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Wednesday, April 14, 2010


I don't know if I mentioned this....but I am getting married on June 1st.

This marriage thing is all new to us. Which I imagine is normal for at least most engaged couples. I found that not only is it new to us, but it also presents some odd dilemmas. Or choices. Or some other word that combines Odd/dilemma/choice.

The first issue was where. Where are we getting married? I am from Point Hope, a small coastal village and Ben is from here, Anaktuvuk Pass, the smaller village in the mountains. I remember hearing from elders that coastal and mountain people should never marry, as it creates too many problems. But I reassured them that no inter-clan wars would arise, that we had planes and the internet to keep our ties strong. We decided to have the wedding in Anaktuvuk Pass. Mainly because I love it here so much, the people and beauty of the place are both very large gifts to this world. What I found was that when I told this to my family they heard "I love it here so much, and it's better than home." Which of course began a very uncomfortable conversation about how it's not better than where I am from, but instead ...well... just different. I usually start the conversation by reminding them that Inupiat are nomadic. That somehow and somewhere along the way we forgot about that tiny tidbit of genetic coding. And we also forgot that we are all Inupiaq, regardless of what village we are from. It seems that some western territorial mindset has taken root in our hearts, and bad feelings and competition was born between the different villages.

We choose to just ignore this odd facet of modern Inupiat life when planning our wedding. It's all good when you are proud of your heritage, but I think it's bad if you take that pride and use it to feel above or be better than others; Pride is not a weapon or whip. Humility is one of our cultures most debatable, and worthwhile, characteristics as it has changed and morphed, and in most cases is hard to find evidence of. But we try.

So once that was settled we then decided to have the wedding outside of the church. Or as I put it, "In God's bigger church." We always imagined our wedding being outside in the tundra. Just two Native people being bound in the place that we love and enjoy the most. Our life revolves around the tundra and it's inhabitants, so we felt that this made sense. Of course this brought about even more uncomfortable questions about why we were being "anti-Christian." Some people just laughed out right in our faces, finding it ridiculous that a good native person would be married outside of a church. I assured them that we would have our hand picked and loved Presbyterian priest there to ensure that we were right in God's eyes. (but I did not mention of course that I was raised Episcopalian as this would no doubt cause more arguments and mini-inner-wars.) I also found it interesting that when non-native people announced that their wedding was to be out of doors people oooed and ahhed and used words like "quaint" and "intimate", but when these same people hear that our wedding was outside they laughed or thought we were joking. It's an odd standard, and worth more than a paragraph in my blog I'm sure.

Once all of those little fires were extinguished, we started in on the little details. We decided to wear semi-traditional Inupiaq formal wear. Aka fancy atigi's (hooded tunics with decoration at cuffs, hem, and sleeve), caribou and wolf skin boots, and very little jewelry. I could not imagine myself wearing a bead and lace encrusted white gown. They never really seemed that beautiful to me, with their bulk and impossibly white facade. They seem so foreign and out of place when native women wear them. Also as a young girl when I thought of my wedding I never thought of the dress I was wearing, instead I used my imagination to dream up a man; he was always smiling and happy and tall. I guess this was mostly the way I was brought up, despite my father insisting I was going to be a nun. Our rings are hand crafted titanium bands. Cheap and durable. Which also brought about interesting comments from non-native friends. They found it odd that we did not hold a huge emotional attachment to our rings, we planned on cheap easily replaceable rings just in case we lost a few and had to buy some more. I always thought wedding bands weren't for the people married, but were instead for everyone else. A signal saying "taken, don't hit on me." And with the type of life we live we would be idiots to but expensive rings with diamonds and insurance plans. More than likely at least one set will be lost to the tundra.

At this moment I am working hard at trying to get our wedding attire sewn and finished, but I am also stressing on the gifts we will be getting for guests , special guests and Elders. Another odd thing about Inupiaq society is that when there is a special occasion the people celebrating it give gifts away. The gifts are meant for trade, if you receive it you must give something in return. In our case it would be that we ask for the Elders and guests to bless our marriage. To give us good juju. To say a prayer. To have hope for our future.

I'm also trying to mix Inupiaq lore with modern occasion. I found online a company that create tiny bird seed cakes in the shape of hearts. It is generally believed that songbirds bring with them good luck, and I hope to entice them to our wedding by giving away bird food to all of the guests. I'm also making packages of special gifts for Elders, which will be given out during the wedding which will include gifts that are very carefully picked out.

All in all there is not too much stress involved in the wedding, despite the decisions to be made. (of course I say this now, 50 days away from the wedding) I will make salmonberry cake, caribou soup, and sheep soup for the reception. Ben and his cousins will roast caribou ribs and fish over willow fires, and I have made sure guests will bring other food to share. It will be a time to visit and laugh and eat good food. I half jokingly refer to our wedding as "5 minute ceremony with 4 hours of eating afterwards." Very Inupiaq.

So if I dissapear for more than what seems normal I apologize! I am most likely swearing at needles and piles of fur, and wondering how I will house all of the guests!

Happy spring to you all.


  1. Hi there,

    I qualify as an Elder, just not an Inupiaq elder, and you have my very best wishes and blessings and good thoughts and even prayers for your union and for the great happiness you two have found together in the tundra, the mountains, the coast--the land. Jay

  2. Wow! I am so excited for you! Definitely post pictures I would totally love to see them.

    I am being reminded of my own wedding it was in July and outside too, it was a Celtic wedding with bagpipes and tartans. Remembering it hurts sadly...

  3. I love your blog (and your crafts!) so much. I just wanted you to know. Even if I don't comment very often, I always read with great pleasure. I wish you both all the best for the future!

  4. I look forward to your wedding. I face a big challenge to get there on time, as my family is involved in a Sunrise dance May 28, 29, and 30 and I absolutely must attend. Margie tells me it will be safe for me to leave late in the day of the 30th, so I should be able to cover all that ground and arrive in time.

    Excellent blog, by the way. I am always amazed by the array of talents that you possess.

  5. Bill!

    We are excited to have you here and are looking forward to your visit!

    If you need anything or help with anything let us know. We will be more than happy!

  6. Don't forget the agutuk! If you consider the whole of my wife and I, we only have 1/8 native blood....but that 1/8th is well represented. We somehow ended up with 5 different kinds of agutuk at our wedding.....which I was more than happy with! -Peter

  7. This is such a wonderful and intimate post- I love your writings :)

    They give me little treasures, little glimpses into such a beautiful, yet inaccessible culture (for me at least) and it is truly amazing. Congratulations, you both look so adorable :)

  8. Your marrying the best hunter/trapper in the village. Congratulations! His pics on the internet have brought education and interest to and from many.
    May you both continue your path.

  9. I absolutely enjoyed reading this post on your blog. Here's good wishes to you and yours on your upcoming wedding and new life together from Sitka.

  10. It sounds like a beautiful wedding. You are so thoughtful and creative. I wish you two all the best!