Inupiaq

IMG_1637IMG_1695IMG_1909IMG_2272IMG_2273IMG_3380I grew up being called an Eskimo and guess what? It has never bothered me not once. This is not a derogatory term, it simply means “eater of raw meat.” I eat muktuk, which is the part of the whale skin and blubber, raw. We also eat quaq, which is thinly sliced frozen fish. We dip that in seal oil, which is seal blubber rendered into a clear oil. I am Eskimo, but I prefer Inupiaq as it is more identifiable to where I am from, Unalakleet. The sod houses on our beach date between 200 B.C. And 300 A.D. A lot of people move to Unalakleet but my mother’s side is originally from the area, unlike  a lot of families who do not originate from there. I loved growing up at fish camp, my mom would tell us oral legends and all these were passed down through the generations. One of my favorite is of the link between Orcas and Wolves. Long ago they would say when a wolf was near death they went into to ocean to transform to the killer whale, and vice versa. Mainly the point of that legend from my understanding is that a pack of wolves are so similar to a pod of orcas. We do not hunt killer whales. Our area hunts beluga whale and our family trades other Native food for bowhead whale from more up north villages. When I was growing up a fresh gallon of milk was five to seven dollars and I’m sure the price went up. It is too expensive to only rely on modern grocery stores, so we live a subsistence lifestyle. Most of my vivid nightmares, starting from a very young age, are of catastrophic events happening in the village I grew up in. I still live in Alaska but not in Unalakleet. I am Inupiaq, but we are all people and when people come together for a common cause, it’s pretty awesome. Love and be love.

 

There is no Honor in a Medal.

We rise, we stand in unison, we Indigenous. Our Creator will hear our war cries, to use Him against us is the work of the evil one. Actions speak louder than words and a word is just that, words. We act on love for there is no other way. -Tuvramu

Stuck up a canal without a paddle.

I was leading a sinful life, drinking to subside a inner pain of not having my sons with me. My sister and her boyfriend and my cousin and her boyfriend and myself went up the Unalakleet river. We were drinking and I jumped into the cold river. My cousin jumped in as well and we both warmed up and got ready to go back to Unalakleet. We were all drunk but I was very inebriated. We made it back to the slough and I tasked myself to carry my cousins boyfriends gun, he was also my classmate growing up. Everyone started walking back to the old house that my mom grew up in. We lived there after my cousin kicked us out of his mother’s house after my mom drunkenly balled out my Gram about her son who hurt children. Anyway I turned around back to the river and saw my cousin Jack who we call bumpy and Eddie Man who is my good friends dad. They were going bird hunting so I said I would go with them. I didn’t tell anyone I just hopped in their boat and followed them, we call that maliq- to follow. We were half way in between Unalakleet and the village south of us of St. Michael when I started to sober up. I snapped out of my drunkenness and then they told me we were going to canal. I had never been there so I was happy and excited. It was only going to be a day trip so I wasn’t worried about having no diguaq or what we call snacks for hunting or gathering. The boat ride was beautiful and it was years since I had traveled in the ocean. We traveled the ocean a lot growing up to gather eggs of birds and fish, herring eggs laid on kelp. We were approaching the village of St. Micheal and the closer we got to the shore the closer an armed State Trooper with an AK-47 came to us. We landed at the beach and he said we were in the line of sight of a shooter who was holding himself hostage in a home. We went to buy some smoke for our trip. It had been years and years since I was in St. Micheal. My fathers family had lived there but moved to Unalakleet after my Grandpa got kicked out of the village for misconduct. A disease and sickness passed on from father to son and the only way to heal is through Jesus. So we took off for the bird hunting grounds and Eddie man was driving his ocean boat and being sure to stay in the channel. Then when we almost made it passed all the dangers of the big rocks in the ocean it happened, we hit a rock. The lower unit on his engine went out. Only reverse worked so we had to go in reverse to the nearest land which was on the St. Micheal side of the canal. We were stuck, no way could we drive in reverse in the ocean. So we got ready to go hunt some birds. My brother Axel took me bird hunting once when we were very young and I caught three ducks. The gun I “borrowed” from my classmate was a bear gun so I couldn’t use it. They had an extra shot gun I was able to use. The first bird caught was a crane Eddie Man dropped, I watched it fall and knew the area where it was hiding. I showed him where to go find it. The crane was still alive and had some fight in it. It was amazing the stance and fierceness of the crane. The mighty hunter Eddie Man was not afraid, I was. He drop kicked the crane missed the first kick then the crane extended its wings and tried to beak him. He was wearing bunny boots which are heavy winter boots and the second kick was a drop kick to the head of the crane. It was out cold and would make a good meal for his mom. Then they were going to go sneak some birds and my cousin Bumpy, who was the first and only wrestler out of Unalakleet to win a State Wrestling Championship, he caught a goose. I caught nothing and I was hunting wrong. The 12-gauge rifle I was using wouldn’t work for the long shots I was shooting for. I didn’t want to sneak any birds so I picked some berries and ate them. We came back to the boat and the twin volcanoes were amazing to me, beautiful country I was so thankful to be a tag along. The first night we were stranded and hungry, we ate the goose my cousin caught. There was only one Monster energy drink and one vitamin water that they took along and the water all around us was salty so we picked berries to quench our thirst and shared the drinks equally. That night by the fire we slept on burlap and had just enough burlap to cover us. I got to stay in the middle and we were all near the fire. There were two white owls spooking me out and Eddie Man said to not be afraid they were just hunting mice. So I wasn’t afraid. The next day we waved down a small river boat. They were on their way hunting and we wished them luck and said we would get help eventually. The villages located on this small island have a reindeer herd, which are domesticated caribou, and we got to watch them run, I was impressed. We didn’t catch anything that day but we were in the wrong hunting area. We had to spend another night by the fire. We were getting dehydrated and I knew we had to go home somehow. I prayed for God to let us go home and that third day we were able to get a tow to St. Michael and catch a ride home from a group of hunters from our village. Now, I make a diguaq for even the shortest of trips. I made it home just before my mom was going to file a missing persons report. I was missing for two days and no one had a clue where I was. I was on the hunting trip of a lifetime with two awesome hunters. My mom said I looked like a wild woods woman and I believed her. I drank water which is something I haven’t ever liked drinking until that day, I was so thankful for water. I still am. The man holding himself hostage turned himself in and that ended peacefully, something I prayed about while we were bird hunting. You just can’t beat some hunting stories and we would have survived another week if we had to because we have the know how. That know how needs to be passed down and that is what I pass down to my children. God is good.

