Kayla Christiansen

Headdress of red, white, black, blue, and grey beads.
Sugpiaq Headdress (Nacaq), 2017
Glass beads, leather, imitation sinew, and metal charms

Kayla Christiansen


Sugpiaq Headdress (Nacaq)

Glass beads, leather, imitation sinew, and metal charms

"When I was creating this piece, I wanted it to model the timeline of the Sugpiaq people. The top rows hold the traditional Sugpiaq colors of red, white and black and represent our traditions and values before Russian contact. The second row is the Russian flag and represents the Russian conquest and colonial rule. The third row is the U.S.A. flag and represents the State of Alaska being sold to the United States. The grey and eventual turn into black beads represents the hardships, disease and traumatic events on the Sugpiaq identity.

Well into the 20th century the U.S. Government used schools to acculturate Sugpiaq to American ways. To do this they used a very strict English only policy. If any child spoke Sugpiaq, they were physically punished. With the use of American churches, they wanted to lessen Russian cultural influences. A Baptist mission on Woody Island would remove children from their homes and refuse to let them attend Orthodox services. The U.S. Government wanted to “civilize” the Suqpiaq people. They wanted the Native person to give up their traditions, language, housing and anything else that was not American. Around the time of the land claims a revitalization of Sugpiaq culture started happening. Elders taught dance, language and crafts. Today, more ways are available to learn about the Sugpiaq culture. It is becoming more accessible especially with all the new technology. And even though we may feel like these hardships are over, we still face many problems. For my fellow Alaskan Natives that are struggling with alcoholism, substance abuse, physical and emotional abuse, I hope that you can overcome your traumas with the help of your culture.

Crowell, A. L., Steffian, A. F., & Pullar, G. L. (2002). Looking Both Ways: Heritage and Identity of the Alutiiq People. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press."

- Kayla Christiansen
Photograph of artist Kayla Christiansen.
Artist: Kayla Christiansen

NPS Photo, Kayla Christiansen

Kayla Christiansen, a 23 year old Alutiiq artist, has been sewing with sealskin and beading since she was seven years old. Christiansen first learned how to sew with sealskin during an Alutiiq week in Old Harbor, where she grew up. With practice she developed her skill. At first, she gave away her pieces for free, but people told her it was so good she could make money from it. Christiansen started selling her pieces at age 12, after only five years of working with the material.
Produced in Collaboration with National Park Service, et al.

Last updated: October 4, 2017

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