Follow me on Twitter

Sunday, October 30, 2011

An Arctic Halloween.....

Just thought I would post some pictures.  Our Halloween may look a bit different than most.  It means snow and cold and barely lit days.  Tomorrow night is when the kids will put costumes over their fluffy thick winter gear and go to a few houses to get goodies.  I plan to bake some green spooky cookies to give out. Last year I gave out chocolate covered popcorn balls, but the store doesn't have the type of popcorn you can put in a popcorn maker and microwave popcorn doesn't taste as good.

My husband caught four caribou yesterday,  incredible luck.  He has been driving around in the wilderness on his time off for at least a week before he found the small herd.  He drove back in the dark with no headlight on the snowmachine.  His younger sister Kayla helped skin and quarter the caribou in the dark while it was snowing.  They had to be at least skinned before they got too cold.  I would have helped but I have been fighting a sinus infection (tis the season!) and so instead I cheered them on as best as I could...from the warmth of the house.  Our meat will be stored outside in winter bins, protected from weasels, ravens, foxes and loose dogs.  Most will go to elders and people who need it.  We kept all of the hides and will dry them in the deep winter for new bedding for camping next year.  Nothing goes to waste: the dogs were ecstatic because they knew they would get all of the parts that we would not be eating.  These pics are a bit bloody, but I thought they were neat.

My husband used a sled to block most of the wind and used one of my studio lights  to light up the area.  Here is is showing his sister where to make the cuts.  She hopes to be able to butcher a whole caribou by herself one day.  Not an easy job for a petite girl weighing not more than 100 pounds wet!

Kayla working on meat.

A bit blurry but it is my favorite photo.  My husband was wearing a head lamp, which he used to help him make the first cuts. His hands were very cold, but I think that Inupiaq people who spend a lot of time in the cold have an incredible high tolerance to it.  

It was amazing to eat fresh caribou meat again, I roasted some with olive oil, onions, garlic and salt and pepper.  Here is a pic of our 'dressing.'  It is seal oil with black dried seal meat, I have added carrots and a plant called 'ipiq', or Bistort leaf.   Very sweet, crispy and salty, perfect for meat and rice.  Incredibly high in vitamins as nothing in that bowl was cooked.

Our post office at night.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Wooly Lousewort

One of my projects this winter will be compiling and organizing information and photos for a 'Anaktuvuk guide to plants' thing I am putting together, which is going to take me years and years but you have to start some where right?  I do it only for my own sanity!  I thought it would be neat to post some info and a couple photos of various plants I am learning about.  This is not going to be gospel people, I am not a scientist or expert on herbal anything and I m not diagnosing a darn thing. Insert your expected disclaimer here.

This post is about one of the weirdest looking plants that I have seen here.  The Wooly Lousewort, aka: fernweed, bumblebee plant or Pedicularis Kanei or P. Lanata. It was literally the first plant I took pictures of when I moved here, as it looked very alien and intimidating.  The new plants grow with a furry coat that protects them in the early spring from the cold unpredictable weather.  And because of that they are one of the very first plants to start growing.  Once the plant is secured and the sun comes out in the summer in force, the wooly plant starts to grow tiny colorful blooms (here they are a very bright pink).  The whole plant can be used for various things.  The root is a bit like a yellow carrot, and can be fermented with the bloom (like a sauerkraut)  or boiled or just steamed.  I do not pick this plant regularly but I did taste the root a couple of times, it has a pleasant but faint taste, much improved by actually washing the root in water.  You can lick the nectar from the blooms or even use them for garnish for a salad.  The whole top of the plant is a very strong sedative, though if you take too much you can end up lethargic and with temporarily paralyzed legs...scary but not permanent.  I myself have not actually taken the plant as a tea, but I did dry some and stored it.  An adult dose is about one teaspoon, a very small amount.  I think I will actually wait till next year to try the tea as I have been reading about how the plant is actually parasitic and will take some of the chemical attributes on of the plant it attaches itself to.  I plan to observe what plants they like to bond to, before I start experimenting.  In the Fall after being pollinated the flowering parts withers a it then grows a very tall and odd stalk with the seeds.  After drying in the fall the seeds are released.

The newly emerged wooly lousewort with it's fuzzy coat

A pretty pic showing the showy pink blooms
A pic showing the seed stalk empty of seeds
This is actually a non-usable type of lousewort.  But it is very pretty!  probably a red tipped lousewort.