Unalakleet, Alaska and the great Awakening

IMG_1636Way up in the Northern regions of Alaska is a small Inupiaq and Yu’pik community of Unalakleet. Growing up I was told the meaning of our town is “where the east wind blows.” Our community has been a hub for surrounding villages for a long time. A major trading village in the days of old. The old town site is historical and my mom took me there once, fascinating to imagine old sod houses where the ditches in the earth are now covered with tundra. We did not disturb the old home sites just carefully picking cranberries around the area. The village can be a good thing or a bad thing and I’m hoping to shed light on some of the dangers of living in such a small, isolated community. Most of all to portray the goodness.

The village of Unalakleet is nestled in a valley at the drainage of the Unalakleet River where it meets the Bering Sea. Growing up the road to the hillside was along the airport road which aligns with the beach. This was after the old bridge was gone and before the new bridge was built on the Gwethluq slough. The dike separating the slough from the two lakes in the village was man made but built to help with flooding. This is a sand spit and eventually the village will have to relocate, something those who are capable are already doing by building homes up on the hillside. There used to be the old army hill where there were run down buildings from an old army base. A road travels 11 miles parallel on the left side of the river and ends at the old White Alice site. There used to be three towers there and the view from our cabin growing up allowed us to watch first hand the explosions that tore the towers down. The land used to be riddled and may still be today with PCBs. Our land will heal as our people are continually healing as we strive for a better future for our children.

Our Native Corporation store was once a larger scale operation than what it is today. The Post Office is now located in the old store building. The post office used to be near the Alaska Commercial Company store that is located “downtown” or at the point of town where the mouth of the river is located. Along with the fish plant and Brown’s lodge. Once in it’s hay day of civilizing our culture there was a boarding school for students called Covenant High. In the middle area of town there is “the Igloo” a snack shop and hangout for locals.

Growing up we had Bill’s video, that was a VHS rental in Bill’s home then was moved to the back of the Igloo. There used to be Maggie’s shop next door to the old house, she also rented out VHS tapes and had snacks and soft serve ice cream. Before there was peace on earth pizza there was a man who made pizzas out of his home, if I recall correctly his name was Dan Masters.

Near the airport side of town there is Happy Valley, a subsection of homes that are similar to hud housing. I liked to think of it as the suburbs but that was far from the truth. A lot of my cousins and friends grew up in that part of town. The Tiqasuk library used to be close to the Unalakleet Schools. There was a headstart program in the building that is now a coffee shop. My first teachers were Millie, Margie and Kermit. I would ask my mom for “potato soup” because that’s what I loved to eat at headstart. It took my mom awhile to figure out that I was actually referring to tomato soup. I had to go to school with a pair of dark blue Velcro shoes and I was not happy with that. Some of the activities I loved were building with brick looking cardboard blocks, the reading nook not to read but to look at pictures in the children’s books and going outside to do the dome game where we worked together to fill a dome parachute looking contraption with air and going under to create a dome. My teacher Millie always had beautiful marks on her face like my mom, beauty marks. My teacher Margie was a delightful soul always so happy. My teacher Kermit had one finger missing but I was never scared of him because he wore the same white tee shirts my Grandpa Johnson wore. There were substitutes here and there but I remember these three teachers very well. I thought of Headstart as a play program where I got to do cool projects, learn how to brush my teeth properly and actually not get my way.

