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Sunday, January 31, 2010

The elephant in the room.

More like the polar bear in the tent. A pink polar bear. With satanic symbols burned into it's fur. This is how we view mental illness in our culture. No one will discuss the beast. No one wants to even discuss wether it exists or not. People rush to convince you that it does not exist, that the best way to make it go away is to ignore it, give it different names, pray.

In the mean time, it is eating our children. One by one.

Just thinking about this topic makes me uncomfortable. I guess that's why I am writing about it now. Because I am fascinated by the uncomfortable. I am fascinated by why something becomes uncomfortable, how it's born, how it's grown, how it's fostered and cared for. It doesn't just show up over night. Not this type of "uncomfortable."

I guess it's because I know quite a few people that suffer from mental illness. I know quite a few people that have killed themselves, or attempted to kill themselves. I know quite a few people that suffer in silence. I watched as their attempts at calling attention to their illness or depression is smothered and hidden and painted in shame. It's something I don't really know how to deal with in others, I don't possess the tools.

Where are these tools? And why are they gone?

As an old culture I know we had a way to deal with mental illness, every culture has a way to deal with them, just as every culture has a way to deal with illness. So what happened to ours? Why is there a big gap that keeps swallowing our people whole? I know when the missionaries came they came with several hats. Doctor, priest, teacher. I know they told us as we watched our loved ones die from disease that it was because of our lack of faith in God that helped the disaster happen. Maybe, just maybe, we inherited a misunderstanding. Maybe we inherited that shame in our souls. A shame that was planted by opportunity....

Before anyone gets started, no I am not anti-Christianity. Quite the opposite really. I am very religious. I never attend church because I feel we are always at church, worshipping God. It's a very odd way to worship, but it works in my mind. I also believe that religion is a double sided coin. It's beautiful and creates a beautiful relationship with our Creator, but since it is humans that worship it is also flawed with many human things......including human error, and human flaws, and we know that the original missionaries made many mistakes, wether they meant to or not.

Back to the topic.

Mental illness.

Why won't anyone talk about it? Why don't we have a system in place to deal with these normal human ups and downs? I know from experience that if an alcoholic wants to get help and enter a program of any type they have to first be convicted of a major crime. That it has to be court ordered. And the same goes for those that suffer from severe mental illness. Where are the preventive measures? Where are the alternative cultural paths?

We leave these people to deal with it on their own. We abandon them to fight a war with bare hands. It hurts just thinking about it. I have seen the faces of the survivors, the confusion, the guilt, the mental pain. And we give them no tools to deal with it. We provide no way to deal with survivors guilt. We provide no tools to cope.

If we did then I would not feel uncomfortable talking about it. No one would feel uncomfortable talking about it. There would already be a system in place to provide several paths of healing. And that damned polar bear in the tent would not exist, eating our children.

I think he is glaring at me.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Ptarmigan tales......


The village is surrounded by ptarmigan. They fascinate me.

We went on another short ride today into the mountains. The dogs bounded around us, tongues steaming in the air, legs pumping vigorously to keep up with us in the deep snow. Today it hit a very warm 0 degrees (warm in comparison to or normal temps here!). It was a perfect day for a ride.


They are such odd creatures. They perch in the willow bushes, furry heavily clawed feet gripping the swaying branches. They carefully nip the remaining willows buds from the skeletal remains of the plant. Their presence declares this land to be a rich land, as they are only found where food is abundant. And where they are abundant so are the predators.

I grew up in a place with a smaller amount of ptarmigan. They are there but not as numerous as they are here. I remember hiking in the mountains here and finding piles of ptarmigan feathers here and there, their gleaming white feathers high contrast to the earthy rich sod. Finally I thought to ask my other half what it was all about. He turned to me and in his "teaching" voice he declared...."they explode." And then he walked away. I sat there and blinked a few times. The image of a ptarmigan exploding in a burst of feathers and furry feet.

Later I got mad at him. But they REALLY look like they exploded. I would repeat this sage knowledge to children and they would always roll their eyes at me, not as gullible as I was.

