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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The space between......

Sometimes all it would take to stop a ton of heartache and trouble, is to make a tiny connection. A thin thread of strength between thought and action. Between word and meaning.
I sit here this morning contemplating these disconnections, the places where there is a gap, small gaps that feel like deep chasms. Gaps that create such pain that you would think someone would bridge it right away.

I have experienced this separation. It pried at my heart and marked it for life. I love teaching. The feeling you get when you did your job right and that wave of understanding makes it's way across a child's face is one of the most beautiful and humble thing I have ever seen. But the Price was too high for me to pay, as I was almost swallowed by this gap.

Our world is so young. So confused and malformed. On one side we have our Traditional life, and on the other we have the Other life. One is filled with the soft song of our Elders, the other the marching tune of Conformity. We hop back and forth. But no one has decided that they should be no space between the two.

Some people say that it's impossible. That these two worlds are so different that they cannot be combined. But I say they that some people need to stop limiting themselves, that believe it or not the world does include other cultures, cultures that are successful. I envy the Japanese because the people who do business with them bow and wear no shoes. I envy the the Spanish their Siesta time. I envy that Maori college in New Zealand for making all their non-native professors speak the native tongue fluently. I envy the Greeks for having free college. I envy other cultures for making Others adapt to the Original world. Because it gives this Original world credence and value and worth.

Without that bridge I see so much damage being done. Today I saw a comment online made about how the only reason that most young Native people have no jobs is because they are lazy drug addicts, that they lack in anything that would make them successful human beings. This comment was made by a young Native person. And I thought of all the people that I knew that had no jobs or that struggled with keeping a job and then I tried to figure out what would make this person say this comment. Where did this judgment come from? Who created the list that would make a person label others in this way? By what standard are they being judged?

I could be considered one of those judged un-successful. By western standards I'm pretty useless. I don't have a full time job. I am an artist that has never had any real important gallery showings. I've won no awards. I don't make a huge amount of money. I was rejected for every artist or business grant I ever applied for. I can't afford a shiny new car or a dishwasher. I spend way too much time doing "useless" things like camping and skin sewing and learning place names. Things that no one would pay me for, so they have no real value in the Western world.

Yet at the same time I am praised for some of the stuff I'm doing. Saving the Knowledge. Learning the Words. When I am and Elder, I will have some knowledge to pass on to those that ask. The interesting part is that when people ask me what I've been up to and I tell them what I am learning, they usually ask if I'm getting a "real" job soon. As if what I am doing is not worth much in this day and age. And I have to ask why it's not worth much. And what actions would be needed to make it worth something. How does one add something to this imaginary list?

And then I think about my husband. He works so hard to make the little amount of money we need. He gets up early. Takes his breaks and lunch. Comes home and sheds the Western world from his skin. I wish these companies would encourage his Inupiaq self. I wish so much for the man I love. For the people I love. I wish that he could be praised for his hunting skills like he is paid for his carpentry skills. That he could receive certificates for what he knows about wolves and wolverine and caribou, like the certificates he got for what he learned for Plumbing and Electrical 1. I wish someone could bridge that gap I see in him, that I see in all of us.

Yet even though our corporations and our world has Native leaders at the helm, it seems as if they believe the only way to be successful as a people is to Conform. And that to me is a dangerous place to live, hovering over this gap instead of bridging it.

I hope one day to be in a place where "work" wear is snow shirts and atigluuraqs, where the visiting lower 48 people come to us wearing our traditional clothing. I hope to be in a place where we pay hunters to take care of our Inupiaq bellies and keep the less fortunate full. I hope to be in a place where the work day is based on paying people for the job and not the hours, like in the Inupiaq world. I hope to one day be proud of a place that pays employees more if they speak Inupiaq fluently, and even pay in house tutors so that our businesses are steeped in lore. I hope to love a place that recognizes that the Inupiaq world is different, and to celebrate that difference instead of trying to hide it. I hope to be proud of a place where a young Inupiaq person will not call another young Inupiaq person less.....because of some other worlds list.

