Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Two worlds

After "recovering" from a nice little vacation, including an awful lot of "light" fair on the blog lately, I came across this beautiful, thoughtful article in the Arctic Sounder. It was written by Yaari Kingeekuk, a woman I've met on several occasions, who now works for the Alaska Native Heritage Center. It is not a pointed article so much as a discussion of being in and of two worlds - rural and urban, traditional and contemporary, Native and non-Native. She ends:

Even though I feel broken in half, I have to make the best of both worlds to survive. My heart is at home living the cultural ways, but my physical being is here in the city. This is me, this is who I am. Living in both worlds and must remember to keep paddling against the wind.

She paints a picture that I think many Native people around my age/generation feel, but don't know how to put into words - or maybe even feel they shouldn't put into words. Is it complaining? Is it not being grateful? Is it focusing on things that can't be fixed?

Even here, though, I don't know if I'm totally where Yaari is. Even those of us from similar culture, and similar generation get lumped into the idea that we all had a similar experience. I don't, like Yaari, feel "broken in half." Yet at the same time, living in a state with ancestral ties going back literally tens of thousands of years - I have never felt as if I belonged anywhere.

If you asked any of my relatives from where I was born, I can lay money on them saying I was a "city girl." Raised in an urban environment - long removed from any rural setting. Yet friends, people I've met here in town, see me as coming from rural stock. A village girl. Even my own father asked me just a few months ago, "When people ask you where you're from, what do you tell them?"

I haven't actually figured that out yet. I graduated from a high school with more people in it than the town I was born in. I didn't grow up in Anchorage, and even if I'm traveling out of state, I never say I'm "from" Anchorage. I love herring eggs on kelp, but like my restaurant options. I love button blankets and learning the formal Tlingit introduction - but see the need to spend as much time honing computer and job skills. I would love to move back to Southeast, even in the near future, but see the possibility of that as slim to none, with little job opportunity and high cost. In Anchorage I have a great job, lots of creature comforts, "stuff to do" every weekend - but I also have limited access to my culture, the kind of "nature" I love, or an awful lot of family.

The real fun stuff is navigating the racial front. I am half Native - why don't I say I am half white? Why don't