Diversity

gary 027

In looking at this picture, you might not even think that there is much diversity in this group.  They are all wearing beyond comfortable jeans and footwear.  They are sporting the same t-shirt with various pullovers for comfort.  They are sporting sunglasses and hats for shade…except for the kids who haven’t learned the virtues of protecting skin and eyes yet.  They have all come together to support a common cause and to play a common game.  (Well, common game in an uncommon location;  tundra golf…not for the faint of heart.)  You wouldn’t think that so many different cultures could be represented in such a small group, but without going into their personal backgrounds, I will just tell you that they represent everything.

On this day of reflection I like to think that America was brilliant at being a model for diversity and inclusiveness.  How that changed mimics the changes we see on a local level.  Learning about different cultures, with the result of respecting them, opens the door for open minds. Take a lesson from indigenous cultures who for millennia were inclusive of all people no matter their beliefs, skin tone, or gender identification and/or definition.  Although I now believe that our ability to pass on values of diversity acceptance has become more difficult, I still believe that our ability to truly appreciate and celebrate diverse cultures stems from the generosity of those who choose to share their values and their dreams with the group as a whole.

Advertisements

Carve

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAvia Daily Prompt: CarveCarve

Lined up around the edges of the studio, rough cut stone takes up the under spaces along the walls.  Under the finishing desk, mounds of stone hunker down, seemingly forgotten.  Under the ledge that acts as a shelf.  Bone and wood haphazardly stacked on shelves along the wall.  A moistened finger brings out the color of the stone… a piece of soapstone with the colors of jade.  Back in the corner, a find of alabaster.  I am always fascinated when she “sees” something in a clump of stone; amazed that she won’t pull a piece out until her vision is clear.  How does her mind work to decide to make that first cut with the handsaw, taking off the stone she won’t use?  Completely self-taught, she finds a balance, not only in literally making the stone stand on its own, but in the other materials that she brings to the carved stone, each piece a brilliant carving in its own right; each piece a part of herself, the story she is telling about her people, past and present, and the environment in which she thrives.

Tix^yux^ – Wild rye.

Basket woven by Diane Svarny.

Unangan weaving has the reputation of being some of the finest weaving being done today; for millenia, for that matter.  It can take a weaver many months to complete a project.    It also has the reputation of being some of the most beautiful weaving, exacting in the details of process and design.  So much goes into weaving each project that it should come as  no surprise at how time consuming even the first steps can be.

If you have ever been to the Aleutians during the summer, one of the first comments you are likely to make will be something about the abundant, large grass growing on the beach shores and up into the meadowlands.  You are looking at tix^lux^, or wild rye grass, or in the scientific lingo, Elymus mollis.  It is this beautiful grass that played such a large part in the lives of the Unangax^.

Salmonberries and mushrooms 066 (2)Weaving used to be a very utilitarian aspect of Unangan life.  Grasses were used to weave fish baskets, berry baskets, clam containers, floor mats, wall coverings, room dividers, mittens,  socks, burial mats, capes….you name it and it was probably a woven product.  The beauty of the fine weaving, though, was not recognized until the Unangax^ were invaded by Russian fur procurers and items began leaving the region, either as items taken forcibly, or, in later years, as items of trade.

I am lucky that my mother has passed on the art of gathering and curing grass for basket weaving.  It is no longer a common occurrence.  I miss seeing women returning from the hills carrying large bundles of grass over their shoulders.  Those bundles were tossed and dampened and protected from sunlight for up to 2 months, depending on conditions.  Then the grass was stripped down to the inner blades of grass; the ones that were at the center of the blade, thus protected from the salty elements.  One large bundle is reduced to a bundle measuring, perhaps, an inch in diameter.

basket grass

Just so you know, both my daughters have been on the August grass gathering forays.

Women’s March 2017

mom-plus-3We are privileged to live in an extremely diverse town.  If you can think of a nationality, we most likely are fortunate to have one or two or a small community living here.  We just all live and work together.  Our community is a blue town living in a red state.  We believe in equality and justice for all.

In our disbelief, the results of the recent election finally crept up on us.  I kept thinking that something would happen between November and January to save us all from the fact that life as we have known it was going to go through some dark and drastic changes.  So I was ready to support my fellow women who were marching on Washington in peaceful protest.

We all marched for many different reasons. Because we can. My 87 year old mother marched to remind US citizens not to step on people’s civil liberties like happened to the Unangan/Unangas people during World War II.  She was 12 years old when her civil liberties were taken from her by the US government.

Ours was not as formal as some of the larger city marches. We didn’t have speakers. We did have signs. Great signs. One said Ataqan Akun.  We are one.  One of them said March 4 love. One said March against Hate. Another said equality and justice. One said feminist AF, carried by a man. One said Tuman tanax^ agliisaax*txin. Take care of the land. Another said Tuman alag^ux^ agliisaax^txin. Take care of the sea/ocean. And one said Ig^ayuux^txin, ang^im atxag^ingin agachan madada. Do the things you know are right.

And this is not right. Unfortunately, things are being taken away from us all, but some are suffering sooner than the rest of us. We, the marchers, just knew it would happen before others realized the impact.   We all need to practice the values handed down by the indigenous people of this great land   Our people. Our values….the right way to live as human beings.

The Meaning of Family.