Saturday, October 15, 2011


Winter is officially, the snow is...almost...deep enough to drive snow machines on.  I have switched to what I call 'Hibernation' mode, which means I pretty much stay inside and gain weight.  For some reason cold weather inspires me to bake....and cook....and bake....and spend way too much creating edible edibles.  So far I have made a batch of cake balls, pickled muktuk (whale), some berry and apple crisp type thing, some berry ice cream toppings, and I have started experimenting with a drink called 'butter beer' which is as fattening as it sounds and contains no beer.  For some reason creating food is so very comforting to me in the winter time.  This year I plan to do something to burn calories, my idea is to take one dog a day for a short walk and start training them for packing and pulling.  I was going to take up skijoring but my knee doctor had a red faced fit when I told him and so those plans are out the door.  I'm sure he will be fine with me just walking.

My husband is preparing for trapping season, and I nod my head and look interested when he sits at dinner and regales me with the details of his plans for the winter.  To me it seems so very much complicated, and I could imagine that he feels the same way when I discuss my beading and art finishing techniques.  But we love each other so we try to be involved and aware and provide support where we can. I am very proud of him and the knowledge he gathers, it is a very dangerous venture to take and one that requires a lot of preparation and forethought.

We went for a ride this last weekend, to sit atop a hill so we could watch down the valley for caribou.  They have entered the mountains and are now spreading about in smaller groups to try and avoid starvation and being eaten by wolves through the winter.  They use their tough-as-nails hooves to dig through the snow and graze on lichen, a plant that never dies in the winter time.  The cold shocked my system, and I could almost physically feel the adjustments my body was taking to keep me warm.  Mentally I also adjusted to what my idea of 'cold' was, as it will change dramatically over the winter  My husband was lucky enough to find three caribou the day before our ride, we gave one and a half away, and finally have some for our freezer.  Because of the shortage of caribou meat the one tiny local grocery store has been hard pressed to provide proteins....they ran out of hamburger meat, steaks, chicken breast, and pork chops and so for a long couple of weeks we grudgingly ate precooked oven chicken, microwavable foods, and spent way too much money on it.  A weight on my soul was lifted with the caribou we got, and we finally could start eating much much more healthier meals.

I made a quick video of some images of my weekend....

I also have been experimenting with dyeing ptarmigan feathers using koolaid....

Friday, October 7, 2011

Clash of the titans....

One of the first things my Father ever taught me was to see beyond words and platitudes. I think he meant it as a way to teach me to avoid the wrong type of boy in my teenage years but I guess I carried it on into my adulthood and tend to apply it to pretty much everyone.....  I learned to judge people on what they do, and not what they say.  Which is why you can imagine that I avoid politics.

One of the most persistent litanies I heard growing up as an Inupiaq in a small native village was "get an education, come home and use it here."  My elders proclaimed that it was what I could do to help, that I would become valuable in their eyes.   Everyone talked about the need for sustainability and home rule and reclaiming the reigns.  Corporations created scholarships,  fancy plaques were brandished and speeches were given about how it was the next step in our growth as a people and as human beings living in this day and age.  

So I did.  I left and got an education.  Many people ask me why I did it.  And I always answer them truthfully.  Because my parents were SERIOUS when the said I am going to college.  They put away a very large sum of money piled from PFD's and ASRC shareholder checks.  My father sat and growled at me till my paperwork was done. Since I was young he had been grooming me for an education, slowly adding more and more responsibilities, getting a joint bank account, making me memorize my social security number, and many many other small things.... it was never what was aid to was always what was done....

And I still apply that sentiment to what everyone was telling me as I grew up.  And I find that we are at a turning point when it comes to educated villagers.  A place of change and thought and changed thought.  We are at the meeting of generations, which is normal and expected, yet no one really is looking closely.

I'm still sitting on a large school loan I had to take out to go to grad school.  I was very very surprised to find out that my local village corporation does not provide scholarships for Graduate level school, only a small amount for undergrad.  The only funding I found was from the Arctic Slope Regional Corporation of which I am a shareholder (and pretty much every Inupiat on the Slope is), and it was at the same amount given for undergrad school.  I knew from experience that I did not qualify for any state of federal level grants as I was too 'rich' as a ASRC shareholder.  The school I went to for my undergrad diploma had promised me a $1000 scholarship per semester for four years, but when they took a look at my FAFSA and found out I was a shareholder at ASRC they took the money back and sent me a letter that said that regrettably it had to be "reassigned."  So I took out three credit cards and maxed them out and took out a $10,000 loan and burned all of that money in a years time.  I ate mainly cup o noodles and lived on campus in a very small dorm room the color of chalk.  I remember thinking back to those speeches that I heard growing up, and I wondered where all that support and encouragement went, and if it was only empty words.....

