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March 21, 2019

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Inupiaq Guide to Survival




Forward - General Overview of current conditions


Respect - What it should be and why it’s important


Identity and its’ Power - An exercise in self awareness


Fear - Being Afraid or Being Courageous


The Roles Of Our Inupiaq People


What Needs To Get Done - And By Who





This paper was difficult to write. When the realization that most of the reason was because most Inupiaq and their descendants have been taught to think in circular patterns, most of the difficulty went away. Accepted western linear writing methodologies and disciplines do not necessarily fit our ways of articulation and thought, and this paper may be easier to read and follow once this is understood. 


Additionally, virtually all material written about us is from the outside looking in, and it is not easy to reflect upon ourselves not only for the reason stated above, but that our inner selves do not lend themselves to be open for discussion, so to speak. Yet in many public meetings, we hear of the issues and problems that plague us, and we have to know where we have been in order to know where we must go to heal and get on with life. It may be important to note that it is not only us that needs healing, but more and more, the enitre human race that is not well could contribute to improve their lot and strive to heal as well. 


The first thing to say is that anything to do with our Elders is not meant to be disrespectful by making assumptions that they may not agree with. The following is only a guide to promote thought that is intended to contribute to restoring our traditional respect for our Inupiaq spiritual ways of the past. Then, we can work to restore the traditional respect for ourselves, others, and our Elders. Our Elder’s by themselves are not the singular educational task to restore and improve - we as the Inupiaq society all are. As they would say, thought that is good for us is useful if it contributes to us as Inupiaq People, but unless we take whatever action we do as a result of our being educated to their ways, it will be forgetten and useless. Far more important is that we act and do what we need to do together with the utmost respect for our Elders and each other, becuase it is for our children. They, more than anything else, are the hope we have for us to thrive as Inupiaq. No one else but us can and should do the task. And we must, because our children learn from us not only by how we say things to them, but also by our actions. In many ways, our children are much more intelligent than what we have been led to believe by western educational systems, which has little faith in children’s and different minorities’ intelligence. 


The re-awakening of the value of our Elders has caught our Inupiaq people unprepared and unsure how to proceed with returning them to their rightful place as our traditional teachers. In the past, we have grown up being taught to ridicule our Inupiaq identity as well as the teachings of our Elders. This resulted in the intentional devaluation and shame of our Inupiaq society by the BIA and religious intervention by stripping away our traditional spiritual roots for the last one hundred years. Today, as the descendants of what’s left of our Inupiaq way of life, we are now at a crossroad as to where to go next. Along with the devaluation of ourselves, we are struggling with issues of dependence upon the “white ways” that predominate our current chaotic state of social order. The choice, rather bluntly, is to continue to do little or nothing, or to “get over it” and do something positive to contribute to the restoration of our Inupiaq way of life. We can only save ourselves if we strongly feel that we make important what we believe. It is up to us to instill those values, whatever they are determined to be, to regain the spiritual strength in ourselves, our children, our families and our Tribe. 


As human beings with human rights as Inupiaq, we need to know what we have as “Inupiaq Treasures” (all that is good and healthy for us) on a social, intellectual and spiritual sense, as well as to know what those human rights are. That is why the Elders are so important. For the most part, they have the valuable life experiences and “have been there and done that” yet we intentionally ignore their wisdom because we have been taught to do so. It is no small wonder that they have been made to feel ashamed of what they know, so much so that they pass away without teaching and leaving the legacy of their wisdom. Therein lies the task. We need to do what needs to be done to unravel the past so that we can restore their confidence to share the wisdom they have. 


In a historical perspective, we are the remnants of a society that has endured innumerable hardships. Yet we still have the basic good habits of our ancestry, such as the will to survive amongst social chaos along with the prolific abuse of drugs, alcohol and other bad things which we are now and have experienced. The end result is the spiritual deprivation and social insecurity caused by the negative aftereffects we know too well. Unfortunately, some of us think that these are ends to themselves, and treat such issues with detached sincerity coupled with an attitude of non-commitment and apathy to the well being of our Inupiaq identity as a whole. Then we expect someone else to fix the problem. 


At some point in our history, we must change our way of thinking and stop treating ourselves as victims, and begin the process of thinking of ourselves and participants to whatever change we can agree. Physical health is important but so is spiritual health. Social inner peace can only come if we take the time to teach ourselves, our children and our grandchildren with the wisdom of our Elders. Even those Elders who have personalities that tend to “turn us off” have knowledge that is valuable, and ways must be found to approach them so that they can contribute to the well being of our efforts to survive. 


It is important to emphasize that we can promote positive change individually for the capacity to change collectively. While the American systems of social order are based on democratic principles of individuality and its inherent selfishness, we need to know that, as Inupiaq People, we have the human right to our Inupiaq identity. This is family, extended family, and tribe, we we value as “communal.” Our traditional Inupiaq way of life was and could still be communal in nature. Despite the stigma of what the non-native American nation thinks of communal lifeways*, using inaccurately defined words such as communism (considered an enemy of democracy) is stupid and tragic at the same time. While we understand the concepts of democracy and individual rights, communities should also have rights, to maintain their values and social well-being that are needed in their villages. It is important to understand that individuality unto itself contributes to individual greed. Traditional Inupiaq systems of social behavior had ways of dealing with individual wealth. Honoring the giver of wisdom, foods and clothing was a way of life which contributed to the communities and their social order which ensured the survival as a group. 


