Category Archives: Alaskan Natives

Native and Homeless During the Coronavirus

“American Indians and Alaska Natives clustered in camps or on the streets; ‘It’s been a crazy time’J. Estus, Indian Country Today

As many as 4,000 of Anchorage’s 300,000 residents don’t have permanent housing. Photograph- Ash Adams:The Guardian

 

Excerpt: Homeless. Vulnerable. And no option for ‘self isolation’ By Joaqlin Estus, Indian Country Today

“Every major city has a virtual suburb for the homeless. Homes consisting of tents, scrap wood, shopping baskets and cardboard boxes. In shelters, a family dwelling might have a common kitchen and bedrooms with bunk beds. Others may have a large room filled with dozens of bunk beds or canvas cots. Some have dozens of rubber-coated thick pads placed a foot apart in rows laid across a concrete floor.

Chronic diseases are higher than normal in the best of times. The ideal terrain for a virus, such as COVID-19, to take hold and spread…Seattle has been the epicenter of the pandemic in the United States. There have been 1,187 COVID-19 cases and 66 deaths in Washington as of March 19. (New York City has more cases, 4,000, but fewer deaths, 22).

‘It’s been a crazy time,’ said Abigail Echo-Hawk, Pawnee, chief research officer at the Seattle Indian Health Board. ‘I’m just trying to put out as many resources as I possibly can and serve my community to the best of my abilities. I’m just grateful to all my ancestors that came before me, who have taught us how to be strong, resilient people.’

The Seattle Indian Health Board offers medical, dental, and behavioral services as well as elders and youth services. It provides resources to prevent homelessness. It also runs the Urban Indian Health Institute, one of 12 tribal epidemiology centers in the nation. In King County, where Seattle is located, American Indians and Alaska Natives are seven times more likely to be homeless than whites…She said the Seattle Indian health board is working to live up to CDC guidelines that, for now, are beyond its reach. ‘If we shut down our programs [involving more than ten people], our elders have nowhere to go for shelter and they have nowhere to go for their meals, which we provide. So from that harm reduction approach, we are making sure that there is distance between them of six feet.’

Echo-Hawk noted although the largest outbreak was in an affluent suburb, the first quarantine and isolation facility opened in one of Seattle’s lowest income neighborhoods. She said, in the interests of equity and social justice ‘we have to ensure that all of the risk is not just taken by low income communities.

We have to recognize it is now the time for the community as a whole to come together and to support one another.’

Tuesday evening at a press conference, municipal manager Bill Falsey said, ‘The sheltering capacity for homeless individuals in Anchorage was a challenge before COVID-19. The new issue is that our homeless community includes many individuals with underlying health conditions.

An outbreak of COVID-19 in a homeless shelter could be particularly severe. That would be terrible for the residents, but it also potentially affects everyone.”

Resource Sites for the COVID-19:

INDIAN COUNTRY TODAY:

COVID-19 Tracker in the United States: Story summaries, lists of closures, resources. Last update 03/26/20 at 3 pm.  Information Here

COVID-19 financial strain? Here are resources in 50 states Federal and state services include monetary and food assistance, unemployment benefits, and more. The National Retail Federation also has over 70 corporations looking for workers.

COVID-19 online resources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Basic information.

Indian Health Service

National Congress of American Indians

National Indian Health Board

 Online Teaching  Activities Sites with Free Materials for Teachers, Students and Parents

STEM Teaching Guide

“Learning Packets” for students During School Closures By Larry Ferlazzo:It seems like a fair number of districts don’t have any kind of learning plan in place for their students right now. Some districts, however, even if they don’t have a full-fledged remote learning program going on, are creating “learning packets” for students to complete. It’s not great, obviously, but it seems like it’s better than nothing and can help out parents.” For more information visit

Home With Your Kids? Writers Want to Help” –  The New York Times Mo Willems, Gene Luen Yang, Amie Kaufman and other authors for young readers are reading their work online and offering drawing tutorials, to help fill our strange new hours. For more information visit

The STEM Sprouts Teaching Guide – Boston Children’s Museum & WGBH Welcome! Are you ready for some fun?

The STEM Sprouts Teaching Kit is the product of a collaborationbetween National Grid, Boston Children’s Museum, and WGBH. The goal of this curriculum is to assist preschool educators in focusing and refiningthe naturally inquisitive behaviors of three to five-year-olds on science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM). For more information visit here

Be Smart, Be Careful, Be Safe!

