In 1982 and again in 1991, the King Island (Alaska) Native Community revived the Wolf Dance, which is a complex ritual involving songs, dances, feasts, competitive games and an exchange of goods. The object of this dissertation is to discover why they chose to revive the Wolf Dance, rather than the Polar Bear Dance which was their most significant ritual in the early twentieth century. Archival sources and other literature pertaining to Inupiaq and Yup'ik ceremonialism were consulted in order to interpret the meaning and purpose of the Wolf Dance. In addition, contemporary King Island community members were interviewed in order to obtain their interpretations. Videotapes of both the 1982 and 1991 performances were viewed in order to gain information not obtained in either written or oral sources. Finally, archival sources were again searched to understand the interactions between King Islanders and members of Western society, including missionaries, tourists, public folklorists, and agents of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. This dissertation concludes that the Wolf Dance was revived for reasons that served both individuals and the community. Organizers of Wolf Dance performances desired to enact either their own or a family member's return to the community. The King Island community performed the Wolf Dance either to create peace or to encourage youth to return to traditional activities. Although particular meanings of the Wolf Dance changed through time, the basic themes of the Wolf Dance (returning, reciprocity, friendship/enmity, and danger) were maintained in contemporary performances. Finally, because the Wolf Dance embodied the cultural value placed on balancing, rather than resolving, tensions and contradictions, this ritual mirrors their perceived need to balance traditions with new influences of Western society. Catholicism was balanced with traditional beliefs, the use of Western resources (such as funding) was balanced with the need to counteract Western forces, and the need to be interdependent with mainland Natives was balanced with their need to be separate from them. Thus, the Wolf Dance reflects not only basic themes of their social order, but also their history of interaction with Western society.
Thesis (Ph.D.) University of Alaska Fairbanks, 1999
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