“You always want to start on the right side. You’re going, 'The world out there, the world in here, we dance it,'" Atkiq Ilutsik-Snyder begins.
She’s teaching yuraq traditional dancing and singing in a video on Facebook — and this particular dance is called Ellamta Nunanirqutii — Our World's Inner Beauty. Ossie Assanaaq Kairaiuak from the band Pamyua composed it for the Bristol Bay region.
Ilutsik-Snyder grew up in Dillingham and Aleknagik. Now, she lives in Anchorage and works as the culture camp project director at the Bristol Bay Native Corporation. She had a lot of plans for this year, including piloting its first cultural camp.
“That had to be placed on hold due to COVID-19,” she said.
Since people aren’t able to get together in person, Ilutsik-Snyder said they are finding ways to get together virtually. BBNC created a Facebook group to host virtual yuraq and yugtun sessions. It’s called Bristol Bay-am Qasgia/Na qenq'a.
“Qasgiq is Yugtun and Sugcestun referring to community house, and Na qenq’a is Dena’ina for our house," she said. "And so as a part of this page we plan to provide a number of resources, and one of those is our virtual yuraq sessions.”
Ilutsik-Snyder said that yuraq is a way for Yup’ik people to celebrate their way of life and connect with each other. It’s an expression of their culture and history, their way of telling stories. And she says yuraq encompasses more than just the English translation of “dance,” which is most familiar to non-Natives.
“Yuraq has a way of grounding us, it’s a way of prayer, it’s a connection with our ancestors and our heritage. And it’s really amazing how refreshed and rejuvenated I feel after yuraq, and it certainly helps for me to relieve stress,” she said.
The classes are a way to engage with local culture, and everyone can participate. They take place 12:30-1 p.m. every Friday.
One of the first dances Ilutsik-Snyder is teaching is Ellamta Nunanirqutii.