Sealaska Heritage Institute Artists-in-Residence John Waghiyi and his wife, Arlene Annogiyuk Waghiyi, of Savoonga, perform St. Lawrence Island dancing and song with their niece, Rana Mokiyuk, right, at the Walter Soboleff Center on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Sealaska Heritage Institute Artists-in-Residence John Waghiyi and his wife, Arlene Annogiyuk Waghiyi, of Savoonga, perform St. Lawrence Island dancing and song with their niece, Rana Mokiyuk, right, at the Walter Soboleff Center on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Visiting Yup’ik artists get crowd involved in performance

Songs were about whaling, sailing and rock ‘n’ roll.

He played the crowd as well as his drum made of walrus stomach.

Visiting Yup’ik artist John Waghiyi Jr. drew big laughs, fun sounds and applause Wednesday during a presentation at Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Shúka Hít clan house. Waghiyi, who drew thunderous sounds from his drum via a hickory stick, was joined on stage by his wife, artist Arlene Annogiyuk Waghiyi, and niece, Rene Mokiyuk of Juneau.

“It was empowering,” said John Waghiyi Jr. in an interview after the show. “I feel incredible. It was so powerful. So much energy.”

During the song and dance show, John Waghiyi Jr. told stories about the life and culture on St. Lawrence Island, which is an island past the far western edge of the state.

“We grow up on the Bering Sea,” John Waghiyi Jr. said.

He said seals, walruses and bowhead whales are the neighbors of the people there, and shared stories about whaling. However, two of the songs performed were respectively inspired by basketball and rock ‘n’ roll.

[Artists share their culture with Juneau]

John Waghiyi Jr. said on stage that’s the result of a cultural blending that happened as people from St. Lawrence Island made their way to other parts of the state for boarding school.

Beginning in the late 1800s and lasting well into 20th century, it was common practice for indigenous peoples in both Alaska and the rest of the United States to be sent to distant schools to encourage, or in many cases force, assimilation.

John Waghiyi Jr. said that influenced Yup’ik songs written in the ’50s, ’60s and ’80s.

The song about rock’n’roll led to an onstage group dance with guitar-like hand motions and hip swiveling in the mold of Chubby Checker.

Audience participation was a near-constant throughout the performance.

John Waghiyi Jr. was able to goad the audience into making walrus sounds, clapping their hands, stomping their feet and even doing the twist. At one point, he encouraged the audience to go “beast mode” when clapping along to a song.

“It was a great audience,” he said after the show.

Mokiyuk, who is hosting the Waghiyis while they’re in town, said John Waghiyi Jr. is friendly and funny off stage, too.

Mary Aparezuk, who is Yup’ik, was part of that audience and danced along to some of the music.

“I only knew the first song,” said Aparezuk. That didn’t stop her from moving to some of the other music.

Aparezuk said she is originally from Kotlik, a small city of fewer than 600 people near the mouth of Yukon River, and her uncles knew Waghiyi through school.

“It was good to hear the drum,” Aparezuk said.” When you hear the drum beat you feel like you’re home.”


• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.


Rene Mokiyuk, right, performs St. Lawrence Island dancing and song with her uncle, John Waghiyi and his wife, Arlene Annogiyuk Waghiyi, of Savoonga, at the Walter Soboleff Center on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Rene Mokiyuk, right, performs St. Lawrence Island dancing and song with her uncle, John Waghiyi and his wife, Arlene Annogiyuk Waghiyi, of Savoonga, at the Walter Soboleff Center on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Sealaska Heritage Institute Artists-in-Residence John Waghiyi and his wife, Arlene Annogiyuk Waghiyi, from Savoonga, invite audience members to dance to their St. Lawrence Island rock and roll song at the Walter Soboleff Center on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Sealaska Heritage Institute Artists-in-Residence John Waghiyi and his wife, Arlene Annogiyuk Waghiyi, from Savoonga, invite audience members to dance to their St. Lawrence Island rock and roll song at the Walter Soboleff Center on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Sealaska Heritage Institute Artists-in-Residence John Waghiyi and his wife, Arlene Annogiyuk Waghiyi, from Savoonga, perform St. Lawrence Island dancing and song with their niece, Rene Mokiyuk, right, at the Walter Soboleff Center on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Sealaska Heritage Institute Artists-in-Residence John Waghiyi and his wife, Arlene Annogiyuk Waghiyi, from Savoonga, perform St. Lawrence Island dancing and song with their niece, Rene Mokiyuk, right, at the Walter Soboleff Center on Wednesday, Aug. 28, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

More in News

This photo shows the National Archives in the Sand Point neighborhood of Seattle that has about a million boxes of generally unique, original source documents and public records. In an announcement made Thursday, April 8, 2021, the Biden administration has halted the sale of the federal archives building in Seattle, following months of opposition from people across the Pacific Northwest and a lawsuit by the Washington Attorney General's Office. Among the records at the center are tribal, military, land, court, tax and census documents. (Alan Berner / The Seattle Times)
Biden halts sale of National Archives center in Seattle

Tribes and members of Congress pushed for the halt.

This photo shows Unangax̂ Gravesite at Funter Bay, the site where Aleut villagers forcibly relocated to the area during World War II are buried. A bill recently passed by the Alaska House of Representatives would make the area part of a neighboring state park. (Courtesy photo / Niko Sanguinetti, Juneau-Douglas City Museum) 
DO NOT REUSE THIS PHOTO WITHOUT PERMISSION FROM JUNEAU DOUGLAS CITY MUSEUM. -BEN HOHENSTATT
Bill to preserve Unangax̂ Gravesite passes House

Bill now heads to the state Senate.

After over 30 years at 3100 Channel Drive, the Juneau Empire offices are on the move. (Ben Hohenstatt /Juneau Empire File)
The Juneau Empire is on the move

Advertising and editorial staff are moving to Jordan Creek Center.

The state announced this week that studded tires will be allowed for longer than usual. In Southeast Alaska, studded tires will be allowed until May 1 instead of April 15. (Dana Zigmund / Juneau Empire)
State extends studded tire deadline

Prolonged wintry weather triggers the change.

COVID at a glance for Monday, April 12

The most recent state and local numbers.

Has it always been a police car. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Police calls for Sunday, April 11, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Gavel (Courtesy photo)
Court sides with Dunleavy in appointments dispute

The court, in a brief order, reversed a ruling by a superior court judge.

The Juneau Police Department are seeking Brenda Jay Gallant, 40, after she was indicted recently for her alleged role in a 2021 vehicle arson. (Courtesy photo / JPD)
Police seeking woman indicted for arson

The indictment for the August fire came this March.

Most Read