I wish....wish... that this gap would disappear.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Every blog Must have a cat.
And this one does. An arctic kitty. And her post has been long over due, for she is an especially unique cat.
She is the first thing I see and hear in the morning. Besides my husband of course. As soon as she hears me move in bed she jumps up on the covers and bumps my hand or head in that way that only cats can do without looking stupid. She demands our ritual morning showing of affection, and rewards me with a loud content purr and heavy lidded eyes. It is the ONLY time she shows affection, as for the rest of the day she acts as if we are only roommates. As many visitors know she is a very grumpy old lady.
The way she found me is an interesting story. I was attending college in Northern California, and as a normal college student I was often short on cash. A friends mom asked if I wanted to help with something called the Redwood Run, I volunteered for the two days it would be nearby. The first night I directed traffic; cars to the left parking space, bikes to the right. I wore a massive amount of reflective tape and orange and found out that despite what I saw on tv (and in that link) most of the bikers were very nice people and polite. Late that night we made our way to our tent outside the area of party crazy and got a few hours of sleep. Early the next morning we began the clean up process. It's amazing what people leave in their wake, heaps of trash and discarded possessions....including a tiny neglected black kitten. She was in a bush, meowing her little heart out, covered in ticks and filled with worms. She was so tiny she fit in the palm of my hand. I stuck her shivering little body in my sweater pocket, where she immediately quieted. I took her to my car (a HUGE old 1977 Dodge Aspen aka "The Boat") and set her on the seat. At the time I only had some cheese flavored popcorn as a snack. When I placed the bag in front of her she literally dived inside and ate as much as her little body could handle. I set her up with some water and closed the door and cracked the windows and went back to work.

That evening I went back to the car and found the door wide open, with no kitten in sight. My friends mom had thought the kitten needed more air and had opened the door. I searched and searched the car and didn't find her. Thinking that she had wondered off I reluctantly packed my gear and drove home. Quite a few hours after I got home, I was still thinking about her. She was so tiny. So I went back to The Boat and did a more thorough search. I found her curled up underneath the seat. Just a absolutely ink black spot that was easy enough to miss. She was sleeping the whole time.
And thus began our relationship. I had a puppy at the time. A snow white dog that I had named Winter (because she was such a mean....lady...when I first got her) They were both cast offs of society. Both neglected. And both ended up at my home. They bonded immediately. And this is how the dog became more like a cat, and the cat became more like a dog. The cat begs for food, loves dog food and dog cookies, knows how to "sit" on command, and comes quickly when she is called. She also has very ODD tastes in food. Harley the cat and Winter the dog would often team up to steal food. If anything was left on the kitchen counter the cat would push it off the edge, and jump down to enjoy the meal with the dog. She is completely unafraid of dogs and can hold her own with all of the various puppies that we have gotten over the years. She also loves sheep meat. Her nickname is "Puppy." She adores butter and seal oil and has a pure white toe on her back left foot.

She is also a very grumpy cat and doesn't get along with ANYONE. Well almost anyone. She loved my husband from the first time they met. The odd part of that relationship is that she will never ever get grumpy with him. He can literally rub her the wrong way and she will purr and flop over on her side. She also gets along with my brother Sunny, who is a bit allergic to cats. Which I seriously think cats can sense. He will approach her and slip off a shoe, and tap her with his socked toe, which is when she flops on her side so she can get a good socked belly rub. She also adores Bill Hess, a photographer and another lover of arctic cats, which I'm sure she can also sense.
She is also very much an indoor cat. On nice summer days she will venture out a few feet on our porch to watch the world go by, her sooty nose sniffing the air. But other than that rare adventure she stays inside. Which is how I like it, as we spread bird seed around the house so we can enjoy the birds. As an indoor cat she has to get quite creative to keep her mind stimulated. I provide random toys and bits of cat nip off and on and play with her as much as possible, but for most of the day she is left to her own devices. So one of the things she loves to do is to sleep in odd places. We have found her in drawers, in cupboards, on cardboard pieces on the floor, in the middle of the kitchen, on rifle cases, on wolf skins, on the heaters, and even in the dryer (which now makes me check TWICE every time I do a load).
And there I present Harley, the arctic cat, ruler of this household and stealer of sheep meat.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Green Machine.....

Winter arrived. It dusted our world in sparkling diamonds of frost this morning, which made me feel sorry for the berries (as anyone who knows me, knows that I amaddicted to picking berries!). A couple days ago we saw flocks of hundreds of ptarmigan all wearing their white coats, little harbingers of the coming cold. I could not help being angry at them. Traitor birds.

