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Monday, November 28, 2011

Personal Choice?....

Most of what I write in my blog stems from actual conversations with real live people.  Mostly it's not even what we were discussing but maybe an echo of that discussion.  Or a seed generated from that discussion.  Or an observance.  This post is about a single statement made by a friend, and like all good and worthy statements it prompted me to seriously think about it.

The statement was this: "It's your personal choice to live where you live." It was made in reference to another comment another friend said about how harsh it was to live here.  They said this statement honestly thinking and understanding that everyone who lives in Alaska, who puts up with $10.00 prices on milk gallons, who hunts for food and deals with -90 degrees weather did it because that was the life they wanted and chose.  Because why else would we live here?

And I absolutely love that type of statement because it offers a window into my own thoughts and thought process.  At first my initial reaction was 'it's not a choice!!!!' ...and then immediately I thought 'crap I totally sounded like a blind cult member' ...and then a few seconds later...'why do I not see it as a choice?' And more importantly why does someone else think it is a choice?

Alaska is made up of basically three groups of people; those that are aborigines and have been here since the mastodon roamed, those that came to Alaska to make their fortune and were a little crazy and 'off' to do so, and those that are born of those two groups. But one thing you see with those that do stay and revel in the crazy called Alaska, is this almost fanatic denial of living here as a choice. 

And in the end I think it all boils down to a question of Culture, though no one at first would first see it that way.  After 10,000 plus years of the same people staying and thriving in the same place, as you can imagine the culture itself reinforces the concept of wether or not this option exists.  Leading of life of following abundance, wether it be melting ice or migrating caribou, has created a ancient bond, a loyalty.  To the land, the animals, the people.  To specific invaluable knowledge.  People who stuck together and who listened to this ancient knowledge ...lived.  And this understanding became fundamental to our culture, and has seeped into the modern Alaskan culture.  

American Culture is often described and understood as the culture of separateness.  Of independence, of making it on your own.  It is a cultural understanding,  one that is reinforced and rewarded.  Individuals are held up on pedestals, and paid the big bucks.  And sometimes in this world we forget that other worlds exist.  America is a young culture, but big and bright and shiny.  And even I have a hard time realizing that there are different ways of thinking. That there is a culture that relies on anchors instead of sails to succeed. And that it has been succeeding for thousands of years.

But I have to ask myself how can this ancient culture is affecting us, can this cultural bond with land and animal and family be detrimental in anyway?  has anyone thought to question and contemplate this?  There are very good sides to our culture, like having no homeless, no starving in our small villages, but what can be the downsides?  I think I see these tiny dark creatures hovering at the edge of my vision...and they have yet to reveal themselves.

Random info section:
For those who are waiting to purchase items from my stores for Christmas gifts, I will be taking a early vacation this year (sacrilegious for a seller I know!) So I will be traveling from about the 9th of December till I get back to celebrate Christmas with the family.  Which leaves very little time for you to shop!  I will be blogging about the experience though!

I am working on more amazing brother, who stole all the musical genes, is scoring the music!  Hopefully I can do it justice!  I'm trying to find a better way to post the videos here, as I am dissapointed with the quality.

I added a Christmas ornament for sale with two full sized scent memories in it, visit for more info!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving to everyone out there!  I have always celebrated this day, not as a Pilgrim type thing, but instead as a opportunity to show the world that I am grateful for what is Good in my life.  May this post find you warm and fed!  Thank you for your interest!

Nasugraq Rainey Hopson

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Arctic Terrorists......

There is a war within me.  Amongst the other wars.  It's a smaller war, to be fair.  More like a squabble really.  Like two ravens fighting over a tidbit mid winter.  And after thinking about it all of these years I still cannot seem to really convince myself of either side.  I think I keep hoping someone will come up with a happy medium, because my brain cells and heart just doesn't seem to know what to do with it.

It is something that every villager thinks of at some point in their life.  I know I have been asked many times about my opinion on the subject and it just depends on what day it is, what my answer will be.  It's a simple question: what do you think about tourists/visitors/'others' coming into the village?

As you know I have was very lucky to know several villages.  I grew up in Point Hope, a small village on the coast with more than 90% of the population being Native.  Tourism is actively fought off, visitors are kept to the minimum and are restricted to what is necessary,  if we could have sat at the airport with  spears we would have.  A person I admire immensely once said, 'If we could just put a big bubble around our village!', and I wholeheartedly agreed with cheers and vigorous hand claps.  Mostly I agree for a couple reasons.  The biggest one is that 'outsiders' tend to bring bad things along with them (as a majority). These types of people are usually temporary bursts of Different.  In a small village you usually adhere to a type of social code.  A village knowledge base of who is who and what is what.  If you think about it it makes sense, considering you will have to live with the exact same (very small amount) of people for probably the rest of your life.  You learn what is serious and what is not, and more importantly you learn where to apologize or when to ignore.   We also have this clash with teachers, and more often than not it ends with the teacher leaving in frustration or the teacher being asked to leave.  Cultural differences often shape the social landscape.  Construction workers also sometimes bring drugs to help with the tedious winters, and sometimes hook others onto it.  People come in and start relationships willy nilly, or end up kissing a bored wife, or a million other tiny things that are not amazingly bad when viewed alone and without major context, or in a huge lower 48 city.   But they leave major hard to ignore scars in a small social setting.  In a world where temporary and disposable are the norm, ignorance can harm an old society, one as different as you can imagine.