The reality is that communal life was the way of life of past centuries contributed to a reasonably happy although sometimes difficult Inupiaq existence. We have the human right to be proud of who we are and what makes us who we are, despite enormous pressure to be assimilated into western society. Since we now know that we do not fit into totally “antiseptic” western ways, this is a grave cause for concern since this has resulted in “social uncertainty” to how we function as individuals, as a family and as a society. This triggers community spiritual and social unrest, a community lack of confidence, and all the social ills that accompany a dysfunctional community on an unprecedented scale. This is, in reality, a on-going evolution of the destruction of families, extended and otherwise, that we are talking about. Ultimately, this will result in the total elimination of our Inupiaq people if we continue to do nothing to contribute to our well-being and purpose to exist as Inupiaq. 


The tragic result of the western world’s misunderstanding of our Inupiaq society are policies and governmental programs and rules and regulations that continue to force-fit our past social structure into one that cannot last, since the outcome is not the desired result of either our Inupiaq cultural ways or the western way of life. It makes one wonder why we continue on this dangerous and terminal path. 


Obviously, over generations, the power of education and who controls it, which is the hope of the future of our way of life of our people, has been taken away, and is now the product of the dominant western ways. Assuming we all can agree that education is of primary importance to even begin to fix our problems on our own terms, we must take the time to find ways that fit for today’s educational needs, and blend both our Inupiaq way of life and the western world in which we must excel. To do anything less will be to admit defeat and have our social situation continue on its path of continued destruction. We, in fact, are awash in ethnic cleansing. This has happened to Alaska’s Native people since the early 1900’s and continues today. It may well be said that since institutions like the BIA that intentionally helped us disrespect our identity and values have long since gone, we have done a better job of contributing to our own demise since they left. Do we have the courage to admit that this is true, and ask why? And even more important, what are doing about it?


We have the human right to peace. Despite what we have evolved into for the past one hundred years or so, our past spiritual and cultural ways of getting along respectfully with ourselves and others need a lot of restoration in life today. While giving the appearance of being rather simple values, they are the key elements of our path to a peaceful and harmonious family and communities. The comprehensions of spirituality, respect and Inupiaq worth that can contribute to a healthy community must be taught. Uses of wholistic* respect along with the individual and community commitment is understood to be both physical and spiritual. We must also relearn who and what we are, and encourage the task to come to agreement for what we envision as the solution either in whole or in stages. 


Without our Elders, and the knowledge of social order and spiritual harmony they possess, we cannot correct the path of where we are heading today. In simple language, we must know where we have been in order to know where we must go. 


*lifeways is used instead of “lifestyle” which suggests a casual choice which does not exist in this context 

*wholistic (holistic) is intentionally spelled this way to avoid a religious misinterpretation 


A sign of a true Elder is the powerful peace they bring. 




What it should be and why it’s important 


Respect is the cornerstone of what we were and are now. If we are to return to our true identity, it is impossible without the restoration of wholistic respect, in the Inupiaq world of view. It cannot be emphasized enough how important respect is. In the world today, wholistic respect for fellow humanity has diminished to a point of causing global insecurity, which results in the spiritual and social dysfunctional failures of nations, countries, cities and villages. Tribes, families and individuals, and in our case, our Inupiaq being is affected as well. It could be reasoned that respect, or the lack of it in an individual person, will reveal itself in a family, tribe and nation. It also reveals a disconnection from physical and spiritual teachings that taught respect and the need for it in the first place. 


With the diminishing of spiritual strength is the potential combination of arrogance and ignorance, which are defined as the twins of evil. When they prevail, it is difficult to reverse, especially when the negatives are generations old. 


We are fortunate, in most ways, to have a direct link to the success of our People in our Elders. In spite of the fact that we have been “civilized” by outside influences for the past one hundred years or so, there are still Elders who are knowledgeable about our past ways of family and social behavior and spiritual inner strength. The task we face is re-establishing the respect for the Elders knowledge, as well as to think of ways to restore the tribal appreciation for what they contribute to our sought-after harmony. 


In order to do so, it must be understood that the respect of Elders exists because they have earned respect. For those who think that respect can be demanded because they have reached an age where the role of Eldership is automatically given, traditionally, this is not so. If the traditional ways of Eldership is not followed, this situation presents another set of problems, such as hypocrisy, disrespect, and the inability to be a sincere contributor as an Elder. As a matter of fact, any village knows who their Elders are. 


As a cornerstone in any healthy existence, respect is an absolute necessity for future survival of Inupiaq. 


Quiet wisdom rings deep. 




An exercise in self awareness 


Since we as Inupiaq people are only a hundred year separated from our traditional hunting and gathering ways of life, those skills remain important to us. So, we try to pay attention to what happened to our ways of survival skills. Unfortunately, political happenings cannot be ignored, not to blame, but to understand. 


In researching the Alaskan Constitutional Convention proceedings in 1955-56, the sole reason for doing so was to try and find out how they handled the “Native Problem” during the course of their deliberations for Statehood. Of course, when you also know that of the 55 delegates elected to the Constitutional Convention, only one was an Alaskan Native, it could drive the desire to distract from the proceedings themselves into other instances of injustice towards Native Peoples from the time of the Western arrival here during the turn of the last century. 


When, during the course of the discussion of how to structure the fish and game management system for the new state, one delegate made the observation that “In England, a wild animal is inherently sovereign until reduced to possession.” Understanding the political environment of the days prior to statehood, and learning