Monday morning started off with a bang. This was the 52d wedding anniversary for our wagon masters, Chuck and Sally. We knew it was coming up, so we got folks to cut out hearts and write anniversary greetings on them. Early on Monday morning, before they got up, we strung the hearts and messages across the front of their rig, so they could be surprised when they first came out. And the surprise worked! Not only did we not stir up their dog so he didn't bark, but when Chuck first came out to walk the dog, he was totally surprised! They said in all the years leading these tours during this time of year, none of their previous caravaners had ever done anything for their anniversary. They and the tailgunners had already planned an ice cream social for that evening, so we all went together and bought a celebratory cake to go with the ice cream-a great celebration.
After breakfast we went downtown to the Anchorage Museum, which has some wonderful and educational historical exhibits about Alaska, the early native inhabitants, the European explorers and later years up through Seward's purchase of the territory from Russia, the march toward statehood. They also had a unique exhibit about the development of baseball in Alaska, with pictures of people playing in 40 below temperatures, on ice, where they had to spread straw and gravel to make the surface playable--very interesting!
One exhibit is done by the Smithsonian and it is a very detailed history of each of the various native peoples who inhabited various parts of Alaska. They had comparative displays of dress, custom, culture, etc., so it was neat to see how they were similar and yet different, depending on the part of the land where they lived, and how they traced their ancestry. Most of these peoples were semi-nomadic, following the food sources of fish and game, depending on the season. Very, very well done exhibit!
Of course, there were parts of these exhibits that were difficult to see, as they told the same old story of how the European settlers, including not only explorers, but priests, nuns, and other representatives of Christian religions, came in and not only imposed their own ways on the native people, but outlawed their traditional practices, punishing them for not adopting the European ways. Europeans brought diseases unknown to the native peoples, against which the native people had no immunity, and this wiped out 90% of their people. It's always particularly hard to read about the exploitation done in the name of religion, but it is a story that's repeated throughout history, and we've seen the evidence of this in many of the exhibits in museums and visitor centers throughout our travels.
After this museum we met our friend, Sam Cunningham, and his girlfriend, Meghan, for lunch downtown. Sam is the son of our longtime friends, Bruce and Donna Cunningham, whom we've known since we all moved to Atlanta at the same time over 40 years ago. So we've known Sam since he was born, and it was fun to catch up with him. He's been in Alaska for 3 years now, working with several fish and wildlife agencies to find new ways to promote and conserve these resources in the state. Meghan grew up in Nome and went to college in Anchorage, and now teaches high school math in a school for kids with lots of challenges--really admirable work! It was so interesting to listen to the two of them talk about the Alaska lifestyle, how they love all the outdoor activities this place has to offer, including the challenges of the winter; how they maximize every day of the short summer season to do the things you can only do in warmer temperatures. You could see their rugged individualist spirit in all they described, and they are so connected to the land. Sam rides his bike to work, and, since Meghan is not teaching during the summer, she rode her bike downtown to join us for lunch. A thoroughly enjoyable time with them!!
After lunch we went to the Native Heritage Cultural Center, just a couple miles out of town. Wish we could have had more time there, as it was very informative, including a wonderful dance program, where the leader explained a lot of the movements involved in the dances, and the dancers were very animated and seemingly having lots of fun. We had gone to a cultural center in Fairbanks and saw some dance presentations, but these were a lot better. As they described, this is a cultural center where lots of the younger people of the Native American people come to study and learn the ways of their ancestors, taught by elders, so there is obviously a high level of interest on the part of the young people who were presenting. After the dance program, we had a guided walking tour of 6 different mockups of different dwellings of different tribes, led by an Inupiat woman, accompanied by several of the other staff people from the center. They all had their own areas of research and expertise, and it was so fascinating to learn how thousands of years ago these people had figured out lots of technological solutions to such things as boat design and many other challenges they faced. At one point, our guide was showing us some hand held fan-like creations, woven into a circle, with five feathers sprouting out from the top of the circle. She described how this represented their belief/knowledge that the earth was round, and how the 4 feathers represented the elements, but with the 5th feather in the center representing the Creator. I was struck by the thought of how I was taught history when I was in school, with a heavy emphasis on the superiority of European culture and knowledge being brought to the "savages" of the new land, yet there were the Europeans of Columbus' time who thought the earth was flat, while these Native people had known the earth to be round for thousands of years! It was about closing time for the center when we finished the tour so had to leave. Sorry we got there so late in the day, but maybe on our next trip!
The dance exhibition