Village Resource Base
This project will help students understand more about the subsistence resources on which their village depends. We call this the village resource base. Class activities will focus on when and where local resources are found, how people catch or gather them, and what they do when a major resource fails (for example, if the salmon runs are small, or if few seals are caught in a particular year).
The first activity in the project is planned to give students an idea of how Yup'ik people subsisted before Kass'aqs came to the area (when people hunted without the use of guns, outboard motors, etc.). This activity centers around a board game which represents the traditional subsistence way of life.
Before introducing the game, the teacher needs to give the class a basic description of Yup'ik hunting in earlier times. The following points, which are important in the game, should especially be emphasized:
In preparing for the game, teachers may want to ask elders more about these things. In addition, refer to INUA: Spirit World of the Bering Sea Eskimos for more information.
The best way for the teacher to learn how to play Pitengnaqsaraq, the subsistence board game, is to try it with some friends and to study the rules carefully before introducing it to the class. A copy of the rules in English appears at the end of this project guide.
Days 2 & 3
Students should continue playing 'Pitengnaqsaraq' in class.
Students should be encouraged to think about what they have learned from the game, Pitengnaqsaraq. In class discussion, one of the most important ideas to emphasize is that a person had to be aware of many different things before he would go out hunting, For example, it might be springtime, so a hunter would want to go seal hunting. Before he could go, however, he needed to consider:
If any of these factors was a problem, he might not be able to go hunting. In other words, subsistence involved many decisions which were related to each other. If one thing went wrong, it could affect everything else. Because of this, subsistence is called a system. In a system, all of the parts work together; you cannot understand what subsistence is just by learning how people catch animals, without thinking of the other things involved. Parts of a system may change over time. For example, the type of transportation used to hunt seals has changed since the early days, and so it may be possible to hunt in somewhat more marginal weather conditions. (There may be less risk in going out under some conditions than in the past, because it is easier to get back to the village quickly.) The idea is that a change in one part of the system (the transportation used) can cause changes in other parts of the system (the type of weather one can hunt in). This idea will come up frequently in the class, because it is helpful to think of the connections between many of the ways that people think and behave. It helps us to understand our complicated lives. People who study how human beings live in different parts of the world (anthropologists) say that each human culture is a system.
The resources people depend on are a basic part of the subsistence system. Resources include all the fish, game, plants and other items needed for survival and comfort. In studying about your village's resource base, you will be thinking about what resources people use, how they use these resources, and how they get them.
Thinking about it in this way, it should become clear that:
Students may be surprised to learn that most of the people in the world live in villages, like they do. In small villages everywhere, people get or make most of their food, clothing and houses from what is around them.
In some areas of rural Ireland, for example, people grow their potatoes and other vegetables, and raise sheep for meat and wool. They build their own houses, using stones, and heat their homes with peat, which they cut from nearby bogs. In most of Southeast Asia, people have a different resource base, but they also live mainly from the land. They eat rice, which they grow, and small amounts of meat. The meat comes from water buffaloes, which also provide milk and butter, and are used to plow the rice field, or paddies. Meat also comes from the chickens and ducks they raise. They make their homes of bamboo and mud brick. On the other side of the world, in the Andes Mountains of South America, people raise guinea pigs for meat, llamas for wool and transportation, and vegetables, such as potatoes.
All of these peoples have more in common with Yup'ik Eskimos than they do with city dwellers. They all know their area well, and, for the most part, take what they need directly from the environment.
People who live in cities around the world are different because they rely mainly on others to produce their food, clothing, houses, and tools. They buy most of what they need with cash, rather than making, catching, or raising it. In cities, people make such things as cars and tractors, canned foods, and refined gasoline. The raw materials to make these things come from all around the world, including Alaska. These manufactured items are then sold back to people in different parts of the world. These items have become part of the Yup'ik economy, too, and people now need to earn some cash to be able to buy them.
In this area, cash is earned mainly from selling salmon and furs to Japan, Europe, and the Lower 48 states. The people who buy these things like to use them (although they do not need them for survival). We have also become used to some luxuries, like coffee, which are produced by villagers in other parts of the world. A basic understanding of how the present-day Yup'ik resource base works, and how it relates to the rest of the world, is important for several reasons. Here are two that you might want to discuss with the class. (Remember to help students discover reasons for themselves, rather than simply telling them.)