Coronavirus Risk Higher in Native Rural Areas

“When you start out with health conditions that are worse than a majority … you’re already vulnerable and at risk’. As the coronavirus spread outward from cosmopolitan hot spots it reached the rural Confederated Tribes of Umatilla Indian Reservation on Monday. In due course, it’ll reach more isolated rural areas.” J. Estus, ICT

 

Edward Enoch, Yup’ik, unloads chunks of ice chipped out of a river and hauled home by snow-machine to melt for drinking, washing, and other uses in western Alaska. (Credit- Charles Enoch,)

Excerpt: Coronavirus Risk Compounded in Rural Areas By Joaqlin Estus, ICT

“Unfortunately, indications are rural areas harbor conditions that contribute to higher rates of infection and people getting more sick than in urban areas.

According to the First Nations Development Institute’s report Twice Invisible: Understanding Rural Native America, 54 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native people live in rural and small-town areas on or near reservations.

The Notah Begay III Foundation report Native Strong lists factors in Indian Country that contribute to diabetes and obesity. The same factors affect overall health. They include poverty, low educational attainment, and historical trauma. Housing shortages and overcrowding facilitate the spread of disease. A lack of self determination and cultural activities affect Native health too.

Dalee Sambo Dorough, PhD, Inupiaq, is the chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Council. She said the health of Indigenous people living in rural Arctic Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Chukotka (in Russia) is compromised by a range of conditions ranging from food insecurity to air pollution.

‘The overall general condition of individual health and wellbeing is contributing to a lower life expectancy,’ Sambo Dorough said. ‘We’ve had a whole history of epidemics that have devastated our communities in the past and tuberculosis being on the rise now, all of these things are compounded with other adverse impacts like climate change that make it really difficult for our communities to even respond to something like the coronavirus.

So when you start out with health conditions that are worse than a majority of the people in the rest of, for example, the United States, you’re already vulnerable and at risk,’ Dorough said…’We have had really decades of lack of public health measures to prevent the spread of disease. And then you add all these other layers including the limited space and capacity to treat patients with severe illness in rural areas,’ said Sambo Dorough.

‘These are matters that are nothing new. And that’s why the Inuit Circumpolar Council calls upon governments to take action to close those gaps.’

No one wants to get that sick, so prevention is key. Covering coughs, staying home when sick, and the CDC recommends, ‘Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds,’ to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Twice as many homes in Indian Country lack running water compared to other Americans. (Credit- Joaqlin Estus)

However, Indian Country has about twice as many homes without running water and flush toilets as other Americans. In its annual report on sanitation deficiencies, the Indian Health Service said of 68,000 American Indian and Alaska Native homes, ‘approximately 7,600 (or 1.9 percent) lack access to a safe water supply and/or waste disposal facilities, compared to less than 1 percent of homes for the US general population.’

Overcrowding is a major factor in the transmission of diseases. Housing shortages can force families to live in small, older homes similar to this one in Kwethluk, Alaska. (Credit- Joaqlin Estus)

Alaskans without piped water can buy water, which even if only ten cents a gallon is too costly for most villagers. Many collect rainwater and chip ice out of rivers and lakes to melt for daily use…When COVID-19 does arrive in Indian Country, some of the places it lands will be areas without long-standing systems of reliable access to primary and specialty care. In some places, it will land amid people living in conditions that contribute to higher rates of infection. Properly handled, however, risk can be minimized.

The Inuit Sharing Old Traditions With New App

“A social media app geared toward the outdoor lives of Inuit launched Wednesday with features that tie traditional knowledge to smartphone technology. The Siku app named after the Inuktitut word for sea ice, allows users to trade observations about dangerous conditions, document wildlife sightings and trade hunting stories… It also allows travellers to add in the traditional terms for potentially perilous conditions using their own language.” The Canadian Press

Puasi Ippak tests out the Siku mobile app… (The Canadian Press:HO-Arctic Eider Society)

Excerpt: Inuit sharing ancient knowledge of ice, sea and land with new app  The Canadian Press

“The app was created by a team of developers assembled by the Arctic Eider Society, a charity based in Sanikiluaq, Nunavut, and launched at a conference in Halifax on Wednesday.

Joel Heath, the executive director of the society, says the project was born from a desire by Inuit elders to document and share oral history with young people.

Heath said during the launch at the ArcticNet conference that Inuit hunters are out on the ice or land most days gathering food for their communities, and they have unique needs that existing social media like Facebook and Twitter don’t address…Through the app, hunters can upload such information into Siku and tag other areas of interest, such as particular wildlife they’ve tracked.