He decided to get me a ptarmigan tonight. I had told him I always wanted to try to eat one. They were a huge staple in ancient diets, and I had never had the honor of actually trying them. He had a .22 pistol with him. He turned the snow-machine towards the willows, staying a good distance away from them. Some ravens huddled on the tundra noticed us and took flight, and soon we had a fan club high above us. They loved following humans as it almost always meant an easy meal.

It didn't take long to spot them. We saw a few white bobbing bodies high up in the brush. He parked the snow-machine, and turned it off. I clicked at the dogs to keep them from noticing our prey. In two shots he got one from 25 yards away. The other ptarmigan fled like hovercrafts across the icy ground. Of course they only went a few feet, they are not very smart birds and they cannot fly very far, so they rely on blending in with the snow for defense. It works well as long as they don't move. It took us a few minutes to find our fallen bird as he was very well camouflaged. The pups tried to steal the bird, more to play with it rather than to eat it I think. When they are hyper EVERYTHING looks like a toy.

We made it home and I started to pluck the bird. I learned something about them. They did not have the "normal" plumage. Actually they did but it was just for looks. Under the normal feathers were these incredibly dense and fluffy feathers, which acted a lot like fur. In a few minutes I had the fuzz in my eyes, up my nose and my shirt looked like it had sprouted mold. He laughed at my complaints of course, but to make me feel better he told me stories of growing up eating ptarmigans. They would have to pluck 20 at a time sometimes. He reached over and quickly removed the tail feathers in one handful. You always take those off first, he says. Why? No one told him why, but it was an ancient sign of respect that he always did.

We removed the sack on the chest that held all of the willow buds. The room filled with the smell of plants. He showed me how to clean and inflate it and hang it to dry. His mother would do that for them when they were kids, they used it as a balloon or if you left some of the willow buds to dry inside you could use it as a rattle.

He smiled a lot.

ptarmigan are such odd wonderful creatures.

It tasted like willows. An odd mix of plant and meat. I decided I liked it.

Their odd furry clawed feet

Can you spot the ptarmigan in this photo?

Very happy dogs.

The sun is slowly returning.

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.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Imaginary Barriers...

We are victims of our our own imaginary barriers. Romanticized barriers. We speak of the "old times" as if it was some fairy tale world. Filled with heroes and strength. Filled with unreachable and unattainable goals and characteristics. Our ancestors were survivors. They were wise and patient. They were happy and content with life. Unlike us.

Unlike the transition generation. We are children of two worlds. Two worlds? Two worlds like oil and water. They can never mix. Polar opposites. Matter and antimatter. Apples and Salmonberries. Grey and Ivory white. Somewhere, someone drew a line separating the honorable and the lost. And we ended up on the Losing End. We tell ourselves we can never be great. We swallow and feed ourselves quotes and photos from a bygone era like glass filled pills. We imagine our parents and grandparents, and great grandparents frowning down upon us in disapproval. We compare our deeds with theirs and find our efforts wanting. Most of us give up. Most of us accept the we are not worth quoting. Most of us decide to leave the battle to others to fight. Leave the knowledge for others to know. Leave the pride for others to feel. We judge ourselves too weak and too small to know greatness.

We are children of two worlds. We split our souls down the middle, a fissure filled with pain and red burning alcohol. We accept this bi-existance as Truth.

Who exactly told us that it was truth? Who decided that the two worlds could not exist in one soul? I find it interesting that no one questioned this decree. That we as a people agreed that anyone born after a certain date would only be half real. Would only be half a person.

By accepting it, we have made it real. We split ourselves. We hurt ourselves. We separated our being and created imaginary barriers. We are not children of two worlds. We are children of THIS world.

We forget that our ancestors did not live in a static world. They did not live in a bubble. They encountered new ideas, they encountered new technology, they encountered new people, they encountered new problems just like every generation before them. They struggled to survive intact in a world filled with snowstorms and dangers just like we do today. Except today those storms have different names, like Suicide, and Cancer. Like Meth and Money. Like Education and Racism. Our storms are just as dangerous, maybe more so because we have handicapped ourselves with these imaginary barriers.

We are just as great as our blood line will always be. We are just as smart. We are just as brave. We have always been.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Another unspoken phenomenon.....

I left the village for 7 years. 6 six to get 1 1/2 degrees in California. 1 year to get half of a Masters degree. And then I returned.

