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Saturday, January 23, 2016

My chin tattoos. A personal reflection.

I've written a bit about my journey of coming to a homeostasis with my identity before in this blog, and now I have taken a pretty big step in that journey. A couple months ago I walked into tattoo parlor and asked to have my chin tattooed.

I have actually wanted traditional Inupiaq women's tattoos since I was a freshman in college.  After taking an introductory anthropology course where there was one page in the text book dedicated to our little culture it got me curious.  What other things do outside people say about our culture? One rainy afternoon I ventured to the university library and dug through the index card drawers for and hour, finding any and all references to my own culture.  There was no google back then.  I was left with about ten books that might say something, that might mention in a paragraph or two any reference to my home town or culture.  My excitement dimmed quickly as I pulled these books down from the shelves and realized that they didn't talk about my culture at all was more like 'such and such scientist visited this place and saw stuff, lets talk about how awesome this scientist/anthropologist is' real detail.  Most referred to our people and culture using various words that meant 'barbaric' or 'going extinct.'  But in one of the last books there was a few old pictures from the first contact years, they were faded and somewhat blurry.  A few men, a few women, one with a child on her back.  Dark weathered skin looking like leather in the black and white photos, none of them smiled, looking stoic and somewhat tired.  I put it in the very small pile of books that might be interesting and checked them out of the library and took them back to my dorm.  Later I went back to the photos and saw that one of the older women had chin tattoos, almost hidden in the darkness of her skin.   The lines were powerful in their simplicity, in their presence.  I started crying.  In that moment I found something in my culture that spoke to me of beauty.  Of strength and bravery.  To me those tattoos were the epitome of how beautiful our culture could be, to completely shed the fear of being deemed less.  I think I cried because for once I found a something that was clearly and utterly of our culture, something not ever found in the western world.

It took a long time to talk to people about my secret dream.  About having chin tattoos.  And when I did I would get a mixed bag of responses.  Most would gaffaw or snort and tell me that it was dumb.  That only gang bangers had face tattoos.  Too impulsive.  Or squish their face in unconscious disgust and warn me how much that would ruin my life. That it would ruin my beauty (a somewhat racist remark? ) Others would tell me that they found them brave and beautiful too. But almost all would  tell me to wait.  To wait till I got older.  Some even told me that I couldn't get chin tattoos till I had children or grandchildren etc.  That I had to be an Elder, or that I could only get them done by hand, or that the church was going to come after me and burn me at the stake because only shamans had them (an actual thing said to me.)

So I waited.  And wanted. Eventually I had three lines on the back f my neck tattooed, a tattoo that I could hide if need be, but it always felt I was hiding more than ink on my skin.  So I waited.  For 20 years.

I decided to make them red.  Dark red. Old school chin tattoos were made by pulling soot and spit soaked sinew under the skin with a needle.  It left a blue black color.  For me though I wanted something modern. That was a combination of old and new.  Still Alaska Native Inupiaq, still speaking of our strong amazing ancestors but something that also spoke of my own journey, my own odd soul.  So I made them red.

I'm still getting used to them, oddly enough I forget that they are there most of the time.  My husband squinted a bit and said 'I like them'.  And that was it.  My baby girl, a toddler now with limited vocabulary, touched them for 5 minutes straight softly chanting under her breath 'pretty.'  For a while I was nervous because what if I eventually hate them?  What if I regret them?  What if I want to run for president of the United States?  But it hit me at some point to realize that the nerves I had were the voices that weren't even my own.  I guess becoming older has some benefits, as those nerves disappeared once I realized that I wasn't nervous about the tattoos at all, but instead I was re-playing those 'cautionary' statements over and over in my head. Like a inner chant of self abuse.  With age comes a lesser need of validation from the past.  At the end I realized that even without the tattoos I am still Native, brown on brown with slanted eyes smelling of tundra and caribou meat.   


