Ilakullutat at the first paragraph. That word has a lot of parts to it, but one small part of it is respect for Elders. We show our respect to Elders by giving them already prepared or already cooked food, cleaning their house, do chores for them, because in our culture we believe that real Elders\’ minds are very strong. So if you help many Elders their strong minds will help you live a successful life.
Also in the word is that we respect Nature. We are supposed to know our environment, we are supposed to know all the animals in our area. One way of learning about the birds, we have a story that we learn when we are little, and it takes about five days to tell. It\’s about a small bird losing its mate, and the bird is trying to find another mate. And all the birds come to her one by one, from the biggest to the smallest, and the hero bird is the smallest. And we learn all the birds, their sounds, their colors, their names. The reason why it\’s so long is because we have lots of birds in our area.
So those are just a few little examples of what\’s in there, what\’s involved in there. Ray was showing the iceberg. That\’s just the bottom, just a part of it. When we are using this in our Yaaveskaniryaraq Program, when we read, the Elders that are involved in our program, when they hear it, they have tears in their eyes.
The School Districts also use this as the foundation when they are developing their curriculum. And they also have it posted everywhere, and in the classrooms. You can hear little first graders, kindergarteners, reciting this every morning.
The people who go through this program are community people. They are not being taught by outsiders but by our own Elders in the communities. And those who are taking this program, start teaching their children, start talking to their children, start taking their children to do subsistence activities. They become very proud of who they are. And the Elders that are involved in this program are very very happy, they are very willing to share their knowledge with younger, with young married people, very happy that they have been asked to share, and to teach what they know. Also, when they are teaching, they use very high language that people have forgotten, or don\’t know.
Just in the last few years the Elders that have been involved in the Yaaveskaniryaraq Program, half of them have already died. So it\’s very very important. When they die they take away with them a vast amount of knowledge that people should know, or have to know, or should learn. Here in Japan, we were in the Tochikubo Community, and we had older people sharing their knowledge with us, and we also had school children with us. And one of the comments by the school children is, \”I have a lot to learn.\”
And there\’s more that I could add but since we\’re short of time I\’ll stop here. Treasure your Elders, treasure your environment, so that you can treasure yourselves.
Before I start my presentation I\’d like to show what I\’m wearing. This is a traditional upper outer wear that we use in Alaska. You\’ll see this being worn by women in the different villages in the rural areas. It\’s called a qaspeq. And we also wear other clothing which are specific to Alaska Natives. And my husband is also wearing a qasupeq.
My name is Cecilia. That was a name given to me by an outside person. My real name is Tacuk, from my own people. And I didn\’t know that I was Cecilia until I went to school. Like you, the indigenous peoples of Alaska, we\’re losing our culture, we are losing our language. Young adults and their children who are moving away from the villages, they are adopting Western culture, and even people in our villages, they are all adopting Western culture.
Elders that you saw in Ray\’s presentation with the vast knowledge, with the deep culture, with their deep cultural knowledge, are dying, and the ones that are alive, are being used as part of everyday educational processes in the community as we as the school, as much as they should be.
They are getting more involved in the educational process. In my home village of Chevak, in the Cup\’ik area, the State of Alaska School District hires two Elders to be in the school every single day. So some of the schools are using the Elders in their schools.
The other thing that\’s happening to us in Alaska is that many of us are loosing our sense of community. A group of us realized and became alarmed at what was happening to our people, losing our culture and language. So we had many meetings with Elders for about 2 or 3 years. And we started the Yaaveskaniryaraq Program. The word Yaaveskaniryaraq has many meanings but I\’ll give you two of them. It\’s a very very deep Yup\’ik/Cu\’pik word. One meaning is moving from one level to a higher level. Another meaning is relearning and living your culture because that\’s who you are. The posters you picked up when you came in say the same thing. We use this as the foundation for our curriculum in the Yaaveskaniryaraq Program. This was developed by those who have teaching degrees already, and were working toward their Master\’s Degrees. They developed this with the help of Elders. We tried to translate it into English but the English language wasn\’t adequate enough to really bring out what we meant.
It usually takes about 3 hours to explain the whole thing, but it takes a whole lifetime to live it. Just that word qanruyutet, if we wrote it down into books, it would fill a whole library. It covers emotional, spiritual, physical, mental, all those things, and it covers all of the intangible as well as the tangible. As an example, that paragraph includes respect for nature. We feel that everything in this world has an awareness, a spirit. A rock, a baby, a seal, a plant, sky, water, wind, everything has an awareness and spirit.
Just a very specific example: when we are walking out on the tundra, when we\’re walking on the beach, when we are walking anywhere in the wilderness, if we come across a log that is imbedded into the ground, and since we view it as having an awareness, we know that that log is tired, wet and uncomfortable. We pick it up and turn it over. And while we are turning it over, we think about something positive, for instance, for another person, something positive to happen to that person, or if we have sicknesses we think about the sicknesses while we are turning the log over. And also that log when it gets turned over will get dry and might help somebody for survival.
Another example is a seal. When we catch a seal, we don\’t waste any part of it. We use everything of the seal. We use the skin for things like clothing, for bags, for storage. And the meat, we use for our sustenance, for our food. And the bones, we never throw them in the trash. We\’re supposed to bring that to a small lake or a pond and put the bones back into nature.