Me and my husband began the winter vehicle planning. Or should I say he talked in length and I nodded and listened and asked a question here and there. It's a weird thing that is almost unique to our lifestyle. We discuss wether or not we will purchase a new snowmachine, or a used snowmachine, or just buy parts for the ones we have. We discuss the winter gas bill, decided how much to spend on new clothing, what items were worn through or had too many holes to repair. We talked about the emergency winter kits, what needed to be replaced in them and what new items were on the market that we should try. But mostly we talk about our snowmachines, as it is the biggest winter cost.

To supplement our winter income my husband traps all winter long. He travels a minimum of 12 hours a day to tend to his trap line, at least once a week, most times twice a week, all by snowmachine. 90% of the time he is alone. He would not do it if hedid not enjoy it, not the taking of life, but rather the challenge of pitting brain against brain. Most people assume that animals are robotic beings only existing in a weird loop of instinct and survival. But if you have interacted with them you realize that they are incredible thinking beings, tricky and learning beings. Add to the mix that they have hundreds of thousands of miles to roam.....

But I digress from my original thought. Vehicles. When I lived in California I recycled. I had a bike that I used. I carpooled. I bought organic and local produce and products, if I could make the product myself I did. I grew my own herbs. It felt as if I was doing something to take care of nature, which I loved so much. It also allowed me a tiny way to rebel against the concrete and metal that I deemed confining to my Inupiaq soul. But here in the village, what options do I have? Are there "green" snowmachines and 4x4 vehicles? (as a side note a few minutes ago I asked my husband if he knew of a "green" snowmachine. He replied "the arctic cat makes a bright neon green." ....I rest my case.)

I know that at several points in time "outside" people have tried recycling. But what they found that it was VERY expensive to ship out the materials to a place to recycle it. Instead of gaining money they were paying money, which leaves little incentive. I think also that as villagers we do "re-use" everything, as we never know when we will need it, to the point where we are bordering on being diagnosed as hoarders. But I wonder what other ways we can reduce our ick on this world. Living in the boonies means we are often restricted by what product we can use, as it often comes down to whatever the ONE store decides to stock, if anything at all.

Should we even be trying to find ways to do the three "R"'s? Has anyone done a study to see what a subsistence native "carbon footprint" is?

I do find some comfort in the fact that we eat mainly "organic" foods, ultra organic. Is there a word for more than organic?

Shameless self plugging follows.....

I do randomly design shirts... here is one of the latest designs. I saw "Eskimo" spelled like this on a very old book in the Tuzzy library in Barrow (if you ever get the c
hance to visit please do!), I WANTED that on a shirt! you will find this and others in my "Nuna Inua" T-shirts link on the right side of this blog.
I also have decided to sell some of my jams and jellies and preserves, just a taste! View this and other neat things at my new store

Crowberry jelly aka Blackberry Jelly

Friday, September 17, 2010


Interesting things I experienced this last week:

While walking in Barrow I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. There was a tiny pond surrounded by buildings, old vehicles, and small anemic patches of grass. Various bits of trash floated at it's surface. The acrid roar and smokey smell of cars surrounded the tiny pond, making it seem so out of place and indeed it seemed embarrassed to be there. What had caught my eye was the movement of several canadian geese floating in that tiny pond. One of them stood stock still, a shiny dark eye observing me. The others stirred the tiny piece of water, bringing bits and flecks of edibles to the surface. Their beaks worked and clacked as they ate. I think I got about 5 feet from them and not one of them looked up to wonder if I was predator, except for sentry. I walked by, thinking that this tiny scene must mean something deep and ponderous. But I couldn't come up with what it might be.....

I have decided that the best sushi I have ever ate is in Barrow Alaska. It practically melts in your mouth in a carnival of flavor and texture.

I haven't met one person in my life that absolutely loves sitting in the middle seat on airplanes.

We are all tourists of this universe. Annoying ones.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Things I learned.....

Some nights in the village. Some nights we make sure the doors are closed and locked tight. We take the keys from our vehicles in our front yard. Things that take a minute or two. Nothing drastic.

But some nights are different than others. Some nights while chatting with family we hear about how someone has brought burning coals to the village, to set fires of destruction. So we lock our doors to make sure the fire does not spread, so that it does not burn what we love.

Such small things that we do. Small things are all that you can do sometimes.

We must become willing learners and willing teachers.