After getting the tattoos in the city I realized that I still had to do some shopping at the grocery store before I went back to the village the next day so I hopped into the car and steeled my nerves and headed to the local Fred Meyers.  The tattoos at this point looked at first glance like blood, I'm pretty sure it was a gory sight as they had yet to mellow out in color and ....shiny-ness.  They were bright red and gleaming with freshness.   I was so wrapped up into my shopping list that I was floored with the effects they had on people.  Non-natives tried not to poor man I asked for helping me find a certain kind of caramel stuttered and stood with a slack jaw staring at my chin.  Beads of sweat broke out on his forehead and he nervously rubbed his hands on his jeans.  Long awkward silences dominated our conversation as we both tried to deal with what was going on.  At one point I think I giggled and his face flushed red.  At that point I put him out of hi misery and thanked him and walked away. 

A couple people asked me what they meant in my culture.  And to me this is the oddest question that I have gotten yet.  Because it implies that these cultural order to be accepted in society... have to mean something.  That our culture can't do anything just for beauty's sake, for aesthetic value or celebration.  That we as a culture might have different beauty standards.  These tattoos at their very core are a celebration of a woman's beauty and the proclamation of a cultural standard.  Back in the day they, along with other facial and body tattoos, were normal.  Abundant.  A celebration of woman.  A beautification of skin.  They could have many meanings, personal, spiritual, familial etc....but in the end they are simply the personal expression of the woman herself. 

It's like me asking a random stranger....'Can you tell me the meaning behind your eyeliner...what does it mean?' or 'Tell me the story behind your choice in outfit today....what does it mean?'

Odd.  And an awkward question. 

I usually answer simply...'These are symbolic of the reclamation of our culture.'  And let them do what they will with the answer.  I think the permanence of the tattoo itself is what scares people. The marking of ones face, ones core identity, permanently is a foreign concept in the western world though it is pretty common in other indigenous world.  And it shocks people.  But the western world prides itself on not having permanent......anything.  It's a place of fleetingness.....the un-tied....the non-forever.  But I have endured years of racism at it's most obvious and it's most covert, and I don't think that my beautiful tattoos will alter that in any way....since I will never be able to change my historical culture nor my core appearance.  And at least NOW when I go through the store in a big city some random Alaska Native with brown skin and dark eyes like mine will smile a big toothy grin and reach a hand out and touch me lightly on the arm and tell me...'Your tattoos are BEAUTIFUL.' 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Oil or no oil? An opinion from an Inupiaq that gets money from oil....

This is  popular topic in today's news, the debate on whether or not to drill in the Alaskan Arctic for oil....everyone is commenting on it and pitching in their two cents.  Politicians, Tribal leaders, corporation heads, environmentalists, even locals that have taken the fight to D.C.....but you don't always hear from the general local Native public.  An average shareholder for instance.

I have no idea if I'm an average shareholder.  

I think the reason many of the shareholders don't speak out is because they fear that by speaking out they are somehow betraying their corporation.  That to say anything opposite of what their leaders say is bad manners.  Because the corp is doing so much to help them.  But they fail to see that our original leaders were the FIRST people to do that, to speak against or at least question the status quo, and that this trait...of questioning and thinking about our the MOST treasured attribute.  As it insures that balance is continually being sought in a world that is constantly adjusting and changing.  The world changes stay the same is to insure your society fails and to die a horrible death.  Any history class will teach you that. 

So I offer my two cents.

I happen to be on the side that favors not drilling in the arctic at all.  I advocate that the Inupiat should be left to live a life not threatened by politics or national greed.  Mostly because I lived in the lower 48 for 7 years and it left me treasuring what we have up here.  The silence.  The opportunity to explore and travel for days without seeing another human soul.  The richness that is all the fauna.  Unique Flora.  The timelessness of a land carpeted in life.  The struggle to make an old culture exist in a modern world.  Oil continuously threatens that world.  It is a gamble...the same type an alcoholic takes every time he takes a swig...that this time it will hopefully not end in disaster.  And the more the addict takes the chance and allows more opportunities for it to happen...the more disaster looms. 