ASRC is the richest native company in the State of Alaska.  It pulls millions ,billions?,of dollars a year from the oil being pumped out of Prudhoe bay.  The board members get fat bonus checks every year, and subsidiary companies span across the lower 48.  Yet despite all of their money they proclaim to be established for the good of the people, our people, to better our lives.  What I think is glaringly opposite of their claims is that in 1995 when I went to college they gave me $3,500 a semester for school.  I'm grateful for it don't get me wrong.  But it is odd that despite the massive increases in college expenses over the years since then, they have not increased their scholarships a dime, and no one has protested this weird disconnect.  If it wasn't for my parents forethought in saving a bunch of money I would never had been able to afford college.  I was actually thinking of going back to college but realized that there is no way I could afford it.  And I have no idea how kids afford it now.  If Education was really a real priority, wouldn't the proof in action be that no native ASRC shareholder would ever have to worry about paying for an education?

But lets say by tooth and nail and struggles you do get an education and return to the village you grew up in.  You are looking for a job.  Here is where I think where there is a culture clash.  Getting a degree or two or three and beyond is a 'western' thing, knowledge and respect is based on passing tests and taking classes and doing other things far away from your village. For thousands of years we as Native people have based respect on age and observed actions and use of knowledge.  The leaders in the villages are often older than 40 years of age, and have gained knowledge through...well BUILDING the systems that exist today.  A clash is born.  

Now back to the 'actions' thing.  I do not believe that any young punk should be able to just come back and take over no matter the degrees or education.  But I think that if those who came before us really wanted educated youth, there should be an established system to incorporate newly educated Inupiat into the established system.  I think a paid mentoring system would benefit everyone, at every level, in every corporation and local business.  If what they are EXPECTING is highly educated people returning then there should be a smooth transition into positions that already exist.  What we are seeing is a very tangible frustration of the people returning to the village to find that they cannot get a job, they are 'overqualified' or the position is filled already indefinitely, and so they leave to the cities to find work.  

I don't really speak much about my experiences as a teacher, simply because they were a bit traumatic to say the least.  But one aspect I thought was incredibly peculiar was the expectations on me as a Inupiat teacher from other Inupiat.  They were vastly higher than what they expected from non-native teachers. At first I thought this was simply because I was new teacher, but befriending the other new teachers made me realize that I was being treated ...differently.  I was continually reprimanded by my supervisors (non native) and by locals (native) for ACTING Native.  For using Inupiat words in my classroom.  For sitting next to and chatting with my cousins kids.  For talking about Inupiat hunting and stories and.....well for just BEING Inupiat, which was always met with a sort of confused panic.   I always felt that this world that exists on the Slope today is not actually built for Inupiat people to take it over.  And it seems that in every institution there is this belief that by ignoring the cultural differences it will somehow make those differences disappear.  The system as it exists is not built for us to run,  it is instead modeled after a system found in a western world, which worked to save what we have and get our fingers deep into the fabric, but does not move us beyond hanging on by just our finger tips.

I also think there is a disconnect in communication of what jobs are available in the villages.  Leadership positions are almost always filled by locals, yet the ranks and ranks of workers under them are almost always contracted out to non-natives in the cities.  Positions like lawyers and accountants and teachers and managers and mechanics.....which to be fair are positions that places like Ilisagvik College are educating people to fill, but they are finding little to no support despite their efforts.  No one thought to define what they meant by 'get an education' and so we are finding young people very confused....and educators scrambling....

I do believe in the strength of our people, and the amount of greatness achieved in such a short time is amazing. But one thing I want to see is when buildings are decorated with photos honoring our elders and those that are amazing that they include some young faces, to give hope and make a place for the young punks coming up behind us.  And personally I know that I will work to take the brunt of anger and crazy and birthing pains that this time offers if it means that the youth in college right now will have less frustration to deal with when they return.  And I hope that there will be places for them to return to.  

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Good bye Harley.....

As some of you might remember this blog did have a resident cat....who I introduced you all to in my blog post entitled Harley..

She past away yesterday, surrounded by my husbands soft singing.  She will be greatly missed, and I am trying to adjust to the absence in my heart.  She had a great life that included traveling with me from California to various villages on the North Slope, long sun filled summers, and both of us falling in love with my husband.  She made a few good friends and a lot of enemies as cats are wont to do.  She was such a presence in our lives, and I will miss most the mornings I woke up to her purrs and gentle nudges.  I find the hardest thing to do for some reason is to remove her from my intro on my blog page, so I thought I would at least make a post just for her, so she can live on indefinitely in the digital world called the internet.

Sometimes it's such a curse that our fuzzy friends never live forever, instead they make brief little paw prints on our hearts.