I was afraid. I know I had changed. My worldview had become both complex and very simple at the same time. I knew how to grow tulips and what fork you used for salad at fancy restaurants. My body had grown soft and contained a massive amount of preservatives. I returned with more respect and more love for my family and culture than most people would imagine. But it came at a price.

Our culture revolves around the ties that bind. Around growing up with familiar faces, knowing every single aspect of your history (even though you wished they didn't), knowing how you would react, knowing what to expect from you. The first thing people ask you is "who is your family?" because it will tell them something of your background. These ties are celebrated, they even have their own Inupiaq words to explain them, like "atiq" which means "namesake" in English but does not translate the close relationship that implies. In the lower 48 I found out that they pimp something other than ties and binds. They revel in the Individual. In the separateness and distance between each person. That's not to say that there are people who are not close to others, but I remember finding it odd that some of my friends would go years if not decades with no contact with siblings or family. Their history ended with their parents. It was very different. And that smell clung to my clothes....

And then I returned....

For one thing people looked at me differently. They were wary. My family and friends that I grew up with and loved looked at me as if I was a two headed sloth, and none of them knew what a sloth was. Some turned and rolled their eyes. Some ignored me completely, their backs turned in rejection. Most took some time to get to know me again. They sat and marveled at how much coffee I drank. Afraid of this grown woman that came back, but willing to take the chance that there was something of the little Point Hope girl left inside of me.

For another thing I think people have this misplaced conception that now that I am educated then I "must" think villagers and village life is abhorrent and disgusting. That I have returned to make them feel bad about themselves, about their world, MY world, about the clothes they wear or the words they use. That any sane educated person would look upon the Native Life in disdain. What interesting things we learn from interesting places.....

They could never be more wrong. I try my hardest to recapture the time in my childhood. To run around covered in mud and catch lemmings. To try and recapture the feeling of belonging that was destroyed by the education system..... Sometimes they see it.....

But sometimes I am met with acid laced words. Words meant to belittle. Or looks casted with disgust. I learned when I came back to be quiet and keep to myself a little more to avoid making others shown their disdain. Which of course made it worse, because I looked like I was avoiding them. And a snowball erupted and grew.

It makes me sigh now. Sigh because I had such good relationships with some people before I left and now all that will exist from them is good memories. That girl who left for college from the village no longer exists. And I work to build new relationships. A stranger meets another stranger. They talk about their ties.

It's a funny world. A ironic twisted world. In which you are raised with people asking you to leave and become educated. That it's sorely needed. That it is the only way your culture will survive. Yet they fail to tell you the price you will pay. And no one asks you if you are willing to pay it. It comes as no surprise that most people who leave the village and get and education successfully .....never return.

But I have returned. To many villages. And when I get the chance to.... I still chase lemmings.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Our tales to tell.....

Just a quick note.

A few years ago I was involved in a video about Barrow Alaska. At least I think it was a couple of years ago. lol. Anyways I stumbled across the website where you can buy it.

It was fun to do and I got to work with some awesome people!

Friday, January 8, 2010

The dragons names is Rohan.....

I finally got around to making another store for my 2d, prints, lino prints, ACEO's and the like. Usually my drawings and work end up at the bottom of the important papers bin, scratched and folded and marked with who knows what. Either that or my baby sister finds them and claims them for her own. So now I'm going to try and make an effort to save them and hope that someone else will give them a good home, and keep some of them for to the side. It will take me a while. I tend to put them in envelopes and "save" them. Of course that means they are hard for me to find. If not impossible to find.

I found an old sketchbook while digging in my papers. It was missing it's front cover, and slips of magazine clippings were falling out. I flipped through it. I was amazed at how many ideas I had during that time period that never became anything. One thing I noticed was the dragons. When I was a kid I read a book....from the Dragon riders of Pern series by Anne McCaffrey to be exact....where humans and dragons worked together in some fantasy world. I became obsessed with dragons. I was really disappointed in the dragon artwork at the time, they were always cute or brightly colored. Nothing at all what went on in my mind. So I started to draw them myself. They looked horrible to say the least a tad better than stick figures. I was determined to make them look better. I started looking for books on drawing, on animals, on anything that would help me to make my dragons look how they looked in my mind. I learned about anatomy and value and texture. I practiced by drawing things around me, in my room, my friends...anything that would sit still really. I started collecting small pewter statues of dragons, with rhinestone eyes and flimsy wings. In fact the first one I ever bought still sits perched on a shelf in my studio, a reminder of my beginnings.

