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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

Kafiqsimauraajiq Irrutchikun

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Peace Be With You


Illustration by Kimberly Ardis Panitchiaq Sigvaun Jorgensen

Martha Nazuruk
Noorvik 8th grade

Pray to our lord,
Talk to our spirit,
To our lord from the sky to the sea.

The people can be
Powerful women and men who
Tell stories from the long long time ago.

Photo by Crystal Tickett, Ambler

Fourth grade

Living things have a spirit that sounds like something in your dreams of whatever you did when you were small.

All things have a spirit.

A person who believes in a higher power and being in contact with it is spiritual.

You should believe in Spirits. You will have better luck if you believe in spirits and don’t brag or say you’re better than others. Believe in God and Jesus. If you’re a good hunter don’t brag about it.

All living things have souls. A tree doesn’t have a soul unless someone puts a dead man’s body in the tree. The man’s spirit will haunt the tree. The same goes for a mountain.End Article

Photo courtesy Kotzebue First Baptist Church

Kimberly Ardis Panitchiaq Sigvaun Jorgensen
Kotzebue High School

Where there is HOPE,
there is FAITH.
Let us expect good things.

Where there is FAITH,
there is LOVE.
Let us believe.

Where there is LOVE,
there is PEACE.
Let us embrace one another.

Where there is PEACE,
there is no conflict,
pain or fear.
So let us live as we should,
in harmony with
ourselves, others and God.

Photo courtesy of Hannah Loon/NANA

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Noorvik Anchorage

My first experiences with the term spirituality came from the upbringing I had as a child at fish camp. There I learned about the true spirit of life, my connection with the earth and its creatures. I would awaken to the buzz of mosquitoes in my ear, to the sound of flies creating their larvae and the smell of sourdough hot cakes frying on the grill.

If there ever is a time in my life when I need to return to true spirituality, my memories suffice. The gruff voice of my Taata as he shuffled from task to task, preparing meals for us in his unassuming and gentle way. The sound of curlews swooping, cranes calling to their mates, the splash of a beaver’s tail. Or, the lone loon singing his haunting song, the winter ice crashing past, leaving us waiting on our stilted caches for the water to subside.

One of Webster’s definitions for spirituality states, “the rights, jurisdictions, tithes, etc. belonging to the church or to an ecclesiastic.” Initial contact with the Christian church occurred in the eras of our forefathers and became an enigma to myself, an internal conflict that has enacted itself in many ways.

The arrogant assumption that assimilation and acculturation was what the Native peoples needed to provide the avenue for Manifest Destiny does not sit well in my gut. The near extinction of the traditional dance, the eloquent language, the true spiritual connection to our past, is part of my own history and existence. The shame-based messages of perfectionism, have-to-ism, should-ism and a god that sends people to hell is not my definition of spirituality. Yet I say these words with hesitation and almost an ingrained fear that indeed this is the way it is. My grandparents were pastors of this ecclesiastic production and I lived the fine line of not quite making the mark and running from it.

Hence the undeniable rage and fear that dominated my adult life for many years. Finding my place in this internal struggle has been, and continues to be, a personal challenge. Today I live in Western society, working with young children, bringing them to my humanness, my passion for knowledge and my desire to grow. These values passed on to me by my grandparents are my pillar.

There are no words to describe the feeling of holding a little hand in trust. I also bring into this picture my struggle with alcoholism and materialism, a painful path of discovery. Yet my world in the urban setting is only a breath away from the fish camp. I need only close my eyes and feel the deep currents of the river flowing by, the voices of my past, my strength. I remember Aana warning of the big fish in the river and telling stories of qayaqs being swallowed whole. When I think of that gaping darkness and fear of that depth, I know it’s all connected . . .


“ When I think of spirituality, I think of fish camp. And there I shall ever return.”

. . . Today I no longer live in the grasp of my addiction. I live with purpose, hope and dignity, knowing that I, among many, have been given the gift of life. The disconnectedness that I felt for many years is easing and I know that like the river meandering gently by, so will my understanding of our Creator.

I share with you the fear and hesitation in dancing my first dance. The freedom I felt stepping out onto the grass and moving in rhythms of my ancestors. The knowledge in my brain that it was just a test, and yet I remained for the last dance. The shattering of age-old domineering opinions of the conquerors. It is indeed I who must live and accept my place in this world of conflict.

Photos courtesy of Hannah Loon/NANA

There was a time when I chose to remain in the realm and confinement of Webster’s working definition of spirituality. And maybe, for a time, I had no choice, or so I thought. Today, what remains is the freedom of discovery. I no longer choose to be bound by fear and I can laugh when I run the water through my coffee pot and have forgotten the grains.

I also choose not to apologize for my strong views and words, despite the overwhelming need to run and hide underneath a rock. Maybe in sharing my personal experience as a Native woman, living in a world of many discrepancies, I have touched another human being. My wish for my two children is that they may grow without fear, with the desire to run with the wind, to dance shamelessly to the drum beat and bow to the wonder of a Creator we know little of.

There are no words to describe the joy in explaining to my son that sometimes it does rain and shine at the same time. Rainshine. Yes, there may be a brink of no return in the Biblical sense, but I do not close any doors. Maybe the answer lies in a building, maybe it does not. Maybe the answer lies within our inner beings, reaching out for the hand of another. When I think of spirituality, I think of fish camp. And there I shall ever return.End Article

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Last modified October 19, 2006