‘Our languages and our cultures will make us happier’: Nome Indigenous leader receives award

Marjorie Kunaq Tahbone
Marjorie Kunaq Tahbone is a 2023 recipient of the Governor’s Arts and Humanities Award. (Photo courtesy Sigvanna Tapqaq)

A woman from Nome is a 2023 recipient of the Governor’s Arts and Humanities Award.

Marjorie Kunaq Tahbone is Inupiaq and Kiowa from Nome. She is an artist, teacher, traditional tattooist, hide tanner and business owner.

She graduated from University of Alaska Fairbanks with a bachelor’s degree in Alaska Native Studies with a minor in Inupiaq Language.

Kunaq is currently working toward a masters’ degree in Indigenous Studies focusing on traditional Inupiaq tattooing and ceremony.

She says there is a need to accentuate cultural learning in rural Alaska.

“There was this disparity of the type of energy that was going into the negative aspects of being Indigenous in Nome,” Kunaq said. “It felt like people were highlighting the constant high rates of suicide and depression and alcoholism, and I felt like I was just being told it was everywhere. I felt that we really just need to highlight positive role models.”

Kunaq was recently named the director of the Katirvik Cultural Center in Nome. The center is a place in Nome for sharing, celebrating and understanding the cultural traditions and languages of the Central Yup’ik, St. Lawrence Island Yupik and Inupiaq peoples.

She also helped start the first Inupiaq immersion program in Nome for kindergarten and first-grade students.

“Our languages and our cultures will make us happier, healthier people,” Kunaq said. “So, that’s just what I tried to live by and learn, and also become a teacher of those things. It’s not my knowledge to keep. It’s something that must be passed down and shared with everybody and anybody who wants to learn.”

She serves on many boards including Nome School District Board of Education, the World Eskimo Indian Olympics Board of Governors, the Native Movement Advisory Board, and Inuusiq, Inc.

Kunaq also highlighted the importance of Native Youth Olympics for young people in rural Alaska.

“I feel like anybody who wants to participate, they just learn so much about our culture and they learn about basic fundamental skills about being respectful and helping each other out, and that type of camaraderie,” she said.

The 2023 Governor’s Arts and Humanities Awards Show will be held Thursday at the Marriott Hotel in downtown Anchorage.

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