I also am very lucky to live in Anaktuvuk Pass.  Where tourism is tolerated.  In the warm months 4-10 planes fly in with it's load of gawkers and hippies, some adventurers or head hunters.  People that want to fill their lives with a tad bit of Different and Amazing.  I live near the airport and in one freak of a day I counted about 30 planes, flying in and out.  Because of how I make my money I depend on the seasonal income, I sell random art pieces and products at the amazing Museum at the top of the hill.  The tour guides lead the group of tourists around the village, pointing out the various bits of history poking out of the tundra.  As a resident I find them fantastically annoying.  We have playfully nicknamed them 'terrorists.'  My home is unfortunately on the tourist route, and as a consequence we get the full brunt of their visits.  I don't really blame their curiosity though: my yard is a tidy mini-city, filled with excited burly arctic dogs, fantastic displays of my husbands prized antlers and sheep horns, and the various exotic tools and vehicles needed to live in a arctic world.  I am, however, always amazed that they find it acceptable to enter our yard and examine our belongings and poke at our dogs. They laugh and take pictures of themselves with our belongings with their usually incredibly expensive  cameras and camera phones.  I use to sit at my window and scowl, but for some reason some of the less timid tourists found this as an invitation to approach me and try to get me to pose or to pepper me with questions or ask me to show them what it was 'really' like living here.  Every one of them did not realize that they are a small annoying pebble in a seasonal avalanche, and some were even offended that I would refuse such as honor as they are.  So now....without any shame....I duck and hide when I see them pass by.

For 7 years i lived n Barrow Alaska, the Top of the World, a short stay in arctic terms.  It's population only about 50% Native, and the rest is a beautiful mix of people from much more tropical places and random misfits that found their way there.  Tourism is a thriving industry there.  It's a structured and well cultivated system that feeds it's supporters well.  I made a tidy living there easily, not having to rely so much on internet sales or cold calls.  It's a place where Celebrities and famous people stop by, a place where thousands of scientists pontificate, a place where old meets new and melds in a ying yang type situation.  Amazing things happen there, but there is the darker side to the mix.  A place where alcohol and modern drugs are easy to obtained and abused, a place where cultural clashes become violent, a place where hope is mixed with despair, a place where you can be a stranger and an unknown.  

So I have experienced somewhat the various levels of West meeting North and I still can't see how it may be resolved.  I would hope that the villages would take control of the tourist industry in their neighborhood, take the reigns so no one else can drive them.  But the village leaders are hard pressed to have nothing to do with tourists be they benign or not.  And so we are left with this weird dance of frustration and reliance, of feeling guilty of living in a world that will have outsiders coming in.  Of hating the new stuff and loving the new stuff.  Its a time of birthing pains with emotion and logic warring in our Inupiaq Psyche.

Next year I plan to nail a tin can next to our dog cage and paint it with a single phrase... "Tips are appreciated.'

Monday, November 7, 2011

Blog updates...

Some of you might have noticed some changes in blog.  The colors and whatnot changed because I hit a button on accident.  No amount of frowning could make it change back.  My birthday was on the 2nd and as usual I do a mini-age-panic and force myself to learn something new and different.

So I created a Twitter account.  I will post little things at least once a day, probably more in the beginning since I'm trying to get used of the process and how it all works.  Just another tiny window into my world.  If you have a twitter account you can click on the little birdie on the top left of my blog page to follow me.  It took way longer for me that I thought it would to figure out how to add that dang birdie! But age will do that to you.  If you don't know what twitter is's sort of way in which to sign up for random updates of 140 characters or less.  It's perfect for the phone users or mobile users.  I have a new ipod touch which will keep me connected and allow me to post random daily photos.  I love how you can follow famous actors and well known people, and it's fun to be socially connected in a different way.

I also added 'response' buttons to the bottom of every one of my blog posts, so now you can do a quick click about how you felt about the post.  Feedback is always appreciated!

 We find ourselves, my hubby and I, spending more calorie-saving lounging inside, we love to watch television series and movies, of which we are running out of things to watch!  Do you know of any tv series or movies on disc that would be worth watching?  We love random things as long as they are good...everything from Battle Star Galactica, to documentaries, to 50's and 60's films, to Big Trouble in Little China.  Though neither one of us are big fans of romance movies.

I hope everyone is surviving the Fall time (in our case it's early winter) well and I hope this post finds everyone warm and toasty!


