A Gathering: Growing Strong
United We Will Make a Difference
by Dixie Dayo
The following is an excerpt from a report written by Dixie
Dayo, Alaska Native Knowledge Program Assistant on her recent
attendance at the conference A Gathering: Growing Strong Together
held in Kotzebue, Alaska June 30 through July 3, 1997. Our thanks
to Mr. Ross Schaeffer for allowing us to share the following portion
of Ms. Dayo's report with you.
Ross Schaeffer, Kotzebue: Alaska Native
The most rewarding sessions that were presented at the conference
were about Alaska Native Spirituality. Ross Schaeffer, an Inupiaq
hunter from Kotzebue, is proud to come from a hunting society and has
spent his life living the hunting culture. Alaska Native Spirituality
is very important and is incorporated in the hunting and fishing life
cycle of the Inupiaq. This connection is accepted but not a practiced
belief system. Alaska Native spirituality can very easily mesh with
Western religion. This is a beautiful way of showing respect. It is a
way of life, how we relate to animals, and other Alaska Natives,
non-Natives and the connection to the land. By showing respect for
the animals they will always come back to you. It is important that
you believe the animals will come back to you. An example of this is
the Native value of giving to an Elder- the power will be returned.
The power of return is very powerful, what you give will be returned
to you. One needs to share what they catch. In every part of the hunt
one must show respect: during the hunt, while processing the game and
when eating. By showing respect for the animals they will come back
to you. In the Inupiaq way all living things have a spirit.
As an Inupiaq hunter Ross Schaeffer has never had a self-image
problem as he states hunting feeds him physically and spiritually.
Inupiaq Eskimos do things a certain way because they have a spiritual
connection. For example, in hunting it is important to release the
spirit after you kill an animal. The mind needs to be opened to this
understanding. Today we have too much information bombarding us to
let the spirit in. Once you know who you are and what your situation
in this world, then you won't have a self image problem. When you
love yourself spiritually you'll heal better and can "get high on
your culture." We need to live with a spiritual connection. The
spirit and natural world are closely related. As one gets older one
can have a spiritual awakening. A way to look at this is, for 10,000
years our ancestors didn't just go to hell. Ross quoted Rodney
Lincoln by saying, "for 40 years we live our lives trying to kill
ourselves, then for 40 years we try to save ourselves."
We need to choose our words carefully, sometimes we say things in
jest and we really hurt each other. We all have a gift of speech and
sometimes we say things that hurt other people. We need to teach our
children this. When you give out bad things they come back. We all
have a purpose, there is nobody higher or lower. If we live with a
good heart it doesn't matter where you are. Listen to men's values.
Learn to let go. Pray for people who are affected. If things bother
you, find a person, an older person to talk about it. Sometimes just
giving somebody something gives you power.