Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Ideas of North

Got this huge coffee table book from the librar, Living Our Cultures, Sharing Our Heritage: The First Peoples of Alaska. There's a lot of art from both the Native American and Inuit people that can really open your eyes.

Words too,  This is a passage from Beverly Faye Hugo, a member of the Iñupiaq tribe.

We believe that a whale gives itself to a captain and crew who are worthy people, who have integrity - that is the gift of the whale. Caring for whales, even after you've caught them, is important. They love to be in clean ice cellars. Every January before the whaling season we haul out any leftover food stored there, such as walrus or seal, and we give it away. Then we reline the ice cellar with fresh powder snow. That's the kind of place a whale wants to rest and where it will feel welcome. Cleaning the cellar is one of the traditions.

After a whale is caught and divided up, everyone can glean meat from the bones. Each gets his share, even those who don't belong to a crew. During spring whaling, elderly women wait alongside the trail that leads across the ice back to the village. If they want some part of the whale, they ask for it and will receive it. Elderly people always receive foods like fresh fish, tuttu (caribou), ducks, geese, and even whale. No one is left out.

Certainly I wouldn't want to give a broad-based defense of whaling. There are good reasons why it's frowned on now. Still, the Inuit approach does have a kind of respect and beauty to it. These peoples have also taken jealous care of their resources.


susan said...

From what I've come to understand much of the northwest native culture survived better than others for the simple fact they were physically remote and had time to know what was coming. The Haida carvings really are amazing as is a lot of First Nations (I like that term a lot) art. We even, albeit very briefly, considered moving to the Charlottes when we were planning the Canada move. It was going to be far too far so we dropped the idea.

I enjoyed the part you transcribed from the book. The tribes were universally respectful of nature and were in very close rapport with the world. The Europeans, totally the opposite of native cultures, killed for money and for sport. They did so without any thought to the 'next seven generations' - something continued in one form or another even now.

Ben said...

Europeans must have, at one time, been somewhat in tune with nature. Europe has nature, after all. But then there was the move to empire, and we lost sight.

It's a nice book overall. Lot of nice native relics and testimony from people of the tribes.

Haida Gwaii looks like an interesting place to visit. You might be happier where you are now, though. But who knows?