We were learning before we even walked inside the Alaskan Native Heritage Center. A friendly young man demonstrated an Eskimo Yo-Yo at the entrance. Making it look easy (trust me, it’s not), he explained that this device wasn’t only a toy; it actually helps Native hunters practice their netting skills. He went on to explain that the term “Eskimo” is a derogatory name meaning raw-meat-eater given to Alaskan Natives by the Russians. He laughed, adding that anyone who eats sushi is actually “Eskimo.”
Inside, we first went to the Gathering Place where cultural presentations are shared. Dancers perform daily but you can drop by just about any time to catch something interesting. We watched an incredible demonstration about the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics, held every summer in Fairbanks. Alaskan Native athletes compete in various events modeled after age-old games and moves that Native hunters have been practicing for years to hone their survival skills.
Watching the incredible athleticism of these guys made us want to stretch our legs as well so we headed outside. Joining us on this gorgeous sunny Anchorage afternoon was one of my favorite bloggers, Erin Kirkland from AK On The Go and her family. Erin is the go-to Alaska Mom when it comes to traversing this magnificent state. Between her popular blog and radio show, if there is something happening in Alaska, Erin knows about it. She and her husband graciously toured around with us while her friendly and energetic 7-year-old ran around with our kids.
Affectionately known as “AK Kid” on her blog, my children couldn’t have been more excited to have an out-of-state-play date with this charming youngster.
A wide path encircles Lake Tiulana with traditional Native buildings placed along the way. Visitors are encouraged to explore these six full-size dwellings showing the various architecture and traditions from Alaska’s 11 cultural groups. Cultural representative sit in some of the rooms, ready to answer questions and share information about their heritage.
As if the interpretive trail wasn’t enough to keep the kids happy, entertained, and learning, there’s more. Jeff Baker, the first Alaskan Native winner of the famous Iditarod race, keeps his dogsled team here during the summer. We got to check out his dogsled, one of the check point tents, and the suit he wore in the sub-zero temperatures of the race. A bumpy ride around a dirt path is also available for $10 per person so you can feel the strength of these wonder dogs.
Best of all was the litter of adorable new pups we got to meet. I practically had to pry Sara off the fence when it was time to leave, the puppies are so adorable.
There is even more to explore inside, a fun interactive kid’s area with hands-on activities plus The Hall of Cultures featuring interactive exhibits highlighting the major culture groups of Alaska — Athabascan, Inupiaq/St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Yup’ik/Cup’ik, Aleut, Alutiiq, and the Eyak, Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people. You’ll see art, baleen and grass baskets, box drums, artifacts and have a chance to buy souvenirs and handmade arts and crafts from local artisans too.
Even if you aren’t staying overnight in Anchorage, this outstanding museum is well worth a stop.
Alaska Native Heritage Center 8800 Heritage Center Drive Anchorage, Alaska 99504, (907) 330-8000 or (800) 315-6608, directions here