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Two weeks in Quinhagak

May 1, 2019

Alice here, just checking in with an update on the Nunalleq Education Pack now that we’re nearing the official release! I’ve just returned from a very productive 2 weeks in Quinhagak setting up the local school (Kuinerrarmiut Elitnaurviat) with the first installation of the software and doing some user group feedback with the children and teachers. As the production team is based in Scotland most of the year we had spent the run up to my trip anticipating and planning for every possible issue we might encounter, from incompatibility to performance and unexpected bugs. John, our programmer was on call ready to build patches and bug-fix from afar if I needed anything – needless to say I breathed a huge sigh of relief (and might have also punched the air and “woop!-ed”) when it installed and ran on the first laptop, then the second, then the third, and so on with no problems at all, phew!

That same afternoon I met with the teaching staff to introduce myself to the people I hadn’t met yet, explain a bit about the education pack project and pass round a USB drive so everyone could install it to have a play themselves. Dora Strunk (who, for the record, is an absolute force of nature and not only had me to stay with her family for this trip but helped coordinate me meeting everyone I needed to) let me loose on a few of her classes to get some students exploring the program.

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Doing some user feedback in Dora’s classroom: Shantae and her classmate listening intently to elders talking about fall camp in the education pack.

Now, I know I’d said I was anxious about the software installing in the first place, but that was nothing compared to my angst watching the first class play with the program. Unlike most adults, who have your feelings in mind – kids will 100% tell you if they don’t like something, there’s no sugar-coating it! For 45 minutes there was near deathly silence save for the clicking of laptop pads and the muffled sounds of voices from headphones around the class. The bell rang for the end of class and as laptops were being cleared away the questions started: “Did you really dig all of those things up down at the beach? Everything? Here?”, “I want to know more about this or that…”, “How did you make the 3D artefacts?”, “Was that so and so talking? I know them!”, and my favourite, “I think I want to be an archaeologist now too”.

The mask painting was by far the most popular activity page, a close runner up was our season wheel and the dressing for ice game. The films and videos were a great hit too – which was especially nice because many of the short films included within the interface were either made by or feature the work of the kids themselves and the local community.

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Above: Some screenshots from the education pack, users can click objects in the reconstruction to bring up 3D scanned models of the artefacts and click on the character heads to hear from village elders, archaeologists and other people in the community.

So we’re off to a great start! Next was feedback with the teachers (who had a week to get to grips with the program) where we discussed how they might use the resource in their classes. There were loads of suggestions of where it would be relevant, from anticipated places like history and science class, to pleasant surprises like Yup’ik language, health and social studies.

This all happened in the first week of the trip which was perfect because it meant I was free for the second week when the annual LKSD Dance Festival was being hosted in Quinhagak! Around 18 schools flew in for the 3 day event which involved cultural activities and traditional skills workshops through the day and dancing all evening. Visits to the Nunalleq Culture Centre were added to the agenda and Stephan (who heads up QHI and snapped all the pics) and I hosted masses of kids and teachers visiting each day. Seriously, masses! We’ve never seen so many people through the doors since the opening back in August, and many of the dance groups from other villages were so incredibly excited and moved to see the collection and be face to face with the dolls and masks which was super cool to witness.

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A few snaps of the eventful few days showing groups of dancers from other villages around the Nunalleq Archaeology and Culture Centre with Stephan. Note my “can anyone guess what this is?” face!

Also, top marks for one of our youngest visitors from Quinhagak who came to the culture centre with her class then returned after school with her friend who hadn’t been and proceeded to give a tour complete with fun facts remembered about the artefacts.

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She added, “and if you have any questions you just ask Alice!” Stephan thinks we have a new Culture Centre young ambassador, we were barely needed!

And of course – the best thing about the dance festival was getting to see the Quinhagak Dance Group perform the song they wrote about the excavations at Nunalleq again!

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So what’s next? Well following a few meetings in Bethel with the LKSD (Lower Kuskokwim School District) office and some exciting chats in both the Bethel Cultural Centre and the Anchorage Museum we’re in the process of planning for distributing the Nunalleq Education Pack to schools in the YK Delta region and possibly wider in time for the new school year beginning after this summer. There will also be a download link coming soon to the blog so anyone anywhere in the world can download and install the program on their own pcs or macs! We will keep you posted and are very excited for everyone to get their hands on a copy 🙂

Massive thanks again to Dora, Larry and Lonny Strunk for welcoming me into their home for the trip, to principal Peggie Price and all the teaching staff at the school for accommodating me in their classrooms and giving feedback and of course to absolutely everyone in the community and the rest of the archaeology team who have contributed to the co-design and content of the education pack over the last 2.5 years – we really can’t wait for everyone to see it!

– Alice

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