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Saturday, March 6, 2010


My culture is not a fruit. You cannot preserve it.

Preservation is a word to use when you want to separate something from human contamination. Because you touch, it will die or deteriorate. Culture is only alive when it is rolling in human contamination. In fact you can say that Culture is the beauty and art of human contamination.

My Culture is not a national forrest. You cannot separate it from us and hope it stays alive.

I don't want my culture to be a hallway of objects and handwritten notes encased in glass and monitored temperature and humidity. I don't want my culture to be drawers of unknown and badly documented tapes and videos. I don't want my culture to be faded pictures hastily scanned and stored in huge museum databases. That stuff is for cultures and people have that died a long time ago, all that is left of them is myths and stories and campfire tears.

We have to move away from using words and ideas like "preserving" a culture. Because it implies that it is already dead and gone. That it is no longer viable or useful or needed. That all that is left is the trash and forgotten pieces. By using those type of words we are taking a scalpel and slowly identifying and removing those vitals organs that make a culture survive and live.

By using those words and taking those actions we are denying our culture to those who have inherited it. We are denying them the praise and recognition for their hard work in actually living the culture. Breathing the culture. Rejoicing in it's beauty. We tell them that they could never be a real Inupiaq. A real and breathing Inupiaq. Because the real Inupiaqs are dying off and must be preserved. And once they are gone our culture will not exist. At least that is what we tell our hardworking young people.

Millions of dollars have been spent on "preserving" my culture. On recordings, on photos, on videos people have been scrambling to capture as much as possible. But they spend very little money on actually keeping the culture alive. They spend hours talking with and recording elders, instead of helping young people connect with these same elders and ask questions of these same elders.

In a way we have created the generation gap. The miscommunication. The mistrust. The hesitation. We placed an elder in one room and a young person in another and made it only possible to interact through technology. Through dvd's. Through cd's. We have denied children the experience of learning from the elders as human beings instead of demi-gods. Of learning what respect means. Of learning the why of the knowledge, instead of just the how.

We have forgotten how to teach our young ones how to learn and love and have self esteem. We forgot to teach them that they are important too. That they are the only ones that can breathe Life into the old dusty museum pieces.....


  1. beautifully written...

    have you been to the alutiiq museum in kodiak?

  2. This is such an elegant description of culture. I have always thought it antiquated to try to preserve culture as it is right now; it is an ever-changing beast, and 'preserving' culture is as you said, keeping something around that is for the most part dead.

  3. As a Native student at UAF I am finding that there is no respect given to the youth as holders of culture so this makes so much sense to me. Thank you for making me feel less alone in the big (but sometimes too small minded) village of Fairbanks.

  4. I love the title and content of your blog. Nice work. Keep it up!