Atkiq Ilutsik-Snyner teaches yuraq traditional dancing and singing in via Facebook video. This particular dance is called Ellamta Nunanirqutii — Our World’s Inner Beauty. Ossie Assanaaq Kairaiuak from the band Pamyua composed it for the Bristol Bay region.
“You always want to start on the right side. You’re going, ‘The world out there, the world in here, we dance it,'” Ilutsik-Snyner begins.
Ilutsik-Snyder grew up in Dillingham and Aleknagik. Now, she lives in Anchorage and works as the culture camp project director at the Bristol Bay Native Corporation. She had a lot of plans for this year, including piloting its first in-person cultural camp.
“That had to be placed on hold due to COVID-19,” she said.
Since people aren’t able to get together in person, Ilutsik-Snyder said they are finding ways to get together virtually. Bristol Bay Native Corporation created a Facebook group to host virtual yuraq and yugtun sessions. It’s called Bristol Bay-am Qasgia/Na qenq’a.
“Quasgiq is Yugtun and Cugtun referring to community house, and Na qenq’a is Dena’ina for our house,” she said. “And so as a part of this page we plan to provide a number of resources, and one of those is our virtual yuraq sessions.”
Ilutsik-Snyder said that yuraq is a way for Yup’ik people to celebrate their way of life and connect with each other. It’s an expression of their culture and history, their way of telling stories. And she says yuraq encompasses more than just the English translation of “dance,” which is most familiar to non-Natives.
“Yuraq has a way of grounding us, it’s a way of prayer, it’s a connection with our ancestors and our heritage. And it’s really amazing how refreshed and rejuvenated I feel after yuraq, and it certainly helps for me to relieve stress,” she said.
The classes are a way to engage with local culture, and everyone can participate. They take place every Friday from 12:30 to 1:00.