Chomping at the bit

Maria de Chirikof
Posted November 3, 2009 from United States

There is a series of workshops meant to bridge the gap between Alaskan Native Youth and the Elders and the first one was "Kicking it with the Elders". A panel of 12 elders answered questions from a short list of topics the youth wanted to hear about. My daughters and I did not get to attend this due to my work schedule but we hope to make future ones.

In keeping alive our culture there are many things to be addressed and talked about and worked on. This really fascinated me since I was raised in Anchorage and am a 'big city girl' and have never lived in a village (My moms village is now a naval base though I have heard vague plans of acquiring it back someday). I raised my daughters to be and think as Native American Feminists and it is sometimes hard to read the things and customs that we would work to change somehow. It brings up many interesting questions for us as well as provides hope and encouragement to truly embrace our cultural heritage.

Here is an article about it that appears in an Alaskan paper: Young questions met with old wisdom

In reading this part: "One of their top concerns was preserving our language, culture and heritage," said Candace Moore of the group she helped facilitate. it helps us feel a connection with the rural youth since my daughters also feel this is a top concern. It was really interesting how they felt it was very hard to raise healthy youth under the shadow of both alcohol and suicide in their own lives. (You can read this one I wrote Interesting article about suicide rates in Indigenous culture in Greenland to get my take on it. But it was really interesting to read how they internalized their depression to help deal with all the horrors they were subjected to -namely becoming American and learning you were thought of as a worthless and primitive culture, though not in those words of course).

I know my mother had a very hard time dealing with all the things that happened to her and her village and did often drink to forget it all as much as possible. It is one thing that kind of really bugs me how alcoholism is something new introduced and not a traditional way of dealing with things yet it is viewed as a part of our culture and our heritage. It is so unfair and fills me with such anger! But it is a real problem now for many and we must face it honestly and openly as a whole to solve it and this workshop is one step toward that goal.

I invite you to read the whole article and let me know your views on it! One of my good friends on here said that letting my anger about it all show puts people off a bit but I don't want to lie and say there is no anger about it all. I would love to hear some suggestions for ways to discuss these things with other woman, especially the American ones on here, to help change things in a real way. It often bugs me when it seems to be that the whole American Indian "thing" is a done deal and can be forgotten. But my attempts to talk about it often show how angry it all makes me and I would rather express my goals of working together for solutions that are real and lasting. But to solve the problems they must first be addressed and understood, I think.

One thing about this article that really got to my girls was how it ended with talk of boys and men. They are working on ideas to help change this perception since we are believers that it is through the woman that lasting changes can be accomplished. I think it is because woman can think of the whole unit instead of the individuals and can then work toward things that need to happen instead of doing it in bits and pieces like usually happens.

It made me smile to read their description of the youths attending as "chomping at the bit" since that is often how I feel myself about it all...


Comments 3

Log in or register to post comments
  • Tina Garforth
    Nov 04, 2009
    Nov 04, 2009

    Dear Dear Maria, I have not read the article yet as I am pushed for time this morning, but I just had to respond right away when I read the words: :"that the whole American Indian thing is a done deal and can be forgotten." Gosh that made me feel so sad that you feel that! I don't believe that's true, and you don't either!

    The stereotypes you mention about indigenous Americans and alcoholism is not something I have come across before. Perhaps because I have come here to America from another country, I personally don't hold any negative perceptions about indigenous peoples I don't think. I do have stereotypes, but they are more reverential than negative. For instance, when I think of indigenous peoples I think of a resilient and determined people. I think of a people profoundly connected to nature and to spirit and I think of a people who have a lot to teach us westerners about a more sacred reverence for the everyday which we (as a western people) have largely tended to lose in pursuit of material safety.

    As for how to engage American women, you already are doing. Each story you write teaches us a little bit more. We are following your journey back to yourself and to your identity as both an American and Indigenous woman and overall as a mother. You speak about the injustices against your people and about the hope one day of returning to your mother's land; and I, for one, eagerly await the day you post your successes in that endeavour - or write a book about it!

    In the meantime, you already have an advocate, partner and avid supporter for your cause, in me. Keep it up Kisses Tina

  • Maria de Chirikof
    Nov 04, 2009
    Nov 04, 2009

    How is everything going? I came across an interesting article by a British guy from the University of Westminster. I was following links from Google searches to see where they would take me and found first this one:

    From War to Self-Determination A history of the Bureau of Indian Affairs by C.L.Henson

    And at the bottom of that page linked to this one: The Native American Peoples of The United States

    and it appears to have been written in 1990.

    I would love to hear your thoughts on it sometime... I would have skipped it before I met you and just thought "Oh God, another damn English person trying to sound compassionate and caring to counter the truth of what they do" but actually read it since you said most English people are actually caring people and it is not indifference but just not knowing about things... It is why I love this site though, where we do get to meet woman from all over and learn about them. I am thinking of writing a post about it sometime but probably not right away, one of those ones that will brew in the back of my mind until one night the words come...

    It was reading and following links about Leonard Peltier and seeing a site called "No Parole Peltier Association" and reading this little blurb:

    Correcting Wrongs of the Past Anyone who has even a basic understanding of the history and plight of Native Americans recognizes their terrible treatment at the hands of the U.S. Government. That history cannot be altered. Nothing can change the broken promises and treaties and subjugation of the first peoples to inhabit this continent.

    And always makes me want to ask "Umm, excuse me, but why can't we alter/correct it??!!" (I sometimes Google stuff just to see what the most popular hits for it are...) And how they try to make it sound as if it is some anonymous entity doing this... A mysterious and unknown "them" when the truth is that this is America and the people elect the representatives so by saying the "U.S. Government" is actually saying the people of America...And we can even see which group would most likely feel this way (flashes back to chants of "Drill, Baby, Drill")... It is not some nameless, faceless government doing this but a certain group of Americans. It wont change until the rest of the Americans who do not share their views actually vocally and politically support us that things will change though. And it is happening slowly and they say Patience is a virtue so...

    You know, my mom was actually born in Atka and I sometimes think of visiting or moving to that village except growing up she talked of "Attu" and not Atka as her home, her village so in my mind and heart I picture 'Attu' as my home, weird I guess...



  • Tina Garforth
    Nov 04, 2009
    Nov 04, 2009

    Those are some great links you've quoted there. One of the things I most noticed while reading these was the authors use of the term Native American. Since our discussions, I much prefer to use the term Indigenous American now instead! See the effect you are already having on me?!

    Here's the end of the first article again: "The tribes' relationship with the bureau is often described as a love/hate relationship. On the one hand, the bureau is the symbol of the tribes' special relationship with the federal government. On the other hand, tribes have suffered from bureau mismanagement, paternalism, and neglect. It is the hope and objective of many tribal peoples and government officials that tribes can enter into a more equal relationship with the bureau and that the bureau can truly function in an advisory capacity as opposed to dictating policy to tribes."

    I think there is a great hope presented here that tribal peoples and federal government may one day become equal partners in a shared community that respects and accepts the presence of the other. However I suspect this is only going to work if the trust is rebuilt between the bureau and the tribal peoples first. As this article stated, the mismanagement at the bureau and the abuse of power over the past century created a situation that added to the misery of the tribal peoples rather than serving, as it was intended, to somehow work to alleviate it. It's such a shame. But I am a big believer in hope and I am sure it is possible to heal and restore the relationship between these two communities to begin again, on an equal footing with each other. What do you think? Tina