A file photo of Joel Heath, of the Arctic Eider Society. (Google Canada:Aaron Brindle)

Safety is among the key attractions of the program, said Heath.

During his presentation, he explained how one hunter testing Siku had placed a triangular warning sign on a map of an ice field near Sanikiluaq in the spring, providing a traditional Inuit term for its dangerous condition.

‘It looks like a normal tidal crack … But he knew the difference that if the wind comes across this kind of crack it can break it open,’ he said.

Hours later, the satellite map showed how the crack had widened enough that Ski-Doos on the wrong side of it wouldn’t be able to return.

The hamlet of Sanikiluaq, Nunavut.

‘It shows how [a hunter] taking a few photos and tagging can mobilize Indigenous knowledge,’ said Heath.

The app has four main types of posts: Social, Wildlife, Sea Ice and Tools. There are 80 Arctic species listed under Wildlife, including birds, fish and land animals. Users can make posts that include observations of individuals, groups, tracks, nests and dens, as well as fields such as habitat, diet, body condition and other details about rare or unusual events.

The Social button is where users can post about hunting trips and share photos, tagging them with location and other information.

The project was the winner of the 2017 Google.org Impact Challenge in Canada, bringing $750,000 in funding.”

 

“Art Was Supposed to Save Canada’s Inuit. It Hasn’t.”

“Indigenous work is all the rage in the Canadian art world. But life in the North [for The Inuit] is as much a struggle as ever.” C. Porter, The New York Times

Ooloosie Saila, Landscape with Rainbow (2016)

Excerpt: Drawn From Poverty: Art Was Supposed to Save Canada’s Inuit. It Hasn’t. By Catherine Porter, The New York Times Photographs by Sergey Ponomarev

Hours before flying off to her debut show in Toronto, Ooloosie Saila, a rising star in the Canadian art world, was hiding in her grandmother’s room on the frozen edge of the Arctic Ocean, cowering in fear.

Between her and the future stood the man in the next room, a relative who was drunk and raging — again. Then, she packed in a frenzy. She threw the hand-sewn outfit she had chosen for the opening into a plastic garbage bag, pulled her two young sons out of bed, grabbed her art supplies and fled into the frigid night.

Kananginak Pootoogook — Inuitgallery.com

Four days and 1,425 miles found Ms. Saila at the Feheley Fine Arts gallery in Toronto, where the crowd sipped wine and gushed over her ‘bold use’ of color and negative space…Except for grade school, she has never taken an art class. It is a golden moment for the Indigenous people of Canada. At least, in theory.

The country is going through a period of atonement for its history of racism. While much of the world has turned inward, becoming more xenophobic, Canada has been consumed with making amends.

Kananginak Pootoogook — Madrona Gallery

Public meetings across the country routinely start with an acknowledgment that they are standing on traditional Indigenous lands. In history classes, Canada’s young learn about their government’s systematic attempts to erase Indigenous cultures. Buildings have been renamed, street signs changed and in one city, a statue of the country’s first prime minister removed.

Canadians call this ‘reconciliation,’ and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who faces a tight re-election vote on Monday, has made it central to his government and image.

Painting- Shuvinai Ashoona

In Ooloosie Saila, many might see the embodiment of these aspirations: an accomplished artist being feted for her depictions of the Inuit landscape in brilliant pinks and oranges.

But the world she returned to after the opening, the hamlet of Cape Dorset, is plagued by poverty, alcoholism and domestic abuse… It’s made up of scattered homes — many boarded up — an aging ice rink and a busy jail, packed with binge drinkers. With no movie theater or downtown, a general store serves as the social hub. There is a brand-new high school, but only because the old one was burned down by fume-sniffing teenagers. The town is so small the streets are unnamed.

Almost 90 percent of its residents live in public housing that is crowded, run-down, and has a three-year waiting list. Suicide is rife: The stony graveyard is dotted with crosses marking young people. More than half the residents rely on public assistance.

Untitled (Winter Scene) – Inuit Gallery of Vancouver Ltd.

Artists like Ms. Saila may do a little better, but the vast majority eke out a living, often below the poverty line. Many support large extended families that depend on them for food — most of it flown in at exorbitant cost so that a single cucumber goes for $4.50.

On long winter nights, when the sun is a five-hour memory, the temperature in Cape Dorset can reach a lung-burning 40 below zero. Still, carvers sit outside their homes under lights, transforming chunks of stone into seals and polar bears, the air ringing with the high-pitched sound of their electric grinders.