My parents taught me a few things, these things I hold close to my forever life. They loved me so much that they taught me to be sad. Sounds weird, and obvious, I know. My parents taught me to mourn. They taught me how to cry. They taught me that it is a special thing that I can do, one that is almost uniquely human, a gift from every God and Deity. When the first dog I ever loved died when I was very young, my father shed heavy tears, and held me close. He showed me it was okay to express sadness, he showed me how to make it paint my world. He showed me it was okay for these painful things to exist. And when my mother died, she showed me that I could survive even the most painful things. The things I thought no one should survive. She taught me that pain can be used to fuel brighter things, better things, and that death can leave behind seeds of hope and wonder. That we are but what is left behind in the hearts and actions of those that loved us.

How can some people burn these gifts from their parents in a haze of numbness and alcohol?

My friends taught me a few things, these things I hold close to my forever laugh. They loved me so much that they taught me how to have fun. Sounds plain and silly, I know. My friends taught me how to enjoy this world. They taught me what it was like to laugh so hard I cried. They taught me that it was a special thing, a gift from every God and Deity. Something unique and wonderful and ME. When the summer days were long they came and showed me that fun was exploring old buildings, trapping ground squirrels, and laughing at the silliest of words and gestures. They showed me it was okay to find fun in things that some people thought were boring or empty. And when I left and they moved they also taught me that I could make new friends, and find new things that were fun, if only I was brave enough and unafraid. They taught me that fun and excitement could exist without hurting others or myself, and that it could last forever, like those long summer days.

How can some people burn these gifts from their friends, in the acid lake of unhappiness?

My Love taught me a few things, these things I hold close to my forever Happy. He loved me so much that he taught me how to be Happy. Sounds small and weak, I know. My Love taught me how to be at peace with my life. He taught me how to find actions that added a drop of Happiness to my soul, so that these drops could become a lake. He taught me that it was a special thing, this ability and opportunity to be Happy, a gift to myself, from myself. Something that had no keys, no locks, no codes. When I wrapped all the bad things in my life around me like a sodden blanket, he showed me that I was the one holding that blanket, with clawed fingers. And that it didn’t make me a bad person to let it fall to the ground. He showed me that my happiness was hard work, and needed to be tended to like a fragile plant, and that if I fed it anger and hate and confusion, it would shrivel and blacken. He showed me that happiness was real, and not some fairy tale.

How can some people burn these gifts from the people that love them, in the coals of bootleggers and pimps of self destruction?

We must become willing learners and willing teachers.

We must teach each other how to mourn, how to have fun, how to be happy, without drugs. Without booze. We must teach each other that we can have these things, without running the risk of causing pain on each other.

Our Inupiat ancestors knew these ways, knew them and rejoiced in their ability to experience them. We need to stop trying to be something other than Inupiaq, something other than brown skinned, arctic legends self made prisons.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The darkness....

The darkness has come back to our village.......

And no it's not metaphorical darkness, it's actually darkness. The long endless sunlit days are gone, and night time has reclaimed her willow spiked crown.

It's a shock to the psyche, more so than the change from dark to light in the spring. In many many ways this is my favorite time of the year though. The caribou are fat and proud, the berries have grown plump and sweet, the mountains exchange green clothing for red and yellow, and the stories...the stories also ripen and sweeten and become beautiful things to share.

The darkness brings with it many things, one of them being tarnished fears. Old fears brought back out to be polished and handled. The bears become fat and brave, and their eyes glow blue in the night as they stalk your camp. But we fend them off with the howl of dogs and the crack of rifles. Other things also roam in the darkness, beings of wood and flesh and spirit. And we fend these off by telling their stories.

My favorites are the stories of the Imanauraq, or the Inuk as they call them here. Small people that live in caves or underground and set deadfall traps. They see the rebirth of the night as we see the coming of the sun, a chance to roam and go unseen and walk among us. The stories range in the hundreds if not thousands, and are as recent as last year. They run after your sled in silence, nothing but a bulky darkness, trip you in bushes with quick fingers, or even set small cooking fires high up in places no human can reach or would go.

Other creatures include tall pale willowy beings filled with curiosity, lost spirits, bouncing lights that lead you into danger, river beings, "bigfoot", and a handful of others that appear after the night has returned. The stories are like tiny gems, passed around a fire to be shared and admired.

Yes this is my favorite season of the year!