Feasts and ceremonial gatherings have always been integral to Alaska Native cultures. These are often occasions of both social and economic importance to the community.
Although certain practices are unique to specific cultural groups and regions, many ceremonial traditions are common to all Alaska Native communities.
Typically, these gatherings involve dancing and singing, feasting, a gift exchange, and the wearing of cultural regalia, which might include elaborately ornamented tunics or robes, intricate headdresses or masks, and jewelry or tattoos and body paint, depending on the traditions of the particular culture.
The feasts and ceremonies are usually held in community houses, such as the Iñupiaq qasgiq. Traditionally, many occurred during late fall and early winter, after the necessary food had been gathered and stored and before the winter solstice, “when the sun sits down.”
The Messenger Feast, or Kivgiq, of the Iñupiaq is an example of a festival that was an opportunity for distant kin to reestablish ties as well as to exchange gifts and trade for food, implements or materials not easily available nearby. Different Iñupiaq groups took turns hosting the feast, which was held in early winter.