The classmates you grow up with are almost an every day part of your life. We had a pretty chill class. In Kindergarten I would pluck out one of my classmates hair to tease him and say “I’ve got your hair.” I did not like nap time but I loved anything having to do with “it’s time to line up” I remember Mrs. Brown and Ms. Haugen and mainly being interested in arts and crafts or play time. I do remember a puppet in a tool box that I loved when Ms. Haugen would teach us lessons through him. The bilingual teachers would stroll a cart to our classroom for our heritage learning. Mrs. Mary Ann Haugen and Mrs. Charles. They both wore glasses so I tried to always be in the front so they could see me better, silly for thinking they couldn’t because that is what glasses are for. There was a day our class invited our siblings for part of our day and I was taken back at one of the girls making rough movements on the corner of her chair. I asked the teacher to help her thinking she had an itch or something. She was more than likely one of so many little girls who were molested. Something prevalent today in the rural villages. This will no longer be swept under the rug. Part of my testimony is that I am a survivor of sexual assault, sexual molestation and later in life rape. It’s a harsh reality to come to terms with, let alone to heal from. It literally has lifelong effects but there is always hope for a better future. To create change we must identify or expose the problem, then it no longer becomes acceptable or hushed behavior.

In such small communities I do not know how our women can sit idle. It happened to them and they don’t care if it happens to their daughters? That is the worst mentality to be occurring. We can create change and hope. Most adult problems and depression stem from early childhood trauma. This trauma can be overcome.

School was mandatory and so was summers spent at our cabin but that was the best part of my childhood. There is such a deep love for nature in my heart because my summers were spent in nature. We were poor, so we had to work very hard to gather enough food to last us through the winter. Five children is no easy task when it comes to keeping our bellies full for the majority of the year. One of our main staples was fish, every sort, caught during it’s run and cut and hanged to dry on our fish rack. Berries in the order of salmon or cloud berries first, then blueberries, raspberries, crow berries, cranberries and currants. With each coming in to season after the other. We put away masu in the spring and that is a root from the tundra, reminiscent to me of carrots but sweeter and of white flesh. Our greens gathered included Elephant ears we dipped in milk and vinegar sauce was always a special treat around the time we would gather sourdock leaves, something sour that my mom magically turned into something sweet called achathluk. Sura was a willow leaf collected right after bloomage and it was sour but nutritious. We stored the picked leaves in seal oil. Beach greens were so easy to gather and fun because we could look for sea shells at the same time. My mom would have us pick rosehip petals sometimes for jellies or to mix in with our ayuu tea. Our meats consisted of Moose, Caribou, Beaver, Porcupine, Seal, Ducks, Geese, Swan, Crane and Muktuk (whale). All these riches gathered by our hands from the land to help sustain us through the winter months. It was the good life.

There is an awakening occurring in the rural villages of Alaska where the sin of man will no longer be swept under the rug, and that is hurting little children and those who cannot fend for themselves. It is going to stop. We are the generation of healing and forgiveness, both go hand in hand. But the wounds must be ripped open as to no longer fester but to be cleaned through Jesus and to heal through Him. I am on a mission of Love and it is so very simple, all I am required to do is smile each day and all else will follow. We work with what we have and what all of us have that are saved is love and a smile. Please pray for the Rural Villages of Alaska. There is such goodness in the people but we are healing from the loss of our cultural identity and that identity will be restored. A learned behavior is hard to break, a lot of hurt and suffering comes hand in hand with colonization and our blood is not used to the effects of alcohol. Our bodies are allergic to it in a sense that we are basically infants trying to consume alcohol. All this is relatively new. Retaining our knowledge of the land and the subsistence lifestyle will go hand in hand with healing of not only the people but the land as well.

 

A quilt for my mom

IMG_6501.JPGGod was presented with quilts and each represented the life of the giver. The quilts were starting to look the same after awhile, each pattern repeated with straight lines and the quilts shared a similar structure. Then, He paused for a moment. To inspect this humble quilt pieced together in a mess of patterns. Looking carefully at the beauty of the quilt in all it’s madness. Not once did the little girl stop loving her Father in Heaven. The pain in the quilt, endless bottles of tears, but all beared truth to the love of her God. It was beautiful and He shed a tear. All her pains and worries were washed away. The quilt was not folded away for storage, but displayed for all to see.

My dream for Us

we will unite

the native tribes will stand in unison

it will not be a fight to the death

our weapon is love

you cannot combat us

our hearts bleed innocence

they have bled long enough

the streams of blood flow

Gathered at the basin of the dead

they will not consume us

we have stood idle long enough

we have been awake

your lies do not shake us

we shake the earth

hear our war cries

tremble in fear

our hearts will soar

carried by our eagle

the time is nowGertz