Arctic Voices

Arctic Gardens Ebook - Chapter Six: This I Believe

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I want to be sure that your readers understand that my life is very interesting, and I have a lot to live for in this community. This is where and how I want to live. It’s pretty hard to live here at the cost of everything. But there is no price tag on my life. I want to live as free as I can subsistence-wise, and I want to keep my people and our tradition going. -Thomas Napageak, Kupa, of Nuiqsut, Alaska

Chapter Six: This I believe

This concluding chapter reprises the issues of the previous five chapters. What are the common threads, both for voices in the same chapter, as well as between voices crossing chapter lines? Clearly, this area of the Arctic is a complex place, and our ability to understand it depends on our careful listening to its many voices.

Daniel Quinn, in his now classic book, Ishmael, asks the reader to accept that a gorilla (Ishmael) can communicate with humans-in the book’s case, a person known simply as “the pupil.” The all-knowledgeable Ishmael leads the pupil through an in-depth, highly critical examination of humanity and explains how humans have set themselves apart from all other living things. The pupil comes kicking and screaming into the realization that humans need to change their ways and remember that they are indeed not gods who decide what species will live and die in order to make things easier for themselves. The pupil, at the very end of the book, asks Ishmael a leading but as yet unanswered question. “What do I do if I earnestly desire to save the world?”

The wise Ishmael gives the pupil a program to do just that. First, he says modern humans need to stop killing the people who have for thousands of years lived close to the land. Secondly, we must stop playing god, thus stop making decisions of who should live and who should die. And finally, we must each teach a hundred what we have learned.

This Quinn classic in essence makes our case for us, the authors of this book. We must listen closely and carefully to what few voices are left that live as a part of nature. If we do not do this, and we eradicate these highly knowledgeable peoples, we do so to our own detriment.

The Wisdom of the People of Two Worlds: Chapters Two and Three

At first, we conceived of Chapters Two and Three, the Gwich’in caribou people and the Inupiat and Inuvialuit whalers, as perhaps having different views of the world, and perhaps different common threads. Counter to our own naivete, the common threads were essentially the same. Thus we found that the place of reverence of the caribou and the whale, each the charismatic representative of the very lifeline of the people, were in many ways, almost identical. Not surprisingly, the one Inupiat group which had caribou at its center, the people of Anaktuvuk Pass, Alaska, were in some ways more like Gwich’in than Inupiat.

The Inupiat, the Inuvialuit and the Gwich’in people of the Alaskan and adjacent Canadian Arctic probably come as close to living their original lifestyle as any Native people in North America. Their close connection to the land is amazing to anyone visiting or reading about the area for the first time. Whether it’s the caribou or the whale, there’s an unquestioned connection that most Americans and Canadians from down South have difficulty understanding.

On the other hand, these Native people, with the help in some cases of their friends from the South, have adopted and adapted to many of the ways of those friends. Snowmobiles, four-wheelers, trucks, air travel, high-powered rifles, and motor boats are some of the main items that have become a prominent part of the Native tool kit. Satellite television and all the related means of entertainment and communication including computers are present in every village.

Education is two-pronged. While many villages have K–12 (or at least K–9) educational offerings similar to those in the South, there is a constant and very healthy concern with integrating traditional knowledge of the land into the curriculum. And if the Native student is to go beyond high school, Whitehorse, Fairbanks and other, more southern cities are in the cards. For those who choose to go or must have a part of their education in the South, there is an ability to move back and forth between the two.

Mixing and matching two worlds of education and life

Gwich’in Glenna Tetlichi spent her first 15 years in Old Crow, Yukon, and learned the traditional Gwich’in ways. Her dad was the skilled hunter, Donald Frost, who provided well for his family. At age 15, Glenna had to leave Old Crow, which provides only grades one through nine. She moved to Whitehorse to attend high school. She found the transition very difficult, as she went from the top of her class in Old Crow to near the bottom in Whitehorse. But she survived and more.

She stayed in the South for a total of 20 years, only coming back to Old Crow on holidays and certain critical times for family obligations. But she knew that she would get “that call to come home.” Glenna got married, and her husband Joe and she had two boys. From 1996 to 2008, they lived in Old Crow. The boys were taught by Joe the art of hunting and fishing. Glenna says,

“Actually, they (the boys) enjoy it all very much.... Sometimes, we will have to take them out of the classroom for a day or so to get that out of our 12-yearold’s system. It’s very hard to strike a balance between school and bush, especially during caribou season.”

In 2008, they moved to Whitehorse so that their boys would be able to start Whitehorse schools and still be with their parents.

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