Campers huddle in the hallway of the Burma Road Chapel dressed as sea otter hunters. The kids adjust their bentwood visors as community members file into rows of folding chairs.
“Am I missing any whiskers?” one girl asks.
“One of them broke,” says the boy next to her.
With costumes complete, they're ready to perform an Unangan folk tale they’ve practiced all week at Camp Adguyax, about a greedy otter hunter who betrays the octopus that helps him.The “whiskers” on their paper visors aren't genuine sea lion, but imitation — beach grass, strung with beads.
For five years, Sharon Livingston has organized “Camp A”, where first, second, and third graders immerse themselves in traditional stories, crafts, and foods.
By encouraging kids to explore Unangan culture, she says they learn to see the value in cultures of all kinds.
“We believe that when you accept other people into your culture and teach them about it, they will learn how — at a very, very early age — to respect other cultures," says Livingston. "That’s important in a town like ours, where we have every nationality you can think of.”
And while the folk tale didn’t have a happy ending for the greedy hunter — the final scene involved the kids screaming in terror and falling to the floor — Livingston says the tale encourages honesty and integrity toward your neighbors.
For the Unangax, that’s a meaningful lesson.
“The Unangan people have been here for so long," she says. "We’ve been here for more than 10,000 years, and we’re not going anywhere.”