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The History of Camp Qungaayux

The History Behind Camp Qungaayux


In Unangan (Aleut) Culture, like many other cultures, our stories were passed down through the spoken word, and told through song and dance. Some of the stories we tell through dance are: Chagix (the Halibut Dance, created in Atka), Slax (the Weather Dance, created by Crystal (Swetzof) Dushkin of Atka and Laresa Syverson of Unalaska), Kanuygaatux (the Sea Otter Hunter Dance, from Unalaska), and Qalngaagin (the Raven Dance, created in Unalaska by Laresa Syverson.)


Sadly though, as many of our elders have passed on, certain knowledge and wisdom about the Unangan culture and language has passed on with them. So Camp Qungaayux which means “Humpy”, was created as a way to carry on the cultural ways of life of our people. By preserving our culture and history, we gather together at our annual culture camp, Camp Qungaayux, which at its inception in August of 1997, was brought to life by Moses Dirks and Crystal (Swetzof) Dushkin from our neighboring Aleutian Island of Atka who helped make Camp Qungaayux possible.


Crystal taught the students Unangan Dances, one of which being Chagix, or in English, the Halibut Dance. To this day Atkam Talingisniikangis (the Atka Dancers) still let us, and all the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands, perform and teach Chagix. Since that first Annual Camp, Laresa Syverson, Delores Gregory, Alicia LaPlant, and Ariel Gustafson have all helped carry on teaching the tradition of Unangam Axaa (Aleut Dance.) Moses Dirks has been teaching Unangam Tunuu or the Aleut Language, to students at Camp Qungaayux every year since the first ever camp. While Moses is from Atka and speaks the Atkan Dialect of Unangam Tunuu, he tries to teach mostly the Eastern Diaelct at Camp Qungaayux, seeing as that is the dialect that our ancestors would have spoken here in Unalaska. O. Patricia Lekanoff-Gregory is also one of the mentors that has been with Camp Qungaayux from the very beginning. For the last 17 years, “Patty” has taught students the art of making traditional bentwood hats alongside Mr. Jerrah Chadwick.


Of all the different skills/classes that have been taught or demonstrated at Camp Qungaayux, the ones that have been done so every year are: Unangam Axaa (Aleut Dance), Bentwood Hat making, Unangam Tunuu (Aleut Language), Weaving, Skin & Gut sewing,  Salmon Preparation, and the harvesting of an isux (hair seal) or qawa (sea lion.) As the times change and Camp Qungaayux continues to grow, the purpose of the camp remains the same: to preserve the Unangan Culture and the traditional way of life.