Some leaders that say they represent our people have still pushed forward to drill in the arctic, when obviously a lot of us disagree.  They state that we as a people need the funds from the oil to survive.  And this statement makes me worried.  Many people don't realize that we have had this mountain of oil money for over 40 years.  That the money flowed and poured onto the slope for more than a generation.  And I can't help wondering what it has done to us as a whole. As a people.  Has is actually helped us survive?  What does that even mean?

I can't help but think what the original board of our corp was hoping for.  To preserve our culture? To make us independent?  To help us when we need help? What exactly is the PURPOSE of this money?  How do we measure if it is doing what it is supposed to?

There are a lot of unhappy people on the Slope.  After the money came in everyone marveled at the new toilets, the high tech housing, the expensive roads.  But then it all started breaking down and wearing out.  And now people are angry that they can't afford to maintain these buildings and toilets and roads.  The money left our people with the inability to care for our own infrastructure, mainly because no one thought to create self sufficient systems in the villages...that are independent of the oil money.  And I think...this could have been foreseen.  It could have been planned for.  At the very least homeowners can have the access to knowledge on how to fix what goes wrong.  But what has happened is that the Borough instead have fostered the idea that we can't take care of anything...and in fact shouldn't take care of our own....which leaves many people angry and helpless. When I moved to the lower 48 I was amazed to find that if you are a homeowner you take care and repair you own home.  And there is even home insurance.  Because here on slope they have created people that don't think that way at all. 

There are also lot of children that suffer the consequences of that oil money also.  At this point it is even a generation deep.   Children services and law enforcement become busy right after the big checks come out. Children are taken away and their names are written in  ink on the state list.  We all know of families torn apart by the flood of some parents choose to lose themselves in a drunken haze.  I have always wondered what the numbers are.  Someone stated once that in our area, there are 1,600 Alaska Native children in the system.  I wonder how many ended up there as a result of the flush of Christmas money.  And if that number was only one child....wouldn't that still be too many? Of course it is common enough that there are always some that make bad choices...but I find it disheartening...abhorrent even..... that no one has ever been concerned enough to find out what the damage may be...and develope strageties to minimize this negative effect.  Allow for options. 

Options.  I think that providing options for this money would prove that the oil gangsters do really have the people and our health and longevity in mind.  At this time there is no options. At all.  They slip us a check a few times a year like it's hush money. 

If we want to invest it in our children's future...we have to do it ourselves.  Sounds easy but there are a few things working against us.  For one, there are no actual banks here.  Well there is ONE bank in the largest village.  So we are not even the least bit familiar with the banking system, let alone how to maintain a savings account.  Two, the corp says the money is to help offset the cost of living in the arctic, so the money is almost immediately spent on bills.  So there is none left over for the college funds.  So either way you go into debt.  Three, they always point out that there is a scholarship monies that they provide.  Which is funny because despite the HUGE increase in the cost of going to college since I left hischool in 1995, they have never once raised the amount of the scholarship monies they provide. In fact they even reduced it for a few years.  To top it off as a shareholder you cannot qualify for federal or state educational monies because you have shares in a company that makes so much money.  I am still bitter from the memory of my hard earned California state scholarship being quickly taken away after one semester to 'be given to those who actually needed it" once they found out I was a shareholder.   I am lucky that my own parents penny pinched and saved some of my checks...which is rarer than you would think.  
Even the jobs the oil creates are pretty sparse for those that actually live here on slope. For one thing you have to have a high school education or more (which is getting sadly harder to obtain), and most of the time you have to travel and leave your family for long periods of time.  This separation is not something our people have real experience with and it can be very hard on relationships with such tight nit communities that rely on family ties.  Most shareholders that do have these jobs have them temporarily and usually do not live in the rural villages and instead find it easier to live in the cities down south.   Surprisingly small amounts of money actually make it into the villages, with even local work being contracted by out of state workers that are qualified to take the jobs.  Because locals are unable or don't have the opportunity to get the education needed to take these jobs.  So the oil jobs work only really to funnel money out of state. 

