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Saturday, November 20, 2010

If we were only Japanese.....

I imagine if I wanted to go to Japan, I could find courses on how to behave without insult. I could learn how to bow just so, and just so many times. I could learn about the local foods, and how to pronounce their names. I could learn some of the language so that I could communicate a tad. I could even research the history of the people, and find out why in the world they have such crazy game shows. I imagine if I wanted to, I could find a million plus websites dedicated to just this singular culture.

I know if searched I could find only a minuscule amount of informational websites on my own culture. And usually they repeat what each other has said, like a phalanx of cookie cutter descriptions. Most of what is known about our culture and world is found in dusty history text books, and most of those are old, from the time when my mother was a child and further back. Why has the media ended one generation back?

The reason I write this though is not to contemplate the lack of media, as most people who know me know that I do help in my small way those paladins that are fighting to include Inupiaq media in our schools and in our lives. The reason I bring this up is to discuss the effects of having no access to, what I would think to be, critical information.

One of my family members was accused of being racist by a non-native. And it involved a very long hap-hazard conversation about why we can subsistence hunt and why he as a non-native could not subsistence hunt. He assumed it was the choice of the Natives around him. That it was type of conspiracy of monumental proportions, that we all met late at night and determined that he was unworthy of our favor.

Of course being native, my family member did what was culturally ingrained in him, he backed away from the conversation. Not because he was a racist and the non-native was right, but because we are taught from a very young age that confrontation is unwise and heated words are avoided, which stems from the fact that we will all live in a tiny village with these same people for most of our lives. Of course the non-native took this as admission that we were all racist.

The funny part is that if this non-native man had done any research (and found out that if he wanted to he could get a permit and hunt on certain lands), or had known how we differ culturally, no bad feelings would have come about. I imagine if his employer would have sent him a three page packet on the particular oddities about this place, and maybe a guide on activities to be enjoyed.....There would be no uncomfortable silences.

I always believed strongly that there should be a cultural orientation program of some sort for those that choose to work on the North Slope of Alaska. That this should be at least available for those that had interest in it. I'm betting the turnover would be reduced, and overall happiness increased. It would also make work to create a sense of respect for our culture, that it's differences are something to be enjoyed, and not something to be ground out with some tough elbow grease and sandpaper.

I always find it interesting that with all the money being tossed around for saving our culture in databases, and Big Oil trying to lube our grip on our lands with cash that no one has yet contemplated creating a guide for those to be thrown into a rich and wonderful culture.

What would it take to write a few pages on each village, to create a list of activities and how to go about doing them? to have available a guide that bridges the two worlds? When I was in college I spent 7 months in California and 5 months in the village each year for seven years straight, and believe me when I tell you that to succeed in either culture the tiny things matter and bring comfort, so that you may in fact enjoy the experience.

But some of you are saying..."but this is America."...and that we are all the same?

When I went to my best friends wedding in Louisiana, we had many conversations about what cultural differences I would encounter. Why? Well so I would not feel the fool of course! I was introduced to Southern sayings, and Cajun food etiquette (the things you did to a mud bug), that I would almost always be addressed as 'Miss Rainey', and told what to expect when they talked about a 'fish camp'. It is also some sort of competition on how hospitable you can be to your guests, and even though I thought they did way too much for little ol' me, I kept my mouth shut and just enjoyed it. I loved every single moment of that trip but I think if I went in cold, it would have been a much less enjoyable experience.

America is not ONE culture, it's a mash of hundreds of cultures. Yes we all can buy rice at the store, but I can imagine that some cultures don't eat it or they use it totally different than you would. Our places and people are more isolated than some, more rich than some, more engrained than some, which should be a good thing, an exciting thing.

Personally I think rice is pretty much the best thing for caribou soup......


  1. Well said.


  2. i hear you. but...

    i couldn't help thinking that white people who do want to know how to act ask, and try to observe (i'm saying that as a white person because as white people that's how we're socialized: to ask questions). it doesn't mean we learn very fast, and it doesn't mean we'll always get it right, but i feel like we are able to communicate our good intentions. i've certainly received generous advice from folks all over the place (and also been chastised in novel ways!) i feel judgmental of this gentleman you're talking about, and wonder if he's even open to receiving the message that not all people think like he does, and that he isn't some higher authority (a white person calling someone racist is such an irony, esp. when, in this case, it's an attempt to raise oneself above another). i guess i also feel like any tract that an oil company would author would be a calculated strategy, and not an inherent desire to be open to other knowledges or express respect.

    granted, i'm a pretty skeptical person and pretty disdainful of the folks that go out to work on the slope, or in the bush, to pass judgment on the very tiny bit that they comprehend.

  3. You handled a hard topic with wisdom and insight, thank you :)

  4. You could make that guidebook, I guess. You could bridge the gap. :) A few brochures about your customs, your way of life, your landscape with its fauna and flora, some Inupiaq words and concepts. If you find the time, sometime ^^