I guess that is how I started my artistic career, all that work to create something that was completely in my head.

Funny how these things work.

My two stores are: and

One of the ACEO cards I did.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Slow drive...

This afternoon we took a short ride into the mountains while it was snowing. The flakes of snow were fat wet cold kisses on our skin. I felt like I was being attacked by tiny hyper winter sprites. The mountains barely opened their eyes to acknowledge our existence. They looked sleepy and comfortable under their thickening soft blankets. The bulk of them played hide and seek with us in the snowstorm.

Ben rode ahead of me, the metal barrel of a rifle strapped across his chest. He was hoping to find caribou, unaware of us because of the sound dampening snow. Instead we found flocks of ptarmigan. They blended perfectly with the snow and rocky tundra, and when they took flight it looked as if the ground itself took flight, leaping up to meet the falling snow in a frenzy of feathers and barking. The sounds they make are very disturbing. Their loud harsh repetitive sounds were made, I'm sure, to surprise predators and give them a few more seconds to disappear into the landscape. Still they make me smile with their furry feet and ninja like moves.

We drove a few miles into a beautiful valley. On a rise Ben turned off his snowmachine and dusted off some rocks. He was telling me about how he had planned his proposal to me. The long speech. The timing. He was telling me how I had instead prompted him to propose ahead of time. Some random comment I made I'm sure. As he cleared the snow from the stones on the ground they read "Marry me." I felt guilty for a second. Till he came over a smiled.

It happened how it was supposed to happen I'm sure of it. But that valley will always be marked by our story.

The ride home was just as soft and subdued by snow. I was still trying to get a feel for my new/old snowmachine. It sat a little low and stiff for my tastes. It felt like I was trying to ride a child's mattress on end as we floated through the powdered snow. I never really felt at ease riding them like everyone else. Just like a village kid I grew up driving them all winter, but more than likely I would end up crashing the stupid things. Not anything major, just alot of tipping over or perching it on a pointy mound. I did enjoy the challenge of driving them, the control and relaxing of muscles, the attempt at predicting the trail ahead. But to me it is like a game of tennis, whereas to Ben it was like reuniting with an old friend.

Watching him ride ahead of me always made me smile. I'm sure he could have fallen asleep with his finger on the gas and his instincts and finely tuned reactions would carry him for miles. Sometimes he would find an especially deep section of snow and tip the snowmachine on it's side as he balanced on it's edge. Show off.

But we are all gifted in certain areas. I swear that I traded any talent with baking bread for my artistic insight and persistence. A healer once told me that she traded her ability to make eskimo ice cream for a healers hand. Maybe the world really works that way. And only the truly happy people realize it.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Poem and pics.

My world.
My devotion.
My pulse.

emerald hued thoughts
devouring the ground in flora-like love
a million secret flavors of beauty
secluded and revealed
in frost covered stones
in lichen eaten crevasses
in salmonberry dreams

white petals as thin as the skin
on my weather adored lips
filled with bone colored age
and delicately flavored
with buoyant colored clouds
with feathers shed like tears
with salmonberry thoughts

transparent ice molded
by captured silhouettes
in envy of caribou antlers
and captured in song by
a wind passing red willow
a tangible hued bloom
a salmonberry scream

My world.
My devotion.
My pulse.


There was the poem...and now some pics!

Before it got really cold and dark we went on a ride, the fog revealed and hid the countryside like some sort of peek-a-boo game

A set of rams horns from the dall sheep we caught this year

eskimo ice cream is actually whipped caribou fat filled with meat and broth and then frozen. Here is a pic of the fat after it's been whipped.

As promised this is a pic of the wolf we caught. A huge female. This is after it had been cleaned and before it was to be stretched and hung outside to be dried. Next we will tan the hide ourselves. A beautiful hide. More precious and useful than diamonds.