I have worked hard to get to the point that I do not need the oil money to survive.  I have gotten an education or two (which landed me heavily in debt!) so that when the checks roll in I can think about where it should go. I can invest in our child's future.  My Business.  I can pause and find options.  But it took a lot of work on my end.  Pure stubbornness really.  Especially since our own Corporation has in many ways worked against me.  To work against my independence.  Not just with my education but in my mentality.  And I can see how it is working against the independence of our people.  Because of you really think about it, if our corporation was really fighting for our people and not just temporary funds, then we as a people after 40 years would be more independent and developed by our company to be self sustainable...instead of being hampered.  And a lot of times bitter.   

In the last few years the Corporation has begun some programs to try and correct the influence the money is having on the our people but I wonder if it's too little too late.  The attempts and opportunities provided  are often met with disdain and distrust.  Hesitation.  Because we now live in a society where most don't really expect to work very hard for money.  Just borrow till the next shareholder check.  Maybe sell a kids check to get buy for less then it's worth.  The mentality of privilege created by a seemingly endless fountain of oil money.  And our leaders telling us that this mentality is normal and okay.  So what are these politicians and representative really fighting for?  It is obviously not the Slope greatest asset ...our amazing brilliant people.  Our amazing brilliant culture.  And all it would take is one bad....even semi-bad....oil spill to completely mark our end. 

I hope people think about what the impact of this money is having on our people beyond just getting a new snow machine.  Or paying off that credit card you maxed out on a Hawaiian vacation.  And I hope people that are not shareholders can look at our People and see that we...eventually...did amazing things as a result.  Lasting things.  Inspired things.

I ask this....What are we BUILDING?

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Gardens In the arctic a quick start giude

I have dove in and now I am raising money to put garden boxes into household here in Anaktuvuk Pass Alaska!  You can donate to our cause here:  GARDENS IN THE ARCTIC.  I tried including as much info as possible but feel free to ask questions!  Please feel free to copy the address and email it to friends and family and to share via facebook! 

I am also pursuing funding beyond the requested $4,000 simply because I will need more boxes than planned...which is super awesome because more families are interested than I thought would be!  And I really want to do set ups that are big enough for the families to be able to get good nutrition out of them all summer long.  I really appreciate any type of funding leads but keep in mind that our window is short....We start our first seedling inside the school mid-April and our plants have to be outside by June 1st...and I am NOT a non-profit....just simply a person that believes that this will work.  And I am fully committed to making it work!

Though I am doing this here only in Anaktuvuk Pass, I have been getting tons of questions about other people in other arctic villages that want to start small gardens.  So I thought I would post a primer on what types of things I using and where I am getting stuff.  Keep in mind that I have a few constraints.... This is beginner friendly, which is why I am going with a set up that is not homemade.  Later on if someone is interested on going beyond these small boxes I will be happy to help!  This set up is for extremely short and cool growth periods....ours here in AKP is 60 days.  So the plants that I am pointing out to you are specific to that type of gardening.  This is not the cheap way to do it.  But the most expensive bits are re-usable. 

To green house or no?
If you live on the coast in the arctic I would suggest building a basic greenhouse.  At most all you need is to frame out with 2 x 4's a lean-to on the SOUTH side of a building (or just where you get the most sunlight and the least amount of the cold winds).  Buy some heavy plastic and staple that on there.  leave a flap so that you can get in there ...and viola.  A greenhouse.  I have bought cheap plastic off before (heavy duty construction sheeting works),  but all you need is something that will cut the wind, hold in heat, and let in light.  The coast has tons more wind in the summer than us inland, not to mention salt and fog.  That thin layer of plastic will move your garden south in temperature by 100 miles.  I have also seen some of these quick greenhouses with two layers of plastic (with a gap of air in between) and those are neat because you actually moved your garden 200 miles instead of 100.   Be aware that just because it's foggy and rainy there is still sun rays making it to your plants!

