Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center (Fairbanks)


Ever have high hopes for an activity and it just doesn't pan out the way you'd hoped?  Sadly that's what happened at the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center.  We had read so many great things about this place, in fact on the plane ride to Anchorage I saw an ad that highlighted some of the awesome activities we could partake in.  I was really looking forward to learning about the Athabascans, the Native Alaskans who live in the Fairbanks region, their culture, their heritage, and their relationship to the land. This is what the Explore All 50 Project is all about!

We arrived shortly after opening time in the morning only to find out that all the exhibits were closed due to a computer malfunction that runs "everything".  According to the rangers who really weren't very helpful, the only thing we could do was watch a movie in the lobby-which in all honesty didn't start for another 20 minutes and wasn't something we were terribly excited to do.  We regrouped and left, moving on to our next activity.  Later in the day, I called the cultural center and left a message and to their credit 2 people called me back letting me know that their exhibit was now operational and we should come back which we did.

DSC_0484After a jam packed day, we returned to the center to give it one more chance.  I am so glad they got the exhibits back online because it really was a wonderful and quite engaging display. We learned about the seasons and the animals that make this region their home.  We learned about survival and the challenges of life in the northern interior-where sharing and working together are the difference between life and death.  We also learned about the Athabascan culture and their relationship to the environment. One display stated "Each animal knows way more than we do, we always heard that from the old people when they told us never to bother anything unless we really needed it."  It's such a beautiful and humble approach that sadly the rest of the world has largely ignored.

imgres-1There's also a fantastic display about the cultural center's namesake Morris Thompson, a proud native Alaskan and fierce advocate for the Native peoples and the entire state of Alaska who's political connections helped preservation efforts and the Alaskan economy.

Most interesting to me were the beautiful works of art including beautiful woven baskets, carvings and masks, and incredible beadwork on slippers, gloves, and garments. There were lots of really neat things to look at, but this visit was also supposed to be experiential with activities to do.  Walking around Joel found a table of native Alaskan teenage girls making jewelry out of beads and porcupine quills.  Joel thought it looked like fun so he asked it he could do it too.  All the seats at the table were taken by the girls  who barely gave him the time of day.  When he finally got their attention away from their cell phones, they rebuffed him and said he couldn't do it unless he paid $10.  Joel was super turned off by their unfriendly attitude.

DSC_0485I had also read about the chance to dress up in Athabascan attire-huge parkas, beaded gloves, the works, and take a family photo. I just love those awesome souvenir photos and always jump at the chance to take them.  I was counting on this one to be spectacular.We walked around and tried to find out about it but we couldn't find any staff, or anyone that we could even ask about it. There were also supposed to be performances and other activities to introduce us to the local Native Alaskan culture but we couldn't find anything out and felt totally left in the dark.  Suffice to say, our whole experience at the cultural center felt like we were on our own.  It felt like we'd come to visit someone in their home and they weren't there or were either too busy or couldn't be bothered. It just didn't feel right.

In any event it's a pretty neat place and worth a visit for sure, but maybe it's best to call ahead and speak to someone in advance and find out about any programming, or activities before coming for a visit.


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