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Middlebury man explores Alaskan frontier

BRISTOL The One-World Library Project will host a free program on Alaskas Aleutian Islands by artist, writer and teacher Ray Hudson at the Lawrence Memorial Library in Bristol Thursday, June 12 at 7 p.m. Hudson lived at Unalaska, the largest community in the thousand mile chain of islands, from 1964 until moving to Middlebury in 1992. When he first went to the community as a first and second grade teacher, Unalaska was a small village of about 300 people. As commercial king crab fishing developed, the population grew until today there are about 4,000 residents. Unalaska is frequently known as Dutch Harbor because of one of the ports in the vicinity and the Discovery Channels Deadliest Catch is filmed there. The community, however, is far more than depicted in the television series. It is a center of cultural importance for the Unangan (Aleut) people and of historical significance for the state. It is the oldest European settlement in Alaska. In the 19th century it was a center for the spread of literacy in the first Alaska Native language to have a script. Unalaska served as a gateway to the gold rush at Nome, and earlier to the Klondike. During World War II, Unalaska was attacked by the Japanese. The Native people were forced into an evacuation and a resettlement in horrendous conditions. Hudsons involvement with Unangan culture began when he asked an elderly woman if she would teach him basketry. Aleut baskets are among the finest grass weavings in the Americas. Over the course of nine years, as he learned the various components of the craft, this same woman began to share fragments of her peoples history. Combining this with research in various state and national archives, Hudson has continued his interest in Aleutian history. His memoir of learning basketry, Moments Rightly Placed, was published in 1998 and was recently listed among the top history books by the Alaska Historical Society. Hudson will bring examples of his Aleut baskets to share and discuss. Hudsons most recent publication, Family After All: Alaskas Jesse Lee Home tells the story of an Aleutian boarding school and orphanage for Native children that operated from 1889 to 1925. An Aleutian Ethnography by Lucien Turner, the writings of a 19th century collector for the Smithsonian Institution, was edited and introduced by Hudson and will be published this fall by the University of Alaska Press. In 1991 he received a Governors Award for the Arts for his work on behalf of the arts of the Aleutian Islands. The Alaska history room in the Unalaska public library has been named after him. Although living a long ways from the Aleutians, Hudson continues his ties to the island and with Unangan people. He has returned for various events: a conference on basketry, World War II commemorations, to conduct oral history interviews with elders, and to give talks. He has recently been assisting with planning for the Museum of the Aleutians show celebrating the 200th anniversary of the first Orthodox chapel at Unalaska. The One-World Library Project is a world library within a library with a collection of enlightening books, films, and other media about world cultures. OWLP items are available for community members to check out at the Lawrence Memorial Library in Bristol.

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