Florence Francis Busch
anchorage | st. mary's
"Both my parents loved to dance. They danced polka and square dance. I grew up listening to country music: Conway Twitty, Patsy Kline, Hank Williams... We had one room when we lived in Pilot Station. When we moved to St. Mary’s we first stayed at a relative's house. Then we moved outside of St Mary’s: it was called Chinatown."
growing up catholic
So I grew up Catholic, but Pilot Station was half Catholic, half Russian Orthodox. ... I remember growing up thinking the nuns-- because they wore the habits, you know, the black habits, and the white cuff here, and the white bibs-- I remember I thought they weren't humans! I thought they didn’t use the bathroom. I thought that they didn't eat. I mean like, so naive! ... And I loved the Russian Orthodox, because their Christmases were so much more fun! As opposed to sitting in church for like two and a half hours or something, you know, listening to duhduhduhduh, and you’re just kind of like falling asleep, and of course it’s at midnight that you go to the church service... And the Russian Orthodox church, you got to go to people’s houses, with their starring and their singing; and after the praying and singing everybody would sit down, or stand, and have some little snack to eat; and they would give you a little gift, you know just something like socks or gloves or whatever. But they were like, awesome! We just loved it.
my yup'ik name
My Yup'ik name is Urran. And in my hometown, that’s what everyone calls me. Very few people ever call me Florence. So it’s awfully cool--I love it! You know, when I go home, people say, “Hey Urran, how are you? Good to see you.” I grew up with that Eskimo name first. I knew my name in English is Florence, but for some reason I like my Yup'ik name. And so I was that--and I still am, you know. And I have this little girl now who’s the daughter of my sister’s husband's son; she decided that she was going to be Urran! So she took my Eskimo name. And that normally doesn’t happen until someone dies, that the name is passed on. But I figured, okay, she’s four years old, five years old, and I’m like, "If you wanna be Urran, you’re Urran!" So when we see each other it’s like, “Hi Urran." And she goes, "Hi Urran” It’s so cute. It’s adorable!
family on the yukon delta
My parent’s names are Theresa Peterson and Edgar Francis. My mom grew up in Old Andreafsky, on the Yukon [River]. My dad was from Pilot Station. Their marriage was basically arranged. I think they both liked someone else, but because their parents had arranged that they would marry each other, they ended up getting married. The first, I don't know how many years, was pretty rough for them-- because they weren’t in love with each other. But as they got older ... you could see, uh, a respect, and a liking--which is really nice. We grew up very poor. We grew up in Pilot Station, which is just up the river from St. Mary’s. ... And we grew up fishing during the summer. And my dad had a dog team. And when we would race, my dad’s team always came in last. It was-- it was hilarious!
using power to hurt
I believe the church introduced Bingo to the villages. ... And they drank too, and they smoked. The priest that baptized me smoked; I think he was a chain smoker. His name was Father Fox; he's pretty well known. Um, but this other priest, [Jim] Poole, he was just a saint to everyone. He didn't smoke; he appeared not to drink. Um, later on it was found out that he drank. He abused women--children, basically. He used his power to hurt people, but telling them at the same time that they weren't doing anything bad. So that’s, that's tough. And even now what amazes me is the older people at St. Mary's, especially the women, they still are so devoted to the church. So devoted; it's amazing.
the priest everyone trusted
I guess my first encounter with white people was, uh, a priest. Who became a family friend of ours. And, turned out-- he was not the priest that everyone trusted, everyone loved. He was-- [my late husband] Tom always said he that thought that he was ... what’s that kind of person that just does things has no guilt? Yes, a sociopath. And my dad never really cared for him but he treated him with respect, because he was a priest. And at that time, you know, they were like gods basically. Everybody in the village did things for them. Like my mom would bake bread, and we would bring a fresh loaf of bread to him; somebody would catch moose or something, you know, cut a piece of meat. I mean, people were so generous to the priests.
What was it that caused the cultural activities to go away [in St. Mary's]? I believe it was caused by the church. ... The church brought a lot of good things; but they also, I think, kind of dampened the spirit of the culture that we grew up in, that our parents grew up in, and basically their grandparents. It didn't really feel that way when I was growing up, that anything was taken away from me, because I was learning to read and write. But it's after those years when you realize, "Oh my gosh..." You know? If it hadn't been for the church, or the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to start off with, I would still-- I could have still maintained my [Yup'ik] language. I can understand it a bit when I hear it, but I can't speak it fluently anymore. So that's a big, big shame. It was about losing a sense of pride.
recent POSITIVE CHANGES
[St. Mary's] is getting back to their culture, I think. Because when I go back home, the kids are participating in the Eskimo dances; they're participating in the drumming, and the singing. They're creating their own dances, which is just like, "Aah!" I'm so envious of that, because I would have loved to have grown up that way. I want to say it's [happening] all over Alaska. I think it's happening in Nome, too, where younger people are more active. In Bethel, there's an immersion school, where kids are being taught their Yup'ik language. And here [in Anchorage] too, there's a Yup'ik school.