In any small community, residents are related to one another in more ways than one; for example, your mother-in-law might also be your child’s teacher.
In the Northwest Arctic, family is extraordinarily important so extended family members are considered part of the immediate family. In conversation, there are few, if any, referrals to degree of separation (i.e. second cousin). Everyone is either a brother, sister, auntie, uncle, grandmother, grandfather, brother-in-law, sister-in-law, child, grandchild or cousin. Adoption is culturally embraced; frequently the first born child is adopted to a grandparent or other relative. Large families are the norm.
“Everyone is related to everyone else” I have heard it said.
Historic and generational traumas (epidemics, religious oppression, cultural decimation, boarding school practices, language suppression) compound the modern societal or individual hardships and traumas (unemployment, poverty, doubled-up homelessness, alcoholism, drug addiction, mental illness, suicide, assault, domestic violence, sexual assault, bullying, child abuse, accidental death). In such a small and tightly woven community, the smallest ripple of these tragedies is capable of triggering great tidal waves of grief upon the region’s people. Inupiaq in the Northwest Arctic, Alaska have one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world.
The Inupiaq subsistence way of life is challenged, global warming is evident in local changes, the soaring cost of fuel oil and gasoline prices ($8+/gal) impact the ability to reach elusive food sources, to provide for one’s family or to stay warm in temperatures easily to -50F. Many of the young, strong and healthy, those who have no elders to care for, leave the area for work or college and never come back.
Increasingly influenced by a global cash economy, the region’s commercial centers are growing into more densely populated and urban-like centers. Expansions of adequate housing, employment opportunities, educational or health facilities are limited by proximate land, human resources, materials, extreme weather conditions, a permafrost foundation and the fact that we are ‘off of the road system’.
“It ain’t easy living here.”
This region is full of strength and potential as well. Consider, after all, that a people and culture surviving for over 30,000 years isolated in one of the planet’s harshest climates, must embody several extraordinary and impressive resiliencies! These strengths however, are not the qualities brought to my attention during a rotation of crisis intervention.
“It ain’t easy working here.”
After a long day, and what seems to be an even longer week ahead, it was comforting to come home tonight to find a familiar friend online. She provided a running synopsis of a fictional world crisis, I provided the cathartic, if not essential, heckling. We ‘watched’ the new release of Michael Crichton’s “Andromeda Strain.” I didn’t actually ‘see’ the movie, but I had seen the original version back in the 60’s or 70’s and could follow today’s storyline fairly well. Neatly settled onto her recliner in the ‘Lower 48’, my my dear friend watched the 4 part mini-series while I read her instant messaging from a laptop in the Arctic. During the commercials, we chatted. Solar bird baths were mentioned. Gidget napped at my feet. Her dog no doubt napped in her lap or someplace nearby.
These are the moments I speak of when referring to “Living Small,” the shared or individual moments that comprise our day-to-day lives, spending time with a friend for example. These moments are easily overlooked and whether modern or traditional, near or far, in the final analysis, they are the stuff of life as we know it.
Once again, I had better slip off to catch some sleep while I can….more blogging another day.
“Keep Coming Back” as they say in some rooms…or drop us a line.
Be thinking of you,
Jennifer and Gidget