NOME | KING ISLAND
"What I found interesting is the word 'culture,' in itself. What it means to you and what it means to me might be different things. ... We have a whole different meaning of the word 'culture': the way we live. And because we’re not compartmentalized, it’s always a circle, it’s always holistic. Even our numbering system, the number 20 is 'inuinnaq,' which means 'the whole thing': all your fingers and toes. So it all has to do with your whole being. Your whole self. ... Which is so different from the Lower 48 folks that come in with their 'culture,' which is a different thing."
Communication in contemporary schooling
[As a present-day educator,] I wanted the [incoming] teachers [from out of state] to know some of our non-verbal communication. A raise of the eyebrows means ,"Yes." So we did a question where people could answer, "yes"--and then "no," of course, is a crinkle of our nose. We don't shake our head, we do this. [Crinkles nose.] And then using your head for [pointing in a] general direction. Just those three. Cause we have others! So we developed the questions [for this new teacher workshop]. And usually, you know, when it's a room full of non-Native people, they sound like birds in the room. Everybody's talking. And if it's a room full of Native people, it's very quiet. And that was the first time I was in a room full of non-Native people, quiet. Because they had to answer non-verbally!
Inupiaq ways of knowing
Part of knowing our language as a first language-- it’s observation. We have to know how to observe, you know; for hunters, they’ve got to know the weather, they’ve got to be able to know when is bad weather coming. And then, women with childbirth, they have all these rules they have to follow so they can have a good pregnancy and childbirth. And that in and of itself, a lot of it, is observation. Our language requires observation. ... If you're raised in a language, you'll know it by watching, and observing, and how things are supposed to be done. And you're not being talked to directly to know. It's your responsibility to watch, and observe, and learn what goes on. And that's how you learn. That's our learning style: is to be quiet and watch and learn. Which is so opposite to the Western way of learning. We're never trying to be first, because that's against our cultural values. Shouting, "I know, I know it!" For us, that's obtrusive.
colonization & Reconciliation
[I serve on the Alaska Native Language Preservation Advisory Council.] I think, from our first recommendations: one of them is, reconciliation, healing for our people. Because the older generations-- when Alaska became part of the States--they were suppressed, they were pretty much trying to wipe them out of being Native people, knowing their language and all that. So that was, you know, wiped out: their religions and dancing was no longer there. So there's that whole generation. That happened to them: punished in school for speaking their Native languages. I was too chicken to say anything when I was growing up, so I was never punished; but others, their mouth was washed out with soap. And soap stings! I've eaten food with soapy dishes; it's no good! So this year, one of the recommendations we made was that the state needs to put out an official apology to those people that were punished, [forced] not to speak their language in the schools. Even if it's a symbolic [gesture], you know? They need to hear that.
i'm forever in a postcard
I was born and raised in Nome, because by that time-- 1955-- the King Islanders were being forced to move to Nome [by the federal government]. So I was raised here in Nome. ... My mother would never even go into the [Nome] school building, because she didn’t speak English. She didn’t want to go to the hospital because-- all her other babies were were born on King Island but me. She never wanted to go anywhere where her language wasn’t spoken. So I was born on the East End of Nome with two midwives, and my uncle who was a tribal leader at the time. Cause she didn’t know how to speak English, and communicating with doctors. And then the other [memory] was that she never wanted to go in the school building, because she didn’t speak English. So she walked me from East End to the school in town, but wouldn’t go in. She watched me go in. So, because part of our Inupiaq way is, you know, you hold a person’s hand, and you walk with them. But we have a word--specific--where you stay until your destination, you reach it. You stay and watch until your destination-- you get to your destination. And you look back and she’s still there. And my grandmother did that. So there’s that reassurance, you know: you’re not alone even though you have to go by yourself. And so, there is that experience. And [other memories of] newcomers ... King Island dancers! We danced for the tourists growing up. And, while I was growing up and listening to my uncle being the emcee in English, I memorized all his words. All the stories to the dances, all the motions to the dances. Because we did that, every night. We’d go find a house [in Nome] with little babies in our pack, because they took our pictures and gave us coins. I’m on a postcard-- I have a postcard at home of that: me and my cousin packing babies. ... The first postcard I saw was in Whitehorse. It was my first time out of Alaska, on a bus to California, I think. But we stopped in Whitehorse, and I was looking for something to send home, and I saw the postcard of me and my cousin when I was ten years old. And then on the back it said, Little Canadian children of the Arctic taking care of their brothers and sisters. ... And I couldn't believe it. My sister-- she had it on her wall all those years. ... My friend and I went to a lawyer's office in Seattle, [but] there's nothing that could be done. So I'm forever in a postcard! ... I don't even think about it now-- cause there's more to life than a little postcard! Raising a family, and, you know.