Qusngim Kevga
Reindeer Messenger Feast

Written by: John Oscar, December 17, 2002

On a historic December 12-14, 2002, dance performers and fiddle bands were invited from Nelson Island to Nunivak Island at Southwestern Alaska. Toksook Bay, Tununak and Newtok helped celebrate the Reindeer Messenger Festival, Qusngim Kevga, and the first of its kind in Mekoryuk. Throughout the event, nearly 100 reindeer were given to mainland performers, including prizes and raffles. Nunivak Island reindeer is the only surviving herd left in the Yukon-Kuskokwim delta.

The village was isolated from dancing since missionaries abolished it in 1930's. It was an event like no other that Mekoryuk people had ever experienced. It has renewed old kinships and family ties. Ancient stories were shared, memories of old times, and a new beginning for Nunivak Island with the mainland.

Elder George Williams, Sr., welcomed everyone and explained the meaning of the event and the Messenger Festival. Elder Williams had prepared a walking staff that was used long ago when other villages were being invited. The Evangelical Covenant Church Choir opened the ceremony with songs, and then followed by the children’s welcome song. Seasoned Toksook Bay and Tununak Dancers were well received by the audience. Then Mekoryuk dancers entered the gymnasium for the first time; one could feel the emotional excitement flowing through the crowd. Many brown eyes turned silvery pride written on their faces. One could feel the nervousness in everyone, performers and witnesses alike. Children and adults sat closer to the floor to remember this historic event. Many did not know how the Nuniwarmiut Dancers would fare, never having had a live teacher. They had learned their dance moves from a video tape recording of the late Kay Hendrickson, whose carvings and artwork centered on such events. Three men were adorned with the traditional headgear depicting a walrus, puffin and reindeer. The women wore the reindeer beard headdresses with dance fans in hand. The drums bore the traditional black insignia of abstract animals, twice larger than mainland drums having detachable handles that depict animals. The first dance was a welcome song followed by another that tells of a long distance travel between Nunivak and Askinuk Mountains, Hooper-Scammon Bay areas, including the Alaska Peninsula. The crowd held their breath throughout the two songs with a rush of energy only one could experience in person. There was not a dry eye in the crowd, filled with joy and happiness, a feeling of family, honor and pride, Ellam Cua (Person of the Universe) has provided.

Everyone feasted during the three-day event, as the small village of 210 opened their doors to guests, family and visitors. Native foods of all variety from the summers catch were served. Mainlanders brought foods they eat, and went home with Mekoryuk foods, exchange of gifts, family reunions, and small favors and trade was renewed.

Written by: John Oscar, December 17, 2002


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