Native Village
Youth and Education news
January 2010 Volume 4

Ban on Native dancing in Noorvik overturned

Condensed by Native Village

Alaska: Growing up in the Inupiaq village of Noorvik, 17-year-old Chaylen Jackson had only seen traditional dancing from afar.

"I'd see them on TV. I would try to copy them dancing and sing with them," Jackson said.

That's because there hasn't been traditional dancing in Noorvik for almost 100 years. it was forbidden by missionaries in the early 1900s. 

Last September, traditional dancing returned to Noorvik for the first time.

"It's a long story of how Eskimo dancing was taken away from our culture," said Hendy Ballot Sr., tribal administrator of Noorvik. "We're a generation that is pretty much losing all our Native culture, language, lifestyle and traditions, like dancing."

The idea to bring dancing back to Noorvik came from the upcoming U.S. Census. On Jan. 25, Noorvik will be the first U.S. town to be counted. Congressmen, the national media, and the eyes of the nation will be on the town. Noorvik  wanted Native dancing as part of the celebration.

But no one in the village knew how to dance, and so Noorvik looked outside for help. The Northern Lights and Kotzebue Dance Team visited the town and held classes for students and the community.

"They picked it immediately.  It was wonderful to see that it was welcomed so warmly," said school principal Doyle Horton . "This is history -- history in the making."

One dancer, Amil Burns, wanted to instruct in Noorvik so badly that he moved there from his home in Noatak. Burns is now teaching village residents so that they can pass along the tradition. Even after the census celebration is over, the school plans to include the dancing as part of its curriculum.

The dancing has revived other traditions as well. Elder Clarence Jackson volunteers at  school's shop class. He teaches students how to make sled frames, sea mammal spears and traditional Inupiaq tools. When the school started to prepare for dance classes, Jackson was asked to build drums for the dancing.

"I didn't even know how it was supposed to work, or how it was supposed to look, so I was kind of puzzled when he asked me," Jackson said.

Jackson found a drum in town which came from Savoonga. After examining it, Jackson figured out how to bend the hardwood frame, glue the pieces together and secure the nylon drum skin. He has made four drums so far.

"I was surprised that I could make drums, but right now I think I got it," Jackson said. While he doesn't dance, Jackson says "I love to watch them."

High school junior Chaylen Jackson couldn't wait to be a part of the dancing when it came to town. At first she was shy but "once you do it two or three times you eventually get the hang of it," she said.

When asked why there had never been dancing in town before Jackson responded, "I guess nobody thought of it and thought of how fun it was."

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