The Museum of the Aleutians is opening a new exhibit June 14.
"Chiilulix: The Long Journey Home" will explore the history of four Aleutian communities that were never resettled after the evacuation of World War II — as well as the Lost Villages Project that eventually helped Unangax̂ survivors and descendants to reconnect with those places.
To learn more, KUCB's Laura Kraegel sat down the museum's director, Dr. Ginny Hatfield, and its education programs coordinator, Lauren Snyder.
LAUREN SNYDER: The name of the exhibit is "Chiilulix: The Long Journey Home." We actually worked with Moses Dirks of Atka [while choosing the name]. He works closely with speakers from all over the chain and St. Paul to preserve Unangam Tunuu. This is a name that came from a conversation we had, talking about the different themes that we wanted to see in both the documentary and the exhibition — talking about the idea of journeying home. It's an exciting opportunity for us to build off the interpretation we already have in our galleries of the atrocities of World War II, but then also to follow it up and cap it with the resilience of the Unangax̂ people.
KUCB: To communicate that resilience in an exhibit like this — to really show the lives of residents of Makushin and Kashega and Biorka and Attu — you're going to be using photos and items from those communities?
SNYDER: Absolutely. Our collections were lacking in representation of historical materials. We have a lot of archeological materials from around these areas. But in terms of historical materials from the time the villages were inhabited most recently, we didn't really have that in our collection. So we actually put it out to the community and asked them to supplement this exhibition and share their memories. And we got a lot of really cool pieces. Patty Gregory brought pieces of her father's from Makushin village — a shoe last that he brought back with him — as well as a gut skin pouch that her mother and aunt taught her how to sew. She sewed [it] with her aunt, Sophie Pletnikoff. A snuff box from Kashega village. And we're really excited to have worked with the Russian Orthodox church here and Father Evon [Bereskin] to include an icon of Saint Seraphim that was actually at the Makushin chapel — that was brought to Unalaska before the evacuation. We get to have it in our exhibition, so we're really stoked for everyone to get to see that in a different context.
KUCB: And Ginny, I want to ask you why was it important to the museum to create an exhibit about the lost villages. How does this work fit into your mission, especially as MOTA reaches a big milestone this year?
GINNY HATFIELD: It's really good timing on our part, especially with our mission. This is our twentieth anniversary in 2019, and it's just going to be a very poignant event for celebrating the museum being a part of this community — and being an institution that tries to bring to light the history and culture and experiences of the people of the Aleutians. To have this story about how people have persevered in the face of such difficulties and have made very rich lives. It's still part of their heritage and their culture, and we can have a nice event where we can think about and talk about what their experiences were like.
KUCB: The exhibit will be open into next spring, so locals and visitors will have plenty of time to see it and really spend some time with these ideas and materials, if they'd like to. But you also mention having a "nice event" — and that's not just referring to the opening of this show, right? There's also a reunion happening, and it's bringing together a number of people who went on the Lost Villages trips over the last 10 years.
HATFIELD: Yeah, it was a great combination of people who came together to make this happen. The Ounalashka Corporation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Parks Service contributed, and then the Akutan Corporation, the City of Akutan, the Akutan Tribal Council, Sealaska, the Aleutian Pribilof Islands Association, and the Aleutians East Borough all gave money. They ended up raising about $24,000 in order to bring 17 of the participants out here. That includes one of the survivors, Mary Diakanoff. She and her son Daryl will come out, as well as [descendants] Theresa Deal, Carlene Arnold, Kathy Dirks, Ruth Kudrin, Jane Mensoff and her husband, Greg, Josy Shangin, John Penatac, Christine Kiehl, Helen Ford, Geneva Bright, Teresa Prokopeuff, and Roberta Gordaoff.
During the reunion, Lost Villages Project participants will hold a storytelling session at the Father Ishmail Gromoff Senior Center on Friday, June 14 from 2 to 4 p.m. At 6 p.m., "Chiilulix: The Long Journey Home" will open at the Museum of the Aleutians.