Della Waghiyi
Retired pastor, Alaska Missionary Conference
Siberian Yupik

There is an understanding where one lives in good relationship with the Creator and in good relationship with two-leggeds. There is not in traditional belief an understanding that humankind is the ultimate in the Creator¡¯s world. That¡¯s an important understanding in knowing that one has place. And when you know you have place, then you know that everything around you has connection, including yourself. It is sacred because all that the Creator gives has sacredness. So there is a responsibility¡¦to share ourselves with the world around us ¡¦ and to show gratitude for those things to the Creator.

I think that some of the specific challenges of the Native people relate to our geography...in the lower 48 states. Certainly one is the continuance of culture. Most of our villages do not have roads. That has come to protect us to some degree,...but it has also isolated us and sometimes keeps us from having our needs met.

The ability to hunt, fish and gather berries sustained our grandparents and parents for food. Subsistence rights, the ability to hunt and fish today, is a major issue for Native people because there are many conflicts: tourism, commercial fishing, sport fisherman and hunters who pay large fees to come to Alaska, and in some areas, may jeopardize the amount of subsistence food available to Native people¡¦. One wants everyone to enjoy ...but huge amounts are taken [in sports fishing]. The sum total of Native subsistence fishing takes less than 4 percent. It¡¯s hard to deplete resources when hunting for food in the traditional and sacred manner. The need and the ability to sustain yourself is the importance of keeping our villages alive. When subsistence dies, that kind of movement, culture and language will disappear.

Native languages are disappearing at a rate of 20 a year. ¡¦ We try to preserve those languages...and those types of things. It is important to still live our lives as Native peoples wherever we find ourselves. It is important to support things that are associated with our people, even if we are not participating in those things directly. It¡¯s difficult when you are removed...and you¡¯re relocated and you don¡¯t have that connection to the space. Keep those things alive by storytelling... and finding opportunities to continue those things.

I think an important part of understanding the values of culture is to realize that the larger part of our country is an amalgam of cultures. ¡¦ Cultures are not less than because they are not participated in by the broader culture. It¡¯s difficult to communicate to people who don¡¯t participate in your culture that you have a culture that¡¦ may in fact offer outs for some of the problems we face [as a nation].

You may be in a board meeting in Anchorage or Los Angeles, [but] the way you work in a group is different...[you] defer to elders. The values you place in your personal life -- when you come home, the fact that your family may come first; that prayer is a way of life in everything you do. It is different, but it is not a less than culture. It is very different for Native people in an urban setting to continue those traditions, but it is not difficult.

As a Native person, so much of the time you are required to compromise the way you believe and the way you live, to the point where people expect you to make all the adjustments...the things that make you...a spiritual person. It is a compliment when people ask you... ¡°What is the meaning of your dance?¡± It gives you a chance to say, ¡°This is the soul.¡± These are the things that make us beautiful. We have a custom of giving away¡¦not only our belongings, it's not important what we possess - ...[but the] essential self [to] ...live in relationship with each other.

 

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