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Leading By Example, in the 21st Century...

Alaska Native point of view on MULTI-CULTURALISM

The space between.... by Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson from Anaktuvuk Pass on Wednesday, September 29, 2010 at 12:55pm

Sometimes all it would take to stop a ton of heartache and trouble, is to make a tiny connection. A thin thread of strength between thought and action.
Between word and meaning.

I sit here this morning contemplating these disconnections, the places where there is a gap, small gaps that feel like deep chasms. Gaps that
create such pain that you would think someone would bridge it right

I have experienced this separation. It pried at my heart and marked it for life. I love teaching. The feeling you get when you did your job
right and that wave of understanding makes it's way across a child's
face is one of the most beautiful and humble thing I have ever seen.
But the Price was too high for me to pay, as I was almost swallowed by
this gap.

Our world is so young. So confused and malformed. On one side we have our Traditional life, and on the other we have the Other life. One is
filled with the soft song of our Elders, the other the marching tune of
Conformity. We hop back and forth. But no one has decided that they
should be no space between the two.

Some people say that it's impossible. That these two worlds are so different that they cannot be combined. But I say they that some people
need to stop limiting themselves, that believe it or not the world does
include other cultures, cultures that are successful. I envy the
Japanese because the people who do business with them bow and wear no
shoes. I envy the the Spanish their Siesta time. I envy that Maori
college in New Zealand for making all their non-native professors speak
the native tongue fluently. I envy the Greeks for having free college.
I envy other cultures for making Others adapt to the Original world.
Because it gives this Original world credence and value and worth.

Without that bridge I see so much damage being done. Today I saw a comment online made about how the only reason that most young Native people have
no jobs is because they are lazy drug addicts, that they lack in
anything that would make them successful human beings. This comment was
made by a young Native person. And I thought of all the people that I
knew that had no jobs or that struggled with keeping a job and then I
tried to figure out what would make this person say this comment. Where
did this judgment come from? Who created the list that would make a
person label others in this way? By what standard are they being

I could be considered one of those judged un-successful. By western standards I'm pretty useless. I don't have a full time job. I am an
artist that has never had any real important gallery showings. I've won
no awards. I don't make a huge amount of money. I was rejected for
every artist or business grant I ever applied for. I can't afford a
shiny new car or a dishwasher. I spend way too much time doing
"useless" things like camping and skin sewing and learning place names.
Things that no one would pay me for, so they have no real value in the
Western world.

Yet at the same time I am praised for some of the stuff I'm doing. Saving the Knowledge. Learning the Words. When I am and Elder, I will have
some knowledge to pass on to those that ask. The interesting part is
that when people ask me what I've been up to and I tell them what I am
learning, they usually ask if I'm getting a "real" job soon. As if what
I am doing is not worth much in this day and age. And I have to ask
why it's not worth much. And what actions would be needed to make it
worth something. How does one add something to this imaginary list?

And then I think about my husband. He works so hard to make the little amount of money we need. He gets up early. Takes his breaks and lunch.
Comes home and sheds the Western world from his skin. I wish these
companies would encourage his Inupiaq self. I wish so much for the man I
love. For the people I love. I wish that he could be praised for his
hunting skills like he is paid for his carpentry skills. That he could
receive certificates for what he knows about wolves and wolverine and
caribou, like the certificates he got for what he learned for Plumbing
and Electrical 1. I wish someone could bridge that gap I see in him,
that I see in all of us.

Yet even though our corporations and our world has Native leaders at the helm, it seems as if they believe the only way to be successful as a
people is to Conform. And that to me is a dangerous place to live,
hovering over this gap instead of bridging it.

I hope one day to be in a place where "work" wear is snow shirts and atigluuraqs, where the visiting lower 48 people come to us wearing our
traditional clothing. I hope to be in a place where we pay hunters to
take care of our Inupiaq bellies and keep the less fortunate full. I
hope to be in a place where the work day is based on paying people for
the job and not the hours, like in the Inupiaq world. I hope to one day
be proud of a place that pays employees more if they speak Inupiaq
fluently, and even pay in house tutors so that our businesses are
steeped in lore. I hope to love a place that recognizes that the
Inupiaq world is different, and to celebrate that difference instead of
trying to hide it. I
hope to be proud of a place where a young Inupiaq person will not call
another young Inupiaq person less.....because of some other worlds list.

I wish....wish... that this gap would disappear.

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Comment by Cindee Karns on December 2, 2010 at 1:24pm
Mark, as always, you have very important comments to share. The answer only lies in the hearts and minds of those who live in the villages ONLY if they can keep enough self-worth to realize that diversity makes us stronger and not to succumb to the pressure of the dominant culture.
Comment by Mark J Biberg on December 2, 2010 at 12:54pm
I thought of this entry as I was reading about the “listening session” that is taking place in different places around Alaska. I spend 8 years in rural Alaska (Mt Village, Kotlik, and Tuluksak) and saw these challenges first hand. There is no simple answers and the history of the last 100 years needs to be understood. but I am certain that road to a better place lies in the hearts and minds of those who live in our rual villages.

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