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
GENERAL OVERVIEW OF CURRENT CONDITIONS
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.
IDENTITY AND ITS’ POWER
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 from that to today’s application, if we change “wild animals” to “Native People,” it could create some debate as to if we have been “reduced to possession.” From our point of view, we can relate to our experiences the damage that has been caused by the latter assumption. If indeed we have been reduced to possession, then we must examine what happened to us during the course of “ethnic cleansing” that has happened for the last one hundred years or so. The important point to make is the attempt to strip us as Inupiaq People of our inherent identity, and in fact has created a silent situation of “identity crisis” that we need to recognize for what it is, since the effects are far reaching in the results of our current spiritual and social condition. What must also be understood is that this exercise is not intended to lay blame to feel again as victims, but to teach us what we must know to educate ourselves out of our identity problem by those knowledgeable amongst us and our own terms. The start of Nikaitchuat Ilisagviat and the teaching of the little ones of knowing who they are, as well as to instill in them Inupiaq pride is only a beginning, and we will see the outcome of their success as human beings now and years “down the road.” It is the responsibility of the Inupiaq community to make welcome any effort to be Inupiaq.
If we do declare that our Inupiaq heritage is important enough to stand up for, then we should be well on our way in healing ourselves with an intrinsic commitment to restore all that is good within our Inupiaq ways as tools for the future survival of our Inupiaq people. It is as simple as that. Race, as an identifier of our Inupiaq ancestry, should not be construed as the western world connotes it - as an evil thing. We have the human right to identify ourselves as Inupiaq, and we have the human right to protect our inherited identity. Anything short of doing so is to give away a part of who we are, and we have done enough of that!
A valuable exercise to try is to ask your loved ones the question - “Who are you?” and “Who do you belong to?” The resulting conversation should be interesting, since it will reveal either some knowledge of their thoughts on who they are, or at least generate some curiosity to talk about identity within the extended family. Simply put, the family is the center of teaching, where it should be respected as such. Are we willing to continue to give this responsibility to someone else?
To exist as free people, we cannot enslave ourselves with ignorance.
Being afraid or courageous
While growing up, we were told of what to be afraid of, and our little heads were wild with whatever imaginations happened as a result of being conditioned to know fear. For some, we were told that when we were out in winter and the Northern lights were bright and beautiful, when we whistled, they would turn red and that our heads were going to be cut off. This was probably a good fear to have, since in the old days, we did not have curfews, so that when we were supposed to be home to rest up for school, that was a way to get us home. Another fear, and not so good, was being taught to fear dogs and other animals. In the old days, dogs were very mean, and would think nothing of biting anyone they did not know or who might have teased them. Unfortunately, when children were taught to be afraid without explaining or fear was used to discipline them, this kind of fear stayed and even grew with the child. We can all relate to these kinds of fear.
There is, however, another realm of fear that needs to be understood to try to overcome. This fear is uncertainty, and an absence of confidence, spiritual and otherwise. On the surface, it looks simple. But looks are deceiving, and this fear has grown much deeper than people realize. As a matter of fact, fear is used by some people to convince them to do what they would not normally do. Whether it’s politics, religion or social issues that are used, in the absense of spiritual strength, fear will rule, so to speak. When we speak about spiritual fear, some examples are fear of death, fear of others different than ourselves, or simply fear of truth. Before we go any further, it is important to understand that to be spiritual, we need not be religious.
If the good of the past is to be understood and used to improve ourselves, we must come to terms with the past religious and spiritual practices to better understand our ancestors. Topics such as shamanism, traditional spirituality, and religious ways should be encouraged. It must also be understood that not all shamans were bad, and that we must get over the brainwashing of ourselves to become whole people again, and in order to do so, we must become educated about those ways of life. I, like everyone else, would not welcome anything bad upon ourselves, while we understand that there were both good and bad shamans, just like there are good and bad human beings. This kind of fear could be because of ignorance, or if felt by those who would have nothing to do with this kind of teaching, there should be reciprocal respect for those with differences and leave it at that. It will take a healthy dose of truth to even begin to overcome the fear that prevents progress.
THE ROLES OF OUR INUPIAQ PEOPLE
Within the realm of social, spiritual and personal chaos, the lack of clarity of purpose causes more of the same. In order to have a society restore itself to spiritual peace and harmony, all members of the Inupiaq society must contribute not only with clarity of purpose, but the total commitment to positive change. In the life experience of what we have had to deal with in the last 200 years, it is abundantly clear that what is happening now is not acceptable. In the sequence of what it is we must do, the distractions of physical and material existence must not deter us from the real problem which everything else stems from. It is not meant that they should not exist- it only means that we should agree to have our priorities permanently straight.
We must agree that the core problem is spiritual.
For those with a religious objection, it is an issue that they must learn to separate contemporary religion from traditional spirituality.
We must agree that our Inupiaq identity stems from a spiritual core into other identity issues such as language customs, traditional skills, and our social behavior. Why not work to become a social model that works?
If we could come to agree that spirituality is where to start, then the roles can become clear.
First, the role of Elders is to be the keepers of the peace and harmony of our Inupiaq spiritual and physical selves, as well as the Inupiaq intellectual capacity. Then we work to find ways to improve our identity issues, such as reuse of our language, and the spiritual strength to restore social order.
Second, the roles of parents is to commit to the use of Inupiaq language and lifeways in the home, and to contirbute to the success of Eldership by learnin
g from those who know regardless of age. In this way, self esteem will mean something to the intrinsic spirit.
Third, we must find ways to improve the spiritual growth of ourselves for the good of our children. It would be up to individual families to better support the ways of our extended family, as it is the core of our Tribal identity and existence. It will require taking our educational tasks back from materialistic to traditional spiritual core values.
Fourth, we must understand that as a distinct Inupiaq People, we have the right to practice our ways. To do this, we must restore the good ways of the past, such as the passage of youth to manhood and womanhood, the traditional gatherings to convey our wisdom, and all other ways of our Inupiaq being, including who we elect to help govern ourselves, with the commitment to excel in all aspects of whatever it is we commit to.
When we are able to celebrate the good in life, this adds to the unity of our Inupiaq identity. Social activities important to identity is what must be done regularly to reinforce traditional activities such as dancing, feasting, and the revival of the Qatiigi.
What we do not understand, we should not judge.
WHAT NEEDS TO GET DONE
This paper is a very simple attempt at possible solutions for a very complex set of problems that are generations deep, and will likely take generations to fix, if at all. It requires families with guidance from their Elders they respect to talk about what needs to get done, because every family must commit to changes within themselves to effect outcomes healthy for them as indviduals, as traditional extended family, and as Tribe. As Inupiaq People, it is the spiritual strength to our survival we must talk about. Then, we get busy on doing what it takes to get things done. No one else is going to do it for us, because we won’t accept any other way. At some point, we must quit talking and start doing. We must practice what we preach.
We must also state what our values will be. As well as the Inupiat Ilitqusiat values, we must establish community values as well. This will give direction and a vision of what we want to be, instead of becoming something not of our choosing. If the Elders and their communities accept that peace and harmony is important and the only way of life that is acceptable, then it is a lot of work that must be taken on by all.
The opportunity has presented itself, as we are well aware of the risk of the loss of our Inupiaq identity. Now, we must deal with issues of dependencies, from materialistic selfishness to the expectation of someone else dealing with problems that belong to us, and by taking the responsibility of doing the saving of a valuable way of life by all contributing in a positive way to whatever it is we agree is the issue and the solution. All it takes is the commitment of every Inupiaq to contribute. Then, we can look forward as being a whole People again. We will have tried.
The opposite of love is not hate, but indifference.