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Traditions new and old celebrated at 25th annual Camp Qungaayux̂

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Unalaska youth fish for pink salmon, or Qungaayux̂, at Humpy Cove. (Photo by: Lauren Adams / KUCB)

It’s a cool, cloudy morning at Humpy Cove, and inside the main tent at Camp Qungaayux̂, dancers are taking the stage. About a dozen kids are doing Chagix. This Atka dance tells the story of a successful halibut fishing trip, and it’s been taught at Camp Q every summer for the past 25 years.

The Qawalangin Tribe hosted the annual culture camp July 31-Aug. 6 in Unalaska. During the weeklong celebration of Unangax̂ culture, mentors passed down knowledge and skills, and even started a new tradition of their own.

Sharon Svarny-Livingston helped lead the first Camp Q in 1997. She says it plays an important role in preserving and passing down cultural knowledge.

Svarny-Livingston teaches traditional uses of medicinal and edible plants. She says people were still using plants traditionally in the 1960s but no one passed that down to her when she was a kid. And by the 90s, that knowledge seemed to have gone dormant. To learn which plants could be eaten or used as medicine, she had to take her elders out walking on the tundra.

“I left for a long time and when I came back 20 years later, they said they weren’t using the plants anymore and they couldn’t remember them,” said Svarny-Livingston. “I said, what, you can’t have forgotten them. And they didn’t, it just took about 10 years of [walking] the elders out to smell plants and talk about them to get it back. I don't want anyone dragging me around in the hills when I'm 90, so I tried to teach everybody.”

Every year Camp Q includes classes on bentwood hat making, Unangam Tunuu, weaving, and seal skin and gut sewing. For the 25th anniversary, camp coordinator and skin sewing teacher Anfesia “Sweetie” Tutiakoff also wanted to do something new—an all women sea otter hunting team.

Community member Lila Roll helped with the hunt and harvest.

“We took the skiff out and we went sea otter hunting, over by Split Top mountain,” said Roll.

They plan to bring the pelt back to Camp Q next year, to use as medium in Tutiakoff's skin sewing class.

Svarny-Livingston says Camp Q is growing and changing, while maintaining the traditions that got the camp started 25 years ago.

“Well, 25 years, it's pretty amazing that we've been able to sustain it this long. When we started, it was very, very small. And most of our mentors are no longer with us. So it's nice that we've been able to continue teaching people to teach everything.”