Qawalangin tribe uses traditional crafts as a path to well-being


Beginner weaving, beading and embroidery are just a few of the themed craft evenings that have been held so far. (Kanesia McGlashan-Price / KUCB)

In 2019, the Qawalangin tribe of Unalaska launched their wellness program with funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The Good Health and Wellness in Indian Country grant aims to strengthen cultural connections that improve health and promote well-being in Indigenous communities in North America.

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Unangax̂ artist Anfesia “Sweetie” Tutiakoff is the Qawalangin Tribe Culture and Wellness Program Coordinator, and uses weekly craft evenings to address wellness initiatives.

“I call Monday the ‘cultural craft evening.’ And this is the one for 14 [years of age] and more, ”Tutiakoff said. “It’s a theme night and it’s an educated night. People can come join in if they want to do this themed party, but they can also work on anything [projects] they do.

Beginner weaving, beading and embroidery are just a few of the themed craft evenings that have been held so far. These traditional Unangax̂ crafts are taught each year at Camp Qungaayux̂, the tribal youth cultural camp held at Humpy Cove on the island each summer.

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Anfesia “Sweetie” Tutiakoff teaches embroidery at Camp Qungaayux̂ 2021.

Tutiakoff was this year’s camp coordinator and said her goal is to offer these classes year round to people of all ages. As part of the CDC grant, she said she was finally able to do it.

“The reason we bring together culture and wellness is that our traditions and the things we have done in the past are a way to achieve wellness,” Tutiakoff said.

The practice of traditional crafts is an important part of his Unangax̂ identity, according to Tutiakoff, and is particularly rewarding when it comes to sharing these crafts with others.

“Seeing everyone here and making sure everyone was included to some extent was amazing,” she said. “It touched my heart so much.”

While creating a space for connection and sharing is central to these weekly events, the Qawalangin Tribe Wellness Program also works to increase awareness of physical health.

According to the 2018 Alaska Native Mortality Report, heart disease was the second leading cause of death among Alaska Native people, with high blood pressure being a major risk factor.

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“The reason we bring together culture and wellness is that our traditions and the things we have done in the past are a way to achieve wellness,” Tutiakoff said.

At the Craft Party, the tribe provides blood pressure monitors and journals for people who want to check their numbers and find out what they can do to achieve a healthy reading.

“We have [blood pressure] forms here, ”Tutiakoff said. “You can fill them out, check your blood pressure every week, twice a week, a few times at night just to see where you’re at. “

High blood pressure is often asymptomatic, according to the CDC, so checking it is the only way to know for sure if it’s too high.

The tribe also offers healthy, store-bought snacks at weekly events, but Tutiakoff said they hope to offer more traditional foods in the future.

“My hope by spring is to learn more about the local traditional foods and be able to introduce them to people on those nights,” she said. “Where to find them, how to clean them, how to store them and how we can dry them for the winter. “

Tutiakoff said the wellness department is preparing to teach drum and headdress making, as well as carving and woodblock printing in the coming year, to name a few.

About Rachel Gooch

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