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Mark Slobin, Su Zheng, Maria Williams






Building on oral histories and primary sources that document early Inupiaq music and dance activities, as well as documenting current activities of an urban Inupiaq dance group, this dissertation presents the author's insider's view of how urban Inupiat privilege Native ways of knowing through music and dance to maintain relationships with their ancestors. Since the late nineteenth century, Arctic explorers, missionaries, and administrators have described Inupiaq music and dance in documents ranging from government reports to memoirs. In addition to portrayals of ceremonial dance events held in traditional community houses, called qazgit, these early accounts describe how Inupiat traveled to festivals and trade fairs, where they would construct temporary qazgit to hold ceremonial dances wherever they went. Today, following guidance provided by elders, an urban Inupiaq dance community emulates their ancestors’ habits as they live and practice their village’s style of performing arts within an Americanized city in Alaska. Instead of creating a traditional qazgi structure in the city, these practical people carved out space to practice in an office building where they cultivate the essence of a village qazgi by continuing and extending the ways of their ancestors in how they practice song accompanied by drumming and dance, resulting in an Inupiaq acoustemology that reflects an egalitarian society. The traditional Inupiaq ways of the qazgi are extended through the ways they transfer knowledge and create new works for the group. The dance group travels to perform in a variety of venues throughout the city and in other regions of the state, evoking ancestral ways of employing moveable qazgit by creating musical spaces for ceremonial dance. Through their performances for the wider community, the group experiences questions of authenticity and identity, and by building connections with urban audiences participates in creating a sense of “Indigenizing the city.” Certain performance events evoke competitive elements, and simultaneously build interconnectivity with other dance groups from the larger Inupiaq community, while attendance at a village festival is driven by nostalgia. For urban Inupiat, practicing their culture of traditional music and dance is a way of maintaining relationships with their ancestral village.



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