Tips: Buy the thicker construction plastic and it will last longer.  I got two summers out of it. If you have money to spend you can look at the plastic used for greenhouses that last way longer and are made for that purpose.  You can also use panels made from all sorts of stuff like acrylic, plexi-glass, fiber glass etc.....

More tips:  Add rocks to the floor of your greenhouse to hold more warmth that will be released at night... create some way to vent the air ( a flap that is easy to leave open at both ends) just in case you get a freakishly hot day which can kill young plants.  

Garden Boxes
I have built my own but for beginners you can purchase these: EARTH BOX which you can also find on HERE and if you have Prime you get the shipping free!  The boxes are re-usable and the next season you will only have to buy the covers and the fertilizer and dolomite. 

Tip: Buy the darker colored boxes or spray paint your boxes black so that they absorb more heat from the sun.

The tundra is notoriously imbalanced in nutrients.  For beginners I suggest buying and importing soil.  Have a relative ship some for you from the city. Or buy potting soil online.  You can also get this neat stuff called coconut coir (click HERE) that you add water to and it expands to make tons of soil...just be aware that you have to add stuff to it like compost and fertilizer.  There is simply so much to LEARN about soil to be able to use tundra that it usually freaks people out a bit.  If you DO however want to learn how to use soil from your tundra neighborhood then I am happy to jabber with you! It is literally the ONE thing I obsess about with my own garden. 

You will ALWAYS need fertilizer.  There are some things to know.  Like organic or chemical?  Chemical fertilizers are usually funky colors like blue and the type you mix with water like miracle grow, and organic fertilizer is usually funky smelling and brownish.  I always push for organic because chemical fertilizers will essentially 'kill' your soil and make it very hard to use in the future and you will have to buy and bring in new soil.  You also will be eating chemicals.  The other thing to think about is that you will have to put fertilizers in your soil before planting....use a slow release type .  It will make a big difference!  I use this HERE. Or something similar.  I also make my own fertilizer but that is another topic to talk about off to the side!

Tips: always good to google for pictures of what happens to your plants if you feed them TOO MUCH fertilizer.  You can over feed them and kill them!

Many people don't think about this much but when you live in a tiny arctic village you kind of have to. Our drinking water is full of chemicals.  We filter our water to drink or bring home spring water when we can but for the garden I almost ALWAYS use rain water.  Never pour on super cold water as it will shock your plants.  If you know you are going to be using city water then fill a bucket with water and let it sit over night next to your plants and let the chlorine evaporate as much as possible. The earth boxes are neat because you never have to actually pour water on the top!  This prevents problems with mold and such.

I am a bit of a seed hoarder!  haha but be ready to BECOME one.  Some good places to start are these to online place:  BEST COOL SEEDS and FOUNDROOT 

Tips: try stuff you never thought you would like or even if you don't know how to use them.  We found our that we LOVE kale (not the variety you get at the grocery stores), chard, and arugula.  Try plants for the heck of it and you might be surprised.  I like to have a few boxes of 'fresh' cut greens like romaine lettuce (two types), mustard (the leaves are amazing in salads), a leaf lettuce, and green onions.  A box or two of 'cooking' greens like chard and kale and turnips (later you can eat the roots but the greens are FANTASTIC).  A few summer squash plants, tomatoes, radish, peas, broccoli, and some boxes of plants I just want to corn, melons, edible flowers and such.  Make SURE you leave your greenhouse open for the bugs on the hot days so they can pollinate your plants so they can produce fruits.  OR you can learn how to do it your self...I do it by hand for my squash.  I still squeal when I get surrounded by bees in the garden but I have gotten to the point that I don't run anymore. lol  You need pollinators for your plants to make yummy things.  Which is hilarious because I know that most Arctic Alaska Natives are terrified of them!