Tuesday, November 1, 2011

I am my Percentage.....

I was watching the movie 'Snow Walker' the other night (if you haven't seen it you should) and there is a scene where the main character asks the other main character (Inuit) what her name was, and she reaches into her parka and pulls out a medallion with her number on it.  And I was thinking to myself how horrible that was, and how it echoed a very tiny bit like the Holocaust years.  And then I realized that this type of stuff still goes on, right here in the U.S. in fact, and that it was amazing to me that something like this could seem so normal and so foreign to me at the same time.

As a Alaskan Native I have a number.  A card really.  From the BIA (Bureau of Indian Affairs).  It lists my name and my birthdate, my tribal name, the blood quantum percentage, and a number.  I also have another card from my tribal Corporation.  With my name and birthdate and blood quantum and number.  When I actually look at these cards I am bothered by the numbers.  Mostly I am bothered by the blood quantum number. 

You see, most people don't realize that I am only half Inupiaq.  The other half is a very exotic mix of African American and North Korean.   But that's a very long story for another topic. But what bothers me is that they list my blood percentage in the first place.  Why do they need the percentage?  In this day and age it is a normal thing to be only part Native.  When the diseases demolished our numbers we were at one point left with only 1,200 known Inupiaq, from an estimated 600,000 members.  And there are suspicious reports in  ship log books about carrying sick people and making them visit as many people in the villages as possible. But that is another long story.  What it comes down to is that one day, the government came and chopped up Alaska into sections, and they deemed anyone in that section a certain type of Native.  In our area it was Inupiaq, Athabascan, and Yupik. The registered everyone and gave them numbers and cards.  

There was no actual way to tell if you are what you say you are.  Back in the day my people were very war like.  We had the largest territory pretty much in Alaska.  It wasn't cause we were good at making treaties either.  The extremely submissive wife-sharing Eskimo you see in a lot of old films was a thing made up in Hollywood.  We warred.  Thousand were killed in the struggle to keep hunting territory lines.  Children and women were never killed, instead they were adopted into the tribe.  Especially Children, as they are very much treasured and not many survived in this type of land.  Adoption is a common practice still in my culture (though not as a result of war) , and once adopted you are seen as what you parents are, no matter where you came from. Family ties are paramount.  So as you could imagine the 'type' of native we are is blurred.  Even more so when you realize that we did not adhere to political lines, and that we share bloodlines with Russia and Canada.  It is seen as the reason that there are different dialects of the same language, it just depends on who your neighbors were.  Our people are incredibly nomadic.  A real thing of beauty if you ask me.  It was also not uncommon to adopt travelers into your family, people with no real blood ties.  In our culture we have many types of relations.  The strength of those ties do not rely on blood lines, and some of them even rely on spiritual ties.  This of course could have blurred the lines even more, as some family ties are determined by just your given name.

To make it even more complicated there is now evidence that we traded with other Nations.  Shells and trinkets from far away are found in the possessions of the ancient Inupiat, even boats and tools.  Some as far away a the Polynesian islands.  Evidence of different foreign technology is also found mingled in our history, like Chinese and Greenlandic.  I could be a mix of Polynesian -Inupiaq-Mongolian-African American-Korean.

So we mixed and melded with people and other is completely normal and expected.  But one day the government came in and froze it.  Mixing and mingling began to be closely tracked.  It's even deemed punishable. In my tribe if you are less than 1/16th Inupiaq you do not qualify as Inupiaq. This number differs from tribe to tribe and is set by the Tribal government, some tribes are even more strict than ours. It does not matter who you were adopted by or how you were raised, or wether you speak the language or wether you know ancient hunting techniques, as the government has deemed this so.  And I always wondered what exactly was the purpose of this blood quantum?

We as Native Americans get free health care and other important stuff because of the treaties.  Our subsistence hunting rights are also determined by the government.   You really should read that section at the BIA website, I must have snorted at least 10 times at the wording they chose.  But it means that they needed some way to identify Natives from the general public.  Our cards allow us some health care, and some assistance from the government.  But all the government has to know is wether or not we are Native American, why do they include the percentage? 

Some say it is a 'out' for the government on the treaties.  A contingency plan or expiration date on their responsibilities.  Because of you think about mathematically there will be a time when the Native population will not exist.  There have been some tribes deemed 'extinct' by the government already, because they have too little members with enough blood quantum.  It chills me to think that one day we will be deemed 'extinct' because we are mixing and mingling like is expected and normal.  The blood quantum restrictions could not exist for anything else, could they?  The government requires us to adhere to their own idea of what 'family' is, and this is such a culturally unique concept that it is amazing to me that it has never been challenged.  It is again another way the United States tries to make everyone conform and sever ties with differences.  The government closes their eyes to everything different, instead of celebrating it.

And this of course is nothing new.   And no I am not a government hater type.  It's just sometimes I get a little suspicious and I wonder if anything could be done about it?