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Thursday, January 21, 2010


So what is the answer? What should we tell our children? How do you mix technology and tradition? These questions stared tat me while I was asleep last night............thank you "anonymous".

The answers to those questions all have to do with one single definition.. What is success? What does success mean to the average village native?

I think at the very least we must stop telling our children that the only road to success and survival is through the school systems. I think somewhere along the way we bought into the western concept of success being a degree, two and 1/2 children, a green lawn and well trained lab (nothing against labs as they are very sweet). And then we spend the rest of our lives trying to combine both that definition of success and traditional values. We spend the rest of our lives in futility trying to grow a beautiful lawn in the arctic. Instead of just accepting the fruit we are fed, be they rotten or ill picked, we need to start choosing what will benefit us as a people, what will actually feed our souls. I think from the very beginning we need to sit with our leaders and our elders and actually DEFINE success. It is not enough to make beautiful paper posters listing our traditional values and pinning them in clean well lit offices. We need to be able to tell our children what a successful person is.

To continue to do otherwise is to continue to degrade our souls.

One of my good friends that I grew up with did not go to college after high school. Our paths split two days after my graduation. Many years later I came home for a visit, we sat on the ocean ice. It was spring and winters frozen grip was loosening it's hold on the ice. It split and crumbled in slow motion. Pockets of dark water freckled the bleached ice. The sun was high and burning. In a distant pool of water a small dark figure bobbed it's head. My friend took one look at that being and knew what it was. What it was doing. What it meant to us as hunters. Then he showed me how to find fresh water on the melting ice.

I knew calculus. But I would never actually use it. I knew how to jump through hoops to please the educational system. But I realized then that in my culture, there are no hoops. Every tiny bit of knowledge was useful and important to survival. I will always look at him with awe. I will always be angry that he did not receive the recognition that I did later. That we as a people have rejected that part of us that we cannot change, that Inupiaq part.

They have put a picture of me in my graduation gown in one of the high school halls. "Because you are successful" they say to me. But what of those who have degrees in Inupiaq Lore? What of those that have Masters degrees in complete understanding and coexistence with the Arctic? What of them? I guess I will always be angry that we do not recognize greatness when it is due. That just because the western world granted me a piece of paper, I should be treated differently. We do them such disservice, and perhaps we create those social problems that begin with low self esteem.....

It still goes on. I remember as a teacher getting the "trouble" kids in my classroom. Children that did not necessarily get along with most teachers. Since I taught Art I was used to getting those that had issues. But I found it most interesting that 90% of those students were Native. And that 90% of those that were Native were also extremely gifted in Native things. Like dancing, hunting, language, and all those other stuff you found listed on those beautiful posters talking of traditional values. These students more than likely had poor attendance, because of whaling, because of hunting, because of their "other" education. We never gave away awards at the awards assemblies for Best Hunter, or Most Helpful to Elders, or best Eskimo Dancer or any of the other amazing things our people do. We never acknowledge that some children will not have the personality type to get a western they automatically become unsuccessful.

But we need education. Don't get me wrong. It's a beautiful bright experience, just like any other type of knowledge gaining experience. But I think we are worshipping it for the wrong reasons.

Jobs. Paying jobs. Jobs with benefits. Jobs that pay well. Jobs that give us control. Jobs are important. They give us money. They give us money so that we could buy stuff. But why do we need money? Where did we learn that money is key to survival? To happiness to success?

In the last week we ran out of diesel for our heater. The Corp filled our tank on a Saturday. Told us we can pay to off when we want. Families (including ours) are running out of food in these cold winter months as the caribou have fled to the trees. My other half and his cousin drove 50 miles and got 6. Someone donated bullets, someone donated gas. We kept a few pounds and doled out the rest. The Tribal Corp is discussing gathering a team to bring back more meat. At least once a week I am ask for donations for someone in need. I usually make a big pot of soup so they can sell it. I KNOW for a fact that this village would never let us suffer, would never let us starve. Would never let us freeze. There are no homeless, there are no starving, there is only community. Something we forget about. Something we forget to acknowledge. Money does not buy community.

What is important with education, in my opinion, is gaining control of our modern lives. Of having whole Corporations being run by nothing but Natives. Of having our own lawyers, teachers, doctors, professionals if only so that those who make decisions do so out of knowledge and not ignorance. In this day and age you can get a Masters degree online, sell products to millions of people via the internet, write a few paragraphs and have people read it two minutes later. There is no real need to leave anymore, the world has finally reached out to us, in both bad and good ways. Education has nothing to do with money, but instead with contribution to community. Of being a resource for those that will need. This is the way that we as Natives have survived for thousands of years.

It is not the stuff you have......but the stuff that you give that matters. So it stands to reason that you should strive to have something valuable to give, wether it be a degree, or 6 caribou.


  1. Gods I wish I had something to say that was deep and profound, but limited communication makes it hard to put anything into words even in simple text. So I all I can say right now is.
    Rock on. I agree with everything and you speak strong truth.

  2. Again, your words hit right on the most important things that need to be said and discussed and discussed some more. Thank you.