Chefornak dancers pay homage to loved ones at this year’s Cama-i dance festival

As the Chefornak dancers took to the stage on the first day of the Cama-i dance festival, the leader of the group picked up a microphone. Drummer Sam Flynn asked for a minute’s silence to honor recently deceased community members.

“Quyana,” Flynn thanked the crowd after about 15 seconds.

The group then formed into three rows on the Bethel stage and began to dance. Drummers seated in the back held broad, flat drums called cauyat. The dancers held fans called yurarcuutet. The first song described subsistence animals – walruses, rabbits and geese.

The group is dancing this year without one of its main elders. Flynn’s grandfather, Hilary Kairaiuak, recently died of COVID-19.

“He was the only senior we had and while he passed away we’re doing the best we can,” Flynn said.

The band Chefornak performed at the last Cama-i in 2019. The year before, they had to pull out at the last minute when Chefornak Tribal Council drummer and chairman Walter Lewis died suddenly in a crash. snowmobile.

Chefornak drummers at Cama-i Dance 2022 on March 27. (Photo by Katie Basil)
Chefornak drummers at Cama-i Dance 2022 on March 27. (Katie Basil)

With the losses caused by the past few years, Flynn said, being back at Cama-i feels like a reunion.

“It’s relieving,” Flynn said. “Because these people who pass [are] there in their minds…join us.

Just gathering for yuraq is also a relief. Chefornak dancer Lorraine Tom said yuraqing, or yup’ik dancing, is something her whole village does together, especially in the winter.

“When the days are shorter, that’s when we like to dance more. The winter has been pretty tough for a lot of us,” said Tom.

The group was able to practice outdoors a bit during the summer, but getting together during a pandemic proved difficult, as most of the indoor gathering spaces they usually danced in were closed to the public.

Chefornak dancers resumed regular yuraq practice just a few months ago to prepare for Cama-i. Tom said it was restorative.

“Some people like to say it’s like Yup’ik medicine… like, mentally and physically. I feel like it’s very healthy,” she said.

Lorraine Tom performs with her fellow Chefornak dancers on stage at the 2022 Cama-i <a class=Dance Festival. (Photo by Elyssa Loughlin)” data-srcset=”https://npr.brightspotcdn.com/dims4/default/4def6fa/2147483647/strip/true/crop/6000×4000+0+0/resize/1760×1174!/quality/90/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.alaskapublic.org%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2022%2F04%2F220326-CamaiDance-ELoughlin-906223.jpeg 2x” width=”880″ height=”587″ data-src=”https://npr.brightspotcdn.com/dims4/default/6ff8484/2147483647/strip/true/crop/6000×4000+0+0/resize/880×587!/quality/90/?url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.alaskapublic.org%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2022%2F04%2F220326-CamaiDance-ELoughlin-906223.jpeg” loading=”lazy” bad-src=”data:image/svg+xml;base64,PHN2ZyB4bWxucz0iaHR0cDovL3d3dy53My5vcmcvMjAwMC9zdmciIHZlcnNpb249IjEuMSIgaGVpZ2h0PSI1ODdweCIgd2lkdGg9Ijg4MHB4Ij48L3N2Zz4=”/>

Lorraine Tom performs with her fellow Chefornak dancers on stage at the 2022 Cama-i Dance Festival. (Photo by Elyssa Loughlin)
Lorraine Tom performs with her fellow Chefornak dancers on stage at the 2022 Cama-i Dance Festival. (Photo by Elyssa Loughlin)

In their last dance, the Chefornak group invited the crowd to join in a well-known song depicting a seal hunt. Children and adults came on stage alongside them and synchronized. Audience members mirrored the dancers’ hand movements and elders nodded and stamped their feet as the drums grew more intense.

Tom was happy to share the stage.

“I really like it because a lot of us have to race ahead to make room for others. The way we share a bit of joy with people we don’t normally do yuraq with is kind of nice. “, she said. “Even feels good that they even know the songs that we yuraq.

The Chefornak dancers hope to be back next year.

Julia Jimmie contributed the Yugtun translation of this story.

RELATED: How Yup’ik Dance Returned to Napaskiak After 70 Years Away

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Caputnguarmiut Yurartait from Chefornak at Cama-i Dance 2022 on March 27.  (Photo by Katie Basil)

Caputnguarmiut Yurartait from Chefornak at Cama-i Dance 2022 on March 27. (Photo by Katie Basil)

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