It’s often challenging to mesh the excitement of a family vacation with an equal amount of cultural experiences in a way that engages children. While parents still desire a requisite amount of R & R, most moms and dads do want to expose their offspring to their new and (hopefully) different destination. Within Alaska lie a host of options for such cultural connections, the largest of which is housed in Anchorage. Whether you’re just passing through Alaska’s largest village, or plan on using the city as a home base to other adventures, the Alaska Native Heritage Center is a must-see.
Located away from downtown proper, but still within easy striking distance with a rental car or shuttle from multiple downtown Anchorage locations, the Alaska Native Heritage Center provides a dramatic, yet ultimately peaceful, integration into the state’s broad spectrum of Native Culture. Indeed, when we first moved to Anchorage almost eight years ago, I was humbled by my ignorance of Alaska’s First People, believing, as many do, that the Eskimo lives large throughout the state and any other group only plays a minor role. Indeed, things have changed.
A visit to ANHC will not only provide the grownups with comprehensive information leading to a greater understanding of Alaska’s 11 major indigenous cultures, but children, too, will experience a connection between individual, group, and global society, all of which, by the way, weave a beautiful tapestry over Mother Earth.
The center is not a cheap visit, but, with an Alaskan TourSaver coupon book, adults will receive 2-for-1 admission, helping with the $24.95/grownup, $16.95/kids 7-16 cost, although kids six and under are free (very helpful!). Military and Senior admission is $21.95. However, do pay attention to the facility’s Calendar of Events for periodic free admission days, like Mother’s Day, Sunday, May 13. This is a nod to local families and visitors, and the days are full of dancing, drumming, and costumed wonder.
Plan to spend at least three hours immersed in the center’s beautiful exhibit halls and wandering the authentic Village Sites outside. Indoors, kids can now create their own masterpieces in the recently-reopened Children’s Art Adventure Area while parents can read up on the history and traditions of each Alaska Native Group, complete with excellent photography and meaningful quotes in the unique languages of each People.
Outdoors, begin your “tour” by taking a right as you exit the back door, and proceeding around little Lake Tiulana. Take your time, enter the dwellings, and listen as volunteer docents explain everything from tools to clothing used in each respective group’s lifestyle. It’s a wonderful opportunity to teach respect of elders, too, illustrating that quality of life often means more than what meets the eye.
A new offering by the Alaska Native Heritage Center is the Quipmigaq program, hosted by John Baker, winner of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race in 2011, the only Alaska Native to do so. With daily presentations that can include a sled dog ride behind a wheeled cart, this presentation is an excellent introduction to the use of sled dogs before anybody came up with a race to Nome. Tickets for this program are extra, and cost $39.95/adults, $29.95 kids, and I recommend attending with children seven or older, as the presentation is around 45 minutes. Sled dog rides are $10/per person, a great deal if you won’t be able to catch a ride anywhere else during your visit.
A wonderful combination admission deal, called the Culture Pass, is provided through a partnership with the Alaska Native Heritage Center and the Anchorage Museum, whereby admission to both venues is $29.95/per person. Savings average to about 30% under this offering, and we heartily enjoy both venues with our children. Plus, transportation from downtown Anchorage (at the Museum) is included.
Culture for kids is an important element to any Alaska visit. Native Alaskans have thrived here for 10,000 years, and an immersion into their valuable traditions and beautiful crafts at the Native Heritage Center is a wonderful way to begin.
Thank you to the Alaska Native Heritage Center for their sponsorship of AKontheGO this summer, in an ongoing effort to inspire, engage, and teach the youth of today so they may become the leaders of tomorrow.