~
~

My family ties got a little broader and tighter this past week.  I got a chance to meet my mother’s sister’s son’s grandchildren.  Our family has relatives far-flung all over these United States.  It was not a conscious decision for my mother’s family to disperse in all directions from the Aleutian Islands.  It was, instead, due to a forced evacuation of all Native peoples from the islands during World War II.  My mother’s older sister Myrtle ended up being sent to her military husband’s family in the deep south.  After the war, they eventually ended up settling in Nevada and raising 3 children.  The kids had several chances to visit as they were growing up and these visits stuck like glue in the mind of the oldest son.  He made several trips as an adult, once with one of his children.  Several other times with his wife.  The time before this trip, to spread some of his mother’s ashes in the family plot, to be reunited with her mother, father, and brothers and sisters who had preceded her in passing.

On one of these trips, he was in Unalaska during the time that our Traditional Knowledge summer camp was taking place.  From that experience sprang the seeds of an idea to have his grandchildren experience their roots and learn about their indigenous culture.

Dennis and his two granddaughters arrived the day before camp began on a day with the fog hanging halfway down the mountains and after having spent two hours in Cold Bay, Alaska waiting for fuel.  They were unfortunate to land in Cold Bay after 2 Japanese military planes had emptied the fuel trucks of all fuel.  Two of his children were to arrive three days later.  His daughter, the mother of the girls, and his son, both of whom had never been here before.  They had the true Aleutian experience of flying to the point of being directly overhead, and turning around to return to Anchorage because they couldn’t find the airport in the fog.  Well….not a true Aleutian experience because they actually made it onto a flight the next day and landed.

Oh the girls had an experience like no other.  The fish – baked, smoked, made into lox.  The octopus.  The fish pie.  The sea lion.  Learning to weave.  Making masks.  Learning some Unangam tunuu, the Aleut language.  Songs and dance.  And the son and daughter?  Hiking some of the trails made by their ancestors some 8,000 years before.  Climbing above the clouds and watching the landscape and village magically appear as the clouds dissolved.

But the real magic was in the sharing of family and history.  Seeing the bonds forged between a great, great aunt and great, great nieces; between great aunts and great niece and great nephew; between cousins and second cousins, and beyond.  The magic of feeling a kinship with virtual strangers.  The real magic was in the wistful expressions on the day of departure.  The strange pulling at the heart strings that the islands give to people who come here with their hearts wide open.  Yes.  And the promise of returning again someday.

Happy International Women’s Day – Celebrate your feminine

Basketwoman by Unangan artist Gert Svarny
Basketwoman by Unangan artist Gert Svarny


In 1910 an International Conference of Working Women was held in Copenhagen. Clara Zetkin, leader of the Women’s Office for the Social Democratic Party in Germany, proposed that every year in each country there should be a celebration on the same day – a Women’s Day – to press for their demands.  Thus International Women’s Day was born.

In my strong, matriarchal society of Unangan women in Unalaska, I have had many stellar examples upon which to base my life attitude.  My mother, Gert Svarny, continues the values and ethics that her mother Alice Hope instilled in her.  Even my younger sister and my own daughters have taught me a thing or two about strength and character.  I am lucky to have a public reference about my grandmother to show my children and grandchildren how devoted she was to her community, by the love shown her at her death.  In his book Moments Rightly Placed, author Ray Hudson writes:  Then on the afternoon of December 4, 1966, Alice Hope died in Washington state.  The next day a service for this deeply loved woman was held at Unalaska, and when her body arrived five days later,  Anfesia (Shapsnikoff) assisted Father Ishmael Gromoff in yet another service.  Anfesia stayed all night with her departed friend, in the company of the Hope children and grandchildren and friends, until the service at the church on December 11th.  Anfesia noted in her diary, “had Liturgy with Mrs. Hope’s body; after funeral service walked her up all the way.”  Carrying the coffin the length of the village from the church to the graveyard was an act of uncommon devotion.

Who is the woman, or women, in your life who have guided you on your path?  Gentlemen…this is a question for you also.

Hunkering down

~
~

When you live in Alaska there are just certain things that you expect.  You expect the long days of summer when the sun barely sets before coming above the horizon again.  You expect to spend a majority of your time hunting and gathering from May through October.  You don’t know when, but you expect that first dusting of snow on the mountains, more commonly known as termination dust.  And you expect it to be cold.  In the Aleutians, we also expect wind.

February was called Qisagunax^ by the indigenous people of the Aleutians prior to 1834.  This means famine.  February was the month when you were gaining about 4 minutes of daylight per day.  It was the month when you had already braved the storms of November, December, and January.  It was the month when you were coming to the end of some of your subsistence foods.  So food was scarce.  The communities were hungry.  It was a time when you needed to get out there and find something to eat again.

It is amazing that February is also the month during our long winters that can have some of the most beautiful weather.  Perhaps my ancestors knew this about February, so they were not particularly careful about their food stocks.  They did like to party and were generous to a fault.  Perhaps they knew they could count on the most gorgeous, brilliant sunny days in February, when the tide was out really low.  And the winds abated.  They could get out in their iqyan and fish, or hunt for that stray sea mammal.  Or access the tidepools for delicacies like sea urchins, mussels, clams, octopus, limpets, chitons, and seaweed.  Then they would hunker down when those north winds picked up again, coating everything in ice from the sea spray.

On days like these ones, I like to pull a fish out of the freezer and enjoy the fruits of our labors from the summer months.  I like to be warm and toasty in my little home, not caring what is going on outside my doors.  Like the windows, everything has a hazy, muted feeling of being cut off from the world.  Especially if the wind is blowing and your ability to hear anything besides the wind is gone.  Yes….just hunkering down and enjoying my solitude.