance of Program coordinator Mary Downs, and volunteer Pat Ellis, I was successful in finishing out the first week without mishaps.  Twenty-four 3rd graders participated in learning about Unangam Hitnisagin, or Aleut plants. 

We discussed gathering rules, the uses of plants – whether they were edible or medicinal, or both – made Unangam Hitnisagin books, and – best of all – were able to make items from three of the plants that were discussed.

A student's rendition of blueberries adorns the cover of his booklet.

Monday’s class was dedicated to sixsiqax^ (wormwood).  We discussed the traditional Unangan uses, then got right to work rendering the plant in olive oil.  By doing this, we took the medicinal properties from the plant material and transferred it to the oil, so that we could then use the oil as an exterior rub for aching muscles and joints.  Each student wrote about sixsiqax^ in their booklets, made a label for the container, and then chose an essential oil to add to the plant oil. 

The absolutely indispensible Mary Downs!

Tuesday and Thursday were all about saaqudiigamax^ or angelica.  The students learned that the basic process of rendering plants remains the same, but you can go beyond just an oil….you can add a thickener to make an ointment or salve.  As the angelica plant is used for relief of muscles and joints, plus curing infections, and healing burns – especially the dread putchky burn – they were all about making sure they got their ointment!

On Friday, the students came in raring to go.  They knew that in order to get their final project done, they would have to be on their toes and ready to work.  They learned that chngaatudax, or yarrow, was not only good for coagulating blood, keeping colds at bay, and keeping germs out of cuts, but that it also made a wicked lip balm.  A little tube of goodness for all those chapped lips. 

Getting the yarrow plant ready for the olive oil.
Learning the process step-by-step.
Learning the process step by step.
Getting the directions written down.
Yarrow lip balm and angelica salve.


Now that we have the timing down, fourth grade should be a breeze next week!