Camai 2010 Honor’s Andy Paukan
- From Tundra Drums:
Paukan’s life always in step
Published in the Tundra Drums
Mar 25th, 2010 11:25 am
Andy Paukan was a busy man of many talents
Considering Angalraq Andy Paukan’s accomplishments, it’s a wonder he ever slept.
He helped establish a Native corporation in St. Mary’s, launched a prominent dance festival and taught Yup’ik at the school.
He served as mayor, traveled overseas to identify Native artifacts and earned an associate of art degree.
In fact, he didn’t sleep much, said a daughter, Teresa Paukan.
He stayed up late each night enjoying his steam baths then rose early for coffee, working nonstop through the day.
“He was always busy and rarely complained,” she said. “He had pneumonia, cancer and went through a lot of sickness, but he kept plugging away through everything.”
Paukan died two years ago this spring, on March 2, 2008, after suffering a debilitating stroke four years earlier.
But his legacy in dance still thrives, most noticeably in the continuation of the Yupiit Yuraryarait Yup’ik Dance Festival.
Paukan, with his friend Tim Troll, launched the event in the early 1980s, inviting villages to come and dance in the St. Mary’s gym.
He feared dance would die. Young people were losing interest. And it was still taboo in many villages after early missionaries, considering it paganism, stamped it out.
Paukan and Troll ran the riotous festival — it took place every three or four years — until the late 1990s.
But it survives. More than 20 villages participated during the last gathering in Pilot Station in 2008.
Paukan carried on the example set by his father, Jimmy Paukin, a huge leader in the region who died in 1991 and promoted traditional dancing.
The 2003 Cama-i festival was dedicated to Jimmy Paukin.
Teresa, the second youngest of Andy’s six children, said her father urged the siblings to pursue higher education, work hard and get jobs.
Today, the children work as teachers, a regional plumber for the Bethel medical center, a tribal administrator and others.
Paukan’s legacy also includes prominent museum exhibits displaying ancient Native technology and spirit masks once used in dance prayers.
Paukan played a pivotal role in a mask exhibit that traveled to museums around the country, said anthropologist Ann Fienup-Riordan.
The seeds of that exhibit were planted in the late 1980s, when Paukan and Troll traveled to Sitka and brought 100 masks to Mountain Village near St. Mary’s for an exhibit.
Paukan wanted young people and others in the Western Alaska region to view the masks their ancestors once used, she said.
Later, he and Troll began talking with Fienup-Riordan about doing a larger mask exhibit. He organized elders who traveled to New York and Berlin museums to select items.
The mask exhibit, called Agayuliyararput, or “Our Way of Making Prayer,” showed in national museums around the country.
Paukan also helped choose artifacts for another exhibit, “Yuungnaqpiallerput, The Way we Genuinely Live.” That exhibit, demonstrating ancient Yup’ik technology, tools and science, has traveled through much of Alaska and will open on April 17 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.
Fienup-Riordan called him an elder before his time, saying he shared knowledge even while he was relatively young and active.
“We owe him such a huge debt of gratitude because he was really the inspiration of so much that has happened in the last 25 years, in making culture visible, especially for young people,” she said.
Teresa said the family is honored that the festival is dedicated partly to him:
“It makes us feel proud that he is remembered for all his accomplishments.”