by Ina Pavila
The Methamphetamine Suicide Prevention Initiative (MSPI) grant was allotted to Orutsararmiut Traditional Native Council ONC to initiate suicide prevention using the Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation (YKHC) model Calricaraq/yuuluaqauciq.
CALRICARAQ is our YUUYARAQ; Our Yup’ik Centric Model for Healthy Living. With this in mind, this writing is put together to represent some of the highlights of training that were done with YKHC. Our ONC MSPI department along with YKHC would like to continue these training(s) and in the near future have the training open to the community.
The Report begins:
Report on the CALRICARAQ Conference January 16-18, 2018
The Calricaraq conference was held at the Moravian Seminary, located in Bethel, Alaska. The Social Service Department of ONC was present along with some other stakeholders within the community: Elders, clinicians, employees of YKHC, Association of Village Council Presidents (AVCP) and some tribal members from various tribes throughout the region.
The conference was one of enlightenment. We, as MSPI and also Social Service Department, had previously had the same training at Orutsararmiut Traditional Native Council two weeks prior and what they covered at the Seminary location was a repetition of the presentation.
The first day covered Historical Trauma and how it impacts our Native families in an adverse way. Trauma leaves an impact on a person to such magnitude that it has a ripple effect, passing it on to the generation after and so forth.
The History that dates back to the 1700 when the Russians first came to our region was vaguely covered, but it wasn’t until the late 1800’s when the United States purchased Alaska from the Russians that the clash of the two cultures left a mark. With the idea of Manifest Destiny, Alaska was one of the “later” states that was affected.
“Manifest Destiny, a phrase coined in 1845, expressed the philosophy that drove 19th-century U.S. territorial expansion. Manifest Destiny held that the United States was destined—by God, its advocates believed—to expand its dominion and spread democracy and capitalism across the entire North American continent”. (http://www.history.com/topics/manifest-destiny).
The colonization of our Yupiaq Native Tribe and other tribes within the state and nation with the introduction of diseases like small pox disseminated the population. There were other introductions like alcohol that has left its trail of heartache and struggle for a culture that was not acculturated in such vices.
The presentation started with a circle. Ellam Yua in the center, the children around Ellam Yua and the Elders; behind the elders were the women and behind the women, the men. This was how our way of life was represented; by the circle.
The circle left a sense of community and security; Everyone had/s a place and the men on the outside protecting the children, the elders and the women. Men are the providers, the women take care of the elders and the children, making sure that their daily necessities are met. The Elders sit around the children, helping to raise them and are the ellalirtuutet (the ones who share their knowledge and wisdom).
Life existed this way until the disruption of the circle and the annihilation of our culture. Our culture is not only the subsurface; covering language, food and dance, there is much more depth. These are the representations that you see in the media and the “fantasized” return of culture by these means. This is just the surface of the iceberg. What lies underneath are spirit, our soul and wisdom that was/is passed down from generation to generation.
The very DNA was disrupted by the assumed acculturation of western society. Our peace was replaced with that of confusion and isolation and the assumed idealized power of another culture who deemed themselves to be our superior. The circle was broken, our way of life was broken, our children taken away; what was carried within the parents and elders from pride of culture was then turned over to sorrow that could not be quenched.
Many of our children were sent to boarding schools far away from familiarity. They were ripped from their families, their parents and grandparents. In confusion the parents complied, believing that they would be arrested if they did not follow the anguyagtet (translated verbatim as the militia, but in modern translation; the government).
The children were sent to various boarding schools within the state of Alaska and also to places as far as the Chemawa Indian School in Oregon. The children were taught a different language and if they had spoken their native tongue would be punished. They were taught that their language was offensive, their culture was offensive and they were identified as unfit, savage.
Many of the children, in that developmental state, with adverse trauma; inhibit the growth of the brain and the function of a child. In the language used of the hosts of Calricaraq; this negative treatment kills the spirit. I could not imagine the kind of distress it brought not only to the children, but also to the community as a whole. The children that were once seen playing and helping their grandparents were now isolated, stripped of their language and identity as Yupiaq people.
We have come up to today; there is a lot of dysfunction within the home due to the use of alcohol. Many of our families, unfortunately have turned to drinking as a coping mechanism in which to drown the sorrows. The sorrow that taunts is unbeknownst by some and still we wonder why we are controlled by such addictions. This, in modern terminology would be considered PTSD (Post traumatic stress disorder), where it has affected our people to the third, even fourth generation.
Like many disorders, PTSD can be passed down through genetically. The best way I can explain this is like a cut that turns into a scar. When a mother gets pregnant the very scar that they have on their body can turn up and appear on the body of the child. The trauma that is experienced within a mother, through gestational periods, is also experienced within the child that is carried.
The same chemicals produced within the mother are also going through the body of the child, so impeding chemicals impact the child in such a way that it “becomes” them. Unfortunately, in such cases, the child may experience anxiety and depression as they get older.
It was also taught, in our culture, that a carrying mother communicate with the infant every day. Qaruyun (encouragement) started at the gestational period. The calming voice helps with the development of the gestation. This also familiarized the child to the voice of his/her mother.
Storytelling also is another avenue in which to encourage children starting at a very young age. Stories brought about life lessons necessary for the raising of the child. History was passed down through life experiences told and how everything came about.
“We find meaning and significance in what we have lived through. Reconstructing the sense of our personal histories is a path to understand that there is meaning in who and what we are and what we have lived through despite everything we experienced, this is what allows us to go forward in life.” (Calricaraq/Yuuluaqauciq Conference, January, 2018).
Knowing our history makes sense of who we are and where we are in life; recognizing that there are effects to every cause. It is through this recognition of history that can allow for us to heal from our historical trauma.
Looking at it from this point of view, life makes sense. The way our people’s lives are played out in front of us is a reflection of the impact that history has made on our generations. We realize that addictions are just a coping mechanism, because of our lost identity. This may very well have been the avenue in which our generations before and their parents coped from separation anxiety. Unfortunately, the scar(s) still remain unless we begin to “unpack” some of the load that we all carry in our own personal backpacks which were passed down to us from our parents and the parents before them, etc…
Healing must come from within. Knowledge of history is a big part of our road to well-being. We also need the wisdom of our elders and their teaching(s), because it is through their wisdom our very culture thrived/s. The knowledge that our people live on is like food; food is necessary for the body and sustenance. People perish because of their lack of knowledge; the good book says. There is much to learn and so much more that can be resurfaced with the right tools and the right attitude.
They say knowledge dies with our elders, but it does not have to be so.
“Healing comes from within; it must be rooted in the wisdom, knowledge and living processes of our culture. We are resource experts; we have it within us to transform ourselves and our communities into healthy, thriving places that produce strong people. Reinforcing what we already know as Yupik/Cupik people combined with a renewed value to utilize this knowledge will heal and promote healthy living.” (Calricararq/Yuuluaqauciq, January 2018).
Ina Pavilla is the MSPI Coordinator for the Orutsaramiut Native Council.