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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
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I˝upiaq RavenIñupiat Ioitqusiat

A Special Publication of Alaska Newspapers Inc.

"Those things that make us who we are"

Portrait of a People - By the People
Originally a supplement to The Arctic Sounder


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Humility is a good quality to have, especially for the Inupiat. It helps them recognize their place in the world.

In the past, humility played an important role in the Inupiaq culture. People who put themselves above others were not working for the good of all.

Long ago, people lived in small cabins, sod houses or temporary shelters. It was important that people got along and did not brag or were too proud. Humility is important in today’s Inupiat culture because the environment hasn’t changed much over the decade. It is still important that our Inupiat people recognize and respect their place in this world.

Eric Gooden
9th grade


Siikauraq Martha Whiting

Humility means being humble.
I am put on this earth for a short time.
The earth, sky and water will outlive each of us and are greater than us.
I am only a segment of time, like a single piece of a puzzle
with all areas of life to complete the mysterious and beautiful puzzle.
I am placed on earth with Inupiaq blood in this time of life for a purpose.
I am not here by accident.
Our creator is greater than all.

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Nigraubruk Blair

When we were young, being humble was taught to all the young. We were taught never to boast about anything. But in this day and age, you hear people boasting about themselves.

Somewhere along the line, we lost our Inupiaq value about being humble. The chain was broken, so to speak. The person who isn’t humble doesn’t have any friends.

Our Elders were a good example for us. No matter how old they are they never say, I’m too tired,” or “I’m too old.” It seems the Elders appreciate everything around them where the younger generation does not.

We need to start showing the children about humility again. Atchiksauqta. . .let’s be humble.End Article

Photo courtesy of Hannah Loon/NANA

Elder Rachel Craig

Humility is a quality few people talk about but all recognize as necessary in a person in the Inupiaq society.

The old Inupiat taught the younger generation all they needed to know to make a living, to live peaceably among their neighbors, to exercise caution when in a dangerous environment, and how to survive in an emergency (among other things.) That being the case, a person who has paid attention to his teachers acquires a lot of information. Some of this information he uses every day; the rest of the information is used on call as the situation demands it—but the well-educated person does not boast about his knowledge. He uses that knowledge as necessary without talking about it.

Some of the favorite stories my uncle Fletcher Gregg told me were about the times in the spring when his father taught him to hunt bearded seals. They would go out on the ice with a sled and quyaq or boat for transportation, taking their rifles and hunting gear.

His father taught him how to get within shooting distance of the seals on the flat ice by using the three-pronged ice scratchers and white camouflage clothing. Then he would either shoot the seals with a rifle or use a bow and arrow, whatever hunting implement he was teaching his son to use at the moment.

This one time he was teaching his son how to get a seal with a bow and arrow. He inches his way close to the seal, shot it with an arrow, ran over and hit it with a harpoon, all within split seconds. In the meantime, the bearded seal was hopping away toward the open lead to escape certain death.

Grandfather hung on for dear life on the rope attached to the harpoon while at the same time biting on the bearded seal’s flipper for a firmer grip. He dug his heels into the ice for firmer resistance and frantically called for assistance to his son through clenched teeth.

Fletcher took a rifle and ran from his observation point at the sled and qayaq to assist his father as fast as he could. He came to an open lead which was about ten or twelve feet wide and wondered how in the world his dad got to the other side.

He backed up several feet and ran with all his might to give himself momentum as he flew over the open water and landed on the other side where his dad and the wounded seal were. Quickly, he shot the seal with the rifle at close range and then both father and son relaxed. They secured the rawhide rope on the bearded seal and pulled it to the open lead for easier transport.

Grandfather asked Fletcher how he got across the open lead. Fletcher replied, “I figured if you could jump across that expanse of open lead, then maybe I could, too; so I ran and jumped across it.”

“ . . . people didn’t talk about their own accomplishments. I think that’s one of the reasons why our people have a hard time expressing themselves in job interviews.”
Elder Rachel Craig

His father then cautioned him that that kind of feat was something a person didn’t talk about to other people. You just quietly appreciate your abilities but not talk about them. You never know what some jealous person might do to cripple such a talented person. Better to keep quiet about it but know within the family what your own capabilities are in an emergency.

Besides personal capabilities, people didn’t talk about their own accomplishments. I think that’s one of the reasons why our people have a hard time expressing themselves in job interviews. They are not used to “selling” themselves. Usually another person will talk about a person’s accomplishments and wonderful capabilities. An Inupiaq didn’t do this for himself. But, if someone who knows of his capabilities asks him to do something, the person must show respect to the requester and comply, giving his best efforts. This is also probably why few people will volunteer their services but will comply with appointments.

Another area where the Inupiat were strict about expressing humility was in regard to the animals and birds. No one boasted that he would get X number of animals or birds when he went hunting. Because the animals had spirits, they could “hear” the person’s boastful pride and perceive his negative feelings toward others and stay away from his hunting environment.

Hunters must approach their hunting with the best of feelings toward each other and the wildlife they are hunting. There must be harmony of feelings.

Some years ago, when the International Whaling Commission decided to ban bowhead whale hunting in Alaska, there was a lot of hard talking and discussion about the whales. A small quota was eventually established to give the Natives an opportunity to harvest some whales. But the hunters felt the number was insufficient and so they made a lot of to-do about it. The next season, not a single whale was caught.

The women then reminded the hunters that we are not supposed to fight over animals because they can hear us.

Personally, I think that until the hunters can get together and plan a strategy of hunting together in harmony, there will be no beluga to be had. That’s the way it’s been from time immemorial and it has not changed. Animals are still the same. You can’t fight over them if you want to enjoy them.

The old Inupiat teach us that sooner or later a boastful person gets an opportunity to fulfill his boasting. Most of the time he gets to eat a lot of humble pie. The old Inupiat teach us it is better to keep quiet about our super capabilities because sooner or later people will find out about them without our saying so. Then they can tell the whole world how wonderful we are!End Article


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Last modified October 19, 2006