Shareholder Inspires Stronger Cultural Identity Through Artistry
Golga Qukailnguq Oscar, Leader from the Region
Storyknife, November/December 2022 edition
Golga Qukailnguq Oscar, a Calista Shareholder from Kasigluk, received the Alaska Federation of Natives Roger Lang Youth Leadership Award in October. The award was named after the late Roger Lang, former AFN President, who encouraged young people to expand their horizons and challenge themselves to become future leaders.
“It feels amazing being surrounded by a lot of Natives from throughout Alaska [at AFN],” says Oscar. “It feels more grounded and more connected.”
This trip to Anchorage was Oscar’s first time to AFN, and he says it was a great experience. Earlier this year, Oscar was named the 2022 Calista Culture Bearer in the Calista Shareholder Awards.
Oscar preserves culture through creating traditional arts and crafts and imparting that knowledge to others. He creates and teaches workshops on how to sew traditional Yup’ik attire like parkas, traditional dance fans, headdresses, and uluaq (Yup’ik knife) making.
Oscar began his traditional arts career as a high school freshman. His art projects were inspired by traditional crafts made in Qaluyaamiut—the traditional Yup’ik name for Nelson Island.
Oscar was specifically motivated by Nelson Island’s winter season ceremony called Kevgiq, or the Messenger Feast in Yup’ik. It is a celebratory mid-winter festival traditionally held after a strong whale harvest.
“The cultural attire they wear for Kevgiq—the headdresses, necklaces and piluguut (skin boots)—those are the pieces that really inspired me to make cultural clothing,” Oscar says. “I didn’t really see that in my community of Kasigluk.”
In his 11 years of artistry, he has produced hundreds of headdresses and cultural pieces. Unlike the typical route of learning from others, Oscar says he is self-taught in sewing and weaving techniques.
“Through observation, a human can learn anything. So every time I observe an art piece, I would try to revitalize it using the technique I saw in the piece,” Oscar says.
Oscar would request to view and hold Alaska Native art pieces from the back collection of the Anchorage Museum—or any other museum—and then document the item. He would take photos and pay close attention to the stitching, weaving and fur work.
“Every time I sew, I always think about the stories of my ancestors,” says Oscar. “I’d like to give a big thank you to Calista for continuing to document interviews with our Elders and publishing them in books. Our Elders’ stories push me to go further.”
Over the years through modernization and assimilation, Oscar says the younger generations lose their cultural identity. His goal is to always inspire and impact others to pursue who they are and where they come from.
“Sewing makes me think about the stories of our Elders and how things came to be,” says Oscar. “Their stories have a theme and meaning behind it, and every time I do that it’s like meditating. When I meditate, I feel deeper and closer to my cultural roots.”
Oscar says learning about and practicing his culture has made him who he is today. “Cultural art saved my life from depression, from negative substances, and from negative environments.”