Denakkanaaga preserves cultural practices with monthly pop up sales

Published: Aug. 12, 2023 at 12:17 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Seal skin slippers, sun catchers, ivory carvings. These are just a few of the items made by Alaska Natives in the Interior.

Finding ways to purchase their wares can sometimes be a challenge and a local non-profit hopes to change that. Denakkanaaga, which means “voice of our elders” in Koyukon Athabascan, is bridging the gap between indigenous artists and the general public with monthly pop-up sales.

A market featuring moose hide, birch bark baskets, and furs all seem to be an oddity to someone who may have never visited Alaska. Well, these items are actually considered functional art to indigenous people. The local non profit Denakkanaaga recognizes this and regularly helps elders in the Interior to feature their art and also help them sell their unique items.

Diana Sevier, Denakkanaaga Cultural Programs Manager says, “We get to share really more about culture over all and it imbues this greater meaning to the items rather just seeing like oh I see a shirt like well that not’s really just a shirt that’s this clothing item that’s been made for time immemorial.”

Robin Frerichs is originally from Kotzebue and she learned how to bead from her great grandmother. She began to bead for her family, and as her family grew, so did her reputation as a beading artist.

“When they were babies they were in the WEIO baby contest and then they went through JOM dance group doing their regalia’s and stuff and they got into the FNA pageants and WEIO pageants,” said, Frerichs.

Ultimately, these items are far more than meets the eye. Linda Peter, a dancefan and grassfan artist from western Alaska shares that creating traditional items bring her peace. “It brings you back to your ancestors and I feel like I’m talking with my mom and my grandma when I sew baskets.”

Officials with Denakkanaaga say it’s those voices that drive them to help the elders be proud of these one of a kind items that are available. They also say the lessons learned from their past will also help the Indigenous people of the future, that can be seen in every stitch. The Alaska Native Gift Shop is held every month at the Morris Thompson Cultural Center and more information can be found here.