Starts: Starts are what people call baby plants that you can grow yourself inside or buy.  Some plants need more than 60 days to grow and 'starting' them inside ahead of time is an option.  I have a grow light and small pots and soil inside that I use.  I usually start around mid April with tomatoes and peppers.  Beginning of May I start flowers, herbs, melons and such. Anything needing more time than the 60 days or so needs to get a head start.  If you are looking in catalogs the description will have 'days' for each plant.  It's a whole new world of planting though I will be happy to jabber about it to anyone interested! 

Extra things to get:
A frost cover - Keep your eye on the weather forecast and if it drops below 32 degrees run out there and cover your plants.  You only need it in the spring really while your plants are young. 

scissors - just to use for cutting plants or dead parts of plants.  I also use them to cut off leaves to eat from my lettuce plants. 

Thermometers - for your greenhouse or an outside thermometer near your boxes temperature will become important!

Camera - To show everyone your awesome plants!  It also helps later on when you want to remember details about your garden...modern digital photos come with an imbedded date so it's nice to have!

Some place to keep your seeds dry and cool.  A shoe box on a back shelf will work.  You can use them for a few years if you keep them in good shape depending on variety.

Books - I have tons!  On everything from soil, to compost, to seed saving.....everyone should invest in a few good ones.  Let me know if you need suggestions!

This is not a full discussion on this topic but it's a good start.  If you think I should at some stuff let me know!

I know there is tons of amazon links but if your rural village it's one f the few cheaper places that will ship to you.  Feel free to add other places to get stuff in the comments below! The more the merrier!

Friday, November 14, 2014

New stuff going on....

I think every writer goes through this period of enormous self doubt....and I'm struggling with it right now I think.  I have about ten posts that I have written ...rough drafts.....and I never quite allow them to become REAL.  Hopefully winter will make me brave!

New things going on:  Baby has a couple of new teeth.  The weather here is horribly horribly WARM.  I have a new product out...a moss soap! See pic below.  The chickens are still going strong. I do plan on culling my flock by half next year, but I also want to get a bunch of new chickens next spring...I'm thinking five replacements for the culling of the original ladies and maybe another five meat chickens to raise over the summer, the foraging type.  I'm going to expand the run a bit and add a space to put the new guys and also use that space to raise baby chickens. I was really hoping one of my chickens would turn out to be a boy, but it looks like I'm going to have keep shipping in chicks till I get a good breeding boy.  I have taken up crochet and knitting.  We survived the Fall time rounds of the flu and came out a few pounds lighter ...  I hope this finds you all healthy and happy and ready to enjoy the holidays!  I'm dreaming of mys spring time garden and baby chicks already!

My garden is under snow.  I replanted a bunch of strawberries in the back bed and I' hoping they are going to survive! The chicken run is snow free this time, I have learned that my flock HATES walking on snow!

two teeth!

New natural anti-bacterial soap using spicy essential oils, healing stinkweed oil, and exfoliating/healing wild crafted arctic moss.  More info at:

Finished a couple of drawings....a series I am working on that combines vibrant modern colors with ancient Inupiaq markings and 'x-ray' concept that is found in our historical art. This was originally concepts for a series for a public space but was deemed to 'controversial' as it referred to old religious type markings.

a bowhead whale from that seriesin vibrant green.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Pics for a lazy afternoon...

Just going through photos....found some that I don't think I have posted before. 

Hope his finds you all healthy and warm! 

Introducing Our baby girl, stealer of hearts and sleep....

A small drawing....caribou tracks through the wilderness

peek a and get a closer look at what is spying on us!


I miss summer and all her finery!