Nukalpiaq and the Bear Cub

by Elena Aluskak

Nukalpiaq – (great male hunter) and the bear cub

Once upon a time there was a Nukalpiaq, who decided his little girl should have a bear cub as a pet. A bear cub? A bear cub. Yes – that was his decision – however he came to it. And he being a Nukalpiaq knew exactly what his decision entailed. But mind you … he is known as a Nukalpiaq. He also knows the traits of bears; I want to say that most of us do but he having that title knows more … than most of us. 

So, one morning he wakes up and tells himself, “this is the day to venture and fulfill my decision, I know exactly where the mama bear’s den is”; he probably had been exploring resolutely his goal.

So, he gets ready – wonder how his woman took this – was she confident in him? Was she nervous and tearful? What was she saying to him? How fast did her mind race … on the worst? Or as most native women are brought up, was she calm and kept to herself; her thoughts, her actions and behavior, as if this is just a regular, day-to-day endeavor?

What was going on in his mind? Was he having second thoughts? Was he ‘sorry’ for telling his young daughter about his decision – was he now afraid to disappoint his little girl if he backed out??? But, no – he moved forward with his decision … as any Nukalpiaq did/does.

And so he reaches the mama bear’s den to find the cubs are alone, the mama is nowhere in sight, strangely. This is his chance to accomplish his courageous choice.

He gently takes one of the smallest of the duo … and creeps out. And to his anticipation, the cub starts crying. He fully knows mama bear has the ability to hear and respond to it from miles out.

Within a few feet from the den, he hears loud breathing and angry noises with each step that are quickly approaching. He clutches his prize very close to his chest – this is his role – which he has personally accepted to fulfill. He also knows that mama bear will not touch him with her cub on his person.  The cub is still crying … as it should.

Too quickly, the mama bear is standing in front of him, enraged and lashing out but not touching him. The Nukalpiaq has his eyes on the ground – as taught by other Nukalpiaq(t) before him, clutching the cub with both arms, his every breath … calm and gentle … his stance unchanging (much like the enraged mama in front of him).

After what seemed like eons, the mama bear yields and turns away to her remaining cub in her den. The Nukalpiaq gently, with each step accounted for, walks away with the bear cub in his arms, to be placed into the care of his dear little beloved daughter.


Now, let’s look at this story from one of many different standpoints.

Take the bear cub as a child, as one held tightly on your chest. One who is vulnerable, one who has to be held in a clutch to reach a goal; a goal that seems farfetched but fully equipped well to reach.

The mama bear – enraged and looming above and lashing out; she can easily be envisioned as the system (from this metaphor).

We, as the native and local helpers, taught and brought up within our own cultural and traditional system of care will take our stance and work incessantly with our people in that manner. We are fully equipped through our teachings and knowledge to work with them throughout the entire time of advocacy and beyond. We will utilize our uncertified, with no form of degree, unlicensed, and unwritten method of care to our people of this region.

This ‘forced’ system may be looming over us with so many words and sometimes with what seems like the attitude of rage; deafening and intimidating, threatening and profoundly right in its ways … yet in all of this, there is but one that will succeed and aid us and our people to a state of resolve, as it should and have been since time began for US.

Through our teachings and native knowledge, we will serve our families – looking ‘down’ at our foundation; for the system will lose its voice and power and yield if no one continues to bow down and surrender to it. The foundation is divine – in that, it is a given custom to utilize in taking care. It withstands. It is easily recognized. It is not a trial; a checking, pilot project deal thing. It doesn’t change. It doesn’t ask for anything more than what we already have – all we have to do is simply continue to move forward with it persistently and with urgency. We have not lost it and we cannot be told or be made to believe that our way of care is a loss and non- effective.

Our children will be fully brought ‘home’ utilizing our customs and traditional/cultural way of care through persistence and unwavering footing we as caretakers stand on … much like this Nukalpiaq. It is with that native characteristic we are born into – as our Creator intended – that we should be striving to still survive; physically, mentally, emotionally and above all Spiritually.

Each forward step we take should be accounted for … not looking back, this system continually tells us to look back and work through the ‘mistakes’ or ‘experiences’ with so much overwhelming directives, when all we should do traditionally speaking is, “pellugcelluku” – let it go and not dwell in it, “piksagutevkenaku” – don’t begin to own it, and in doing so utilize our elders – we still have many, many elders that are available in good standing to support us. Too many times, looking back can be fatal and very, very unhealthy.

Elena W. Aluskak is the Outreach Coordinator at Irniamta Ikayurviat – Bethel, Alaska.

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