Follow me on Twitter

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


There is a little known and very little discussed phenomenon that occurs on the North Slope.  And I'm sure that it occurs in every other native territory in Alaska, wether it be Athabascan or Yupik or Tsimshian.  Some people just label it as politics, owning it up to 'normal' infighting.  Outsiders see it and are confused and become wary.  Children absorb the conflict like the sponges they are and reflect it back onto their world.  Parents unwittingly reinforce it, and village political figures fight for hours nit-picking over it's bones like angry ravens.  I've been in meetings where whole hours were spent elaborating on this bottomless pit...and I wonder why it has become so .....normal.....and why no one moves to eliminate this social roadblock....

I guess it started when the villages arose and the Inupiaq adapted once again to the changing times.  They became Villagers and hung up their dusty nomadic gear to be able to offer more to their children and grandchildren.  It took bravery and faith and ultimate understanding and sacrifice to grow roots and to change their way of life forever.  With the raising of the modern Native Village they closed a chapter of life and opened up a new chapter.... entitled 'Square buildings and schools and the Post office.'  These villages became a base to fight from and for, a platform to launch the Shield that would protect our way of life and lands.

But some where along the way the Inupiaq mind was twisted.  A small but far reaching hand.  Through the trials of history the native identity was questioned and condemned, numbers fell from disease and chemicals.  The Inupiaq Mind struggled to stay afloat in the sea of the lost and forgotten.  And a small spark of hope emerged, and the people began to find Pride and safety in themselves once again.

But somewhere along the way this Pride become not something to find comfort in, to hang onto to fill the emptiness in the soul, it grew edges and a killing point and became a weapon. A small weapon to hurt others and to feed with anger and ignorance.

I remember reading transcripts from long lost elders, even some that were my family, my ila, and the one aspect I remember reading a lot of was their travels.  They would move from place to place, be adopted by a family, learn amazing and new things, build relationships and bonds, and travel again to other different Inupiaq lands.  They never spoke of how one place was less than or more than another.  Instead they spoke of what things were seen there, what things they did there, and about the uniqueness about that place.   Though they talked about where they grew up and where their travels began, they saw themselves first and foremost as ....Inupiaq.

I haven't done as much traveling as my ancestors have, but I was lucky enough to have lived and explored three Inupiaq villages.  And I can tell you how amazing each one is, how each one has expanded my Inupiaq World veiw, how each one has fed my Inupiaq soul, and how each one contained something impossibly amazing and unique.  And I wish everyday that all Inupiat could see what each village could offer.

Some people look to my village jumping and learning as betrayal of each of those villages.  But I always tell them 'I'm old school Inupiaq' and I smile and nod a bit.  Because it seems that our amazing new generation has forgotten our nomadic roots.  They have forgotten that the villages were loaned to us by the US government.  They have forgotten the joy of exploration and learning new things from different people.

And it makes me incredibly sad to see how people fight about how no respect is shown to the differences of the villages.  The tiny differences.  They fight over them like that is all they are in this world.  Differences.  And they become blind to the thread of Sameness, even though it's stronger and older ,it's never as flashy and sexy as Differences.  It's almost like they are only proud of how separate they are from everyone else, that the separateness is the only identity they have.  And this is not a good place to live, a lonely and scary place to live.

When I was teaching both children and adults I saw this sharpened weapon being used to hurt each other.   Children teased and bullied and threw rocks at kids who might have one parent from another village.  They came up with horrible nicknames for each other, became angry at other villages for their differences.  Some people would label it as 'kids being kids', but it was obvious that it was kids borrowing this weapon from their adults.  Adults should never arm heir children with such weapons in my opinion.

My adult students, who would normally be from several villages, would speak of their home with faces twisted with defensive pride and in the same breath condemn other village for their differences.  In most cases they were blinded to what each could offer and benefit.  And so in the end they rejected learning, they rejected even the possibility of learning.

As my life has progressed my attitude and opinions have changed dramatically on this topic, and it has only recently came to a few questions.  

What will we gain from worshipping our differences as a weapon?  When did Pride include hate and anger and pain?  Did we learn that, or did we create that?  And why do we accept this behavior as normal?

I type this knowing that even now some people will only actually see some of my words, and not all of them, that they will only know how to wield the weapon and not to remember our incredible roots go father than the villages.  Across continents even.  Across imaginary made up borders.


  1. You always give me much to think about. Your writing is honest and so eloquently expresses your wonder.

    Thank you for sharing your curiousity.


  2. I feel like this is the problem with the world - we have lost the ability to honor our skills without taking away the knowledge of others - my wish is that at some point we will see we are much more then we could ever hope for if we celebrate everyone's knowledge.