If you’re working in Alaska, you’ll want to learn about the cultural traditions that demonstrate a strong sense of respect for the land, a celebration of things unique to Alaska or a way of honoring its history. Engaging in these activities will help you understand Alaska’s depth of diversity and make you a more valuable team member at any job you take.
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Try the blanket toss
One tradition you likely won’t see elsewhere is blanket tossing, an event that originated with native Inupiat as a way to better see long distances while hunting. Now, it’s an activity enjoyed at community gatherings and festivals, where one person stands on a blanket – a traditional one would be made out of walrus hides – held by dozens of people, who toss the person repeatedly in the air, trampoline-like, until he or she loses balance. Sometimes the person being tossed will throw gifts to the surrounding crowd. You can see the traditional version at spring and summer whaling festivals in Barrow, or you can experience it at the Fur Rondy in Anchorage in February.
Experience Native Alaska culture
Visiting the Alaska Native Heritage Center in Anchorage provides a comprehensive look into the cultures of Alaska Natives, who lived in the region thousands of years before it ever became a state. Visitors can get to know customs and traditions through special events, exhibits and demonstrations. Its calendar of events includes an indigenous film festival, intertribal music, dance demonstrations, storytelling and performance art.
Witness the Iditarod
If you’re staying on through winter, this can’t miss event offers the opportunity to witness a blending of traditional and modern Alaska culture. Traveling by dog sled between the remote, snowy interior villages is a Native Alaskan skill adopted by settlers to transport the mail (and people) along the historic Iditarod Trail, the route traversed by early miners and trappers. The Iditarod dog sled race, which traverses more than 1,000 miles from either Anchorage or Fairbanks to Nome, retraces the route that dog-sledders traversed to deliver life-saving diphtheria medication in 1925. The event, held in March each year, creates a festival atmosphere and includes special events at the start and finish. You also can volunteer to help with dogs or communicate with checkpoints. It’s a unique event you won’t want to miss.
Visit the Russian Orthodox Church in Juneau
You might know that the U.S. purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867. Russian hunters and fur traders settled in Alaska in the late part of the 18th century, long before Americans made the trek to seek their fortunes in gold. St. Nicholas Orthodox Church in Juneau is a reminder of that cultural past, although the church was actually built by the local native Tlingit people and Serbian miners who had adopted Eastern Orthodox Christianity as their own, but it’s an example of the remaining cultural influence. The church lies within Juneau’s historic district and is easily accessible via walking tour, and it still holds services.