Only two hours delayed after a bumpy flight into Port Lions, I realize how lucky I am that the weather allowed me to stick at least approximately to my schedule. Hand in hand with my two year old son, aka my special assistant, I am ready to jump into lively conversations and art projects revolving around Kodiak’s diverse history with each of the 26 students at the Port Lions School. This trip is part of the Baranov Museum’s rural arts and education outreach program, funded by the Alaska Council on the Arts and American Seafoods. I am immediately wowed by the beauty of Port Lions.
As the Baranov Museum’s Curator of Education, I am struck by the challenges and opportunities of teaching about the Russian and Early American colonial periods on Kodiak. What language should I use with K-12 students? How do I balance the stories of colonialism, forced labor, the battle at Refuge Rock with Father Herman’s advocacy for the Alutiiq people throughout the early Russian American Company days? How do I convey the subtleties of history without sugar-coating how harsh the past has often been? I laugh to think that museum educators face this balancing act often in the midst of a squirming, energetic group of 4th graders longing to touch every item in the museum collections that they can. Now, as a visitor for two days to Port Lions, I am happily aware that my students will bring the richness of their particular experiences and stories from a rural Kodiak perspective. This proved to be true over the next two days.
In class with the high school students throughout the afternoon, personal anecdotes and connections to touchable artifacts and stories continue to emerge. One boy explains how Alutiiq halibut hooks are designed to trick the halibut into staying subdued, and another tells the story of actually fishing with one. A girl etches her scrimshaw with a silver salmon, as it not only fit into the context of traditional scrimshaw design, but was also the first fish she ever caught as a young girl. I was delighted to learn that students were well-versed with the cruelties and the subtleties of history, and that rather than giving them information, I could engage them in dialogue on their thoughts and reactions to historical events. After digging in to the meat of Kodiak’s history, students consolidated their knowledge and expressed their creativity with art projects; scrimshaw and matryoshka. On several occasions between conversations I heard the full, wonderful sound of a creative silence as students intently etched and painted.
On my second day I return from a lunch time walk and the teachers inform me that if I wanted to make it out of Port Lions, I would have to leave right away as the winds wouldn’t allow for my 5 pm flight. My “no” was immediate, and I teased the students that afternoon that they were stuck with me. I was glad to have the extra time, as two days are hardly enough to get to know each other and cover as much material as we can. The Port Lions welcome was warm, and my overall impression was wonderful. My son and I made it out on the ferry the next morning, with only the pang of leaving a wonderful place with kind people.
-Marie Acemah, Curator of Education