The Inuit of Cape Dorset were once the epitome of self-reliance, members of a hunting culture where everyone had a role. They lived entirely off the frozen land, searching for food by dog sled.

Then government workers lured them into the town, built around a trading post in the 1950s, with promises of permanent housing and school. In some cases, they shot their dogs, stranding them.

Officials soon took note of the Inuits’ artistic skills, and thought that they might offer a bridge to a stationary existence, a way to make a living. Art has been a central feature of Cape Dorset life since then.

In 1959, artists created a co-op with an Inuit-led board that oversaw sales and plowed profits into the creation of a general store.

In the center of town is a symbol of the co-op’s success: a new, modern $9.8 million cultural center with spacious art studios and the hamlet’s first gallery space.

Artists stream into the cultural center, work in hand, looking to be paid.’They might sit in a drawer forever,’ said the studio manager at the time, Bill Ritchie. ‘We have drawings and drawings and drawings that will never sell.’By one government estimate, most artists across the territory make only about $2,080 a year. A handful of artists top $75,000 a year.

‘If you work hard like that, that’s what could happen,’ the assistant manager, Joemee Takpaungai, told one artist, Johnny Pootoogook, who was working in the studio on a drawing of five men drumming together. It was a memory from his recent stint in jail.

Painting- Kananginak Pootoogook

Mr. Pootoogook’s father, Kananginak, who helped found the co-op, became such a successful artist that his work headlined the Venice Biennale.

But Johnny, 48, has fallen prey to abuse, depression and alcohol. He says he tried to hang himself 20 years ago. For him, art has been the one constant, but he is still waiting for his first show.

In fact, some blame art for the town’s problems.

Caribou by Kananginak Pootoogook –

‘Sometimes, when they get quite a bit of money, they use it to have access to drugs and alcohol,’ said Timoon Toonoo, the hamlet’s mayor.

By any measure imaginable, life for Indigenous people across Canada is harsh…In winter, snow covers everything — the winding roads, the polar bear skins stretching outside on homemade racks, the shells of old snowmobiles heaped in the dump. The airport is often closed and when it is, everyone is stranded: There is no other way in, or out. A few supply ships come in during the summer, but like all 25 communities in Nunavut, Cape Dorset is completely isolated.

One January evening, Ms. Saila sank into her living room couch, watching the 1980s American sitcom ‘Three’s Company,’ flanked by her two young sons and her grandmother, Sita.

Her grandparents grew up nomadically, living in igloos and sod houses. They raised Ms. Saila, but by then they had settled in town.

One night at 11, Ms. Saila sat at the kitchen table, fished a green pencil from a plastic bag on the floor and set to coloring her latest landscape. Her children were finally asleep, so she could work.

It had been three months since her art opening. What had changed in her life?

‘Nothing.’

Her time in Toronto, it seemed, had amounted to little more than fond memories and snapshots affixed to her fridge. ‘It was fun,’ she said quietly.

The co-op manager said her rate had gone up ‘big time,’ but she hadn’t noticed. How much had she saved?

‘Nothing,’ she said again.

As Ms. Saila worked, the back door burst open time and again. First came her sister. Then her brother. Then her aunt, trailing three young children and a boyfriend. They made themselves coffee and opened the fridge, rummaging for food.”

Category: Alaskan Natives, Culture | Tags:

The New PBS Cartoon ‘Molly of Denali’ is the First to Have a Native Lead

“The new PBS cartoon ‘Molly of Denali,’ which centers on an Alaska Native family, is perhaps PBS’s most ambitious effort yet to educate its young viewers about a distinct cultural group.” J. Jacobs, The New York Times

Excerpt: With ‘Molly of Denali,’ PBS Raises Its Bar for Inclusion, By Julia Jacobs, The NYT

“When two children’s television producers from the East Coast set out to make a show about an Alaska Native girl whose parents run a rural trading post, there was no question that they would need some cultural guidance.

The new PBS cartoon Molly of Denali, which centers on an Alaska Native family.

Dorothea Gillim, who was executive producer of the ‘Curious George’ television series, grew up in Rochester, N.Y., where the grocery chain Wegmans originated, and she had long imagined a children’s show that centered on a store that was the hub of the community. The show’s other creator, Kathy Waugh, who was a writer on ‘Arthur,’ envisioned a story about an adventurous young girl living in a remote area.

The setting for the show came to Gillim in 2015, when the news media was covering President Obama’s trip to Alaska.

On the eve of the visit he [President Obama] announced that the name of Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America, would be restored to Denali, its Alaska Native name.

A scene from Molly of Denali-sgptv.org

The show that the producers dreamed up, called ‘Molly of Denali,’ ended up becoming a PBS cartoon about a 10-year-old Athabascan girl with a video blog about life in rural Alaska. PBS says it is the first nationally distributed children’s series with a Native American lead.

The show, which premieres across the country on Monday, was written for children ages 4 to 8. It follows the spunky and inventive Molly Mabray and her friends as they solve kid-friendly problems, like earning enough money to buy an inflatable tube to ride on the water or finding ways to keep four-legged creatures out of their garden.

The core narrative of the show involves Molly making new connections to her Native identity…PBS and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the nonprofit that distributes federal funds to public broadcasting stations and programs, including ‘Molly of Denali,’ urged the producers to find a way to intimately involve Alaska Native people in the making of the show.

In one episode of Molly of Denali, Molly and her two friends prepare for a canoeing competition. Credit PBS Kids

To make sure they got the show right, the Boston public broadcaster WGBH, which produced the show, involved more than 60 people who are Alaska Native, First Nations or Indigenous in writing the scripts, advising on cultural and linguistic issues, recording the theme song and voicing the characters. ‘We recognized our own ignorance of the subject and we didn’t want to repeat stereotypes,’ Gillim said…It’s a scope of inclusion rarely seen in children’s television, one the show’s Native writers and advisers hope becomes a new standard for how TV producers handle specific cultural identities…’It became very clear to me that I’m sitting with people who don’t know anything about my culture, about where I came from,’ said Luke Titus, one of the advisers.  Titus, 78, an Alaska Native elder who is Lower Tanana Athabascan, discussed growing up in a small cabin in an Alaskan village and the centrality of nature in his community. He eventually got used to the idea that it was O.K. to interrupt the producers to share his own insight, a behavior that isn’t part of his culture’s custom, he said. He shared painful stories, too, including one about being sent away to boarding school when he was about 12 years old, part of a broader forced assimilation campaign by the United States government.

Boarding school is a common childhood memory for Native Americans of a certain generation… At the heart of the show are Molly’s efforts to learn about her family’s Alaska Native heritage and sustain it as a member of a younger generation.”

“The People of the Whale”

“Kiliii Yuyan is an indigenous Nanai photographer who documents native cultures and wilderness conservation issues. He spent time with the Inupiat, an indigenous community from North Slope Alaska, whose lifestyle and culture is dependent on subsistence harvest of marine mammals.” K. Yuyan, BBC

Flora Aiken gives a blessing to the first bowhead whale of the spring season. Photo- K. Yuyantiff

Excerpt: The people of the whale-By Kiliii Yuyan, BBC

“Members of the community are allowed to catch limited number of bowhead whales a year from stable populations. The first boats to harpoon the whale receive shares. The lead whaling crew divide the head between them.

This camp, erected miles out on the sea ice, is an Inupiat home away from home during hunting season. K. Yuyan

The Inupiat have a rich spiritual life that centres around the gift of the whale to the community. The cure for feeling cold while out on the ice is to eat quok, the Inupiat word for frozen raw meat and fish.

Misigaq, or seal oil

Seal is also a source of food for the Inupiaq. Misigaq, or seal oil, is a liquid made from the blubber of the bearded seal. It is left to ferment for a few days at refrigerator temperatures before eating.

Beluga whales are seen trapped by sea ice as shifting winds create unstable conditions. K. Yuyan

Sigvaun Kaleak and his father, Raleigh, are lifelong whalers. Although commercial whaling has taken a massive toll on the global whale population, the Inupiat have maintained a sustainable harvest.

Six-year-old Steven Reich examines his father’s umiaq, or skin boat used for whaling.

Tad, captain of Yugu crew, expresses excitement about taking Steven out whaling on the ice for the first time. I am proud of my son – he’s here to learn to be a hunter, he says.

Bernadette Adams was the first Inupiat woman to harpoon a whale. “I happen to have no brothers, so I had to find some way to help the family out,” says Bernadette.

Here, successful crewmembers do the blanket toss. They are thrown up to 30ft (9m) in the air, and depend on everyone’s help to land safely.

Inupiat elder Foster Simmonds has been a whaler since he was a child.”

 

Category: Alaskan Natives