Alaskan Native Heritage Center, Anchorage

Alaskan Native Heritage Center Entrance

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.

Young Man demonstrating the Seal Hop

This move is called the “Seal Hop,” where a young man “hops” forward with only knuckles and toes touching the ground. Distributing his weight in this manner could keep a hunter from falling through ice.

 

High Kick Demonstration

Alaskan High-Kick

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.

Kids Playing at Alaskan Native Heritage Center

Our kids and AK Kid became fast friends, goofing around and running full speed ahead

Kids beside Totem Pole

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.

Lake Tiulana

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.

Whale Bones at Alaskan Native Heritage Center

Great photo opportunities at every turn. These massive whale rib bones give kids a good idea of just how huge a whale can be

Alaskan Native Heritage Center Doorway

Cottonwood seeds

No, that’s not snow in July. The cottonwood tree seeds were floating in the air like fluffy flakes

Lodge

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.

Dog Sled

William checking out the dog sled with “AK Mom on the Go,” Erin and her “AK Kid”

Dog Sled Ride

Dog Sled Team at Alaskan Native Heritage Center

Two Sled 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.

Moma Sled Dog with Pups

Puppies

Playing Puppies

Mommy Dog with Sara

Momma Dog needs some attention too

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.

Touch and Feel Area for Kids at Alaskan Native Heritage Center

Lots of different furs to touch and feel

Canoe and Kayak display at Alaskan Native Heritage Center

Leave it to my boy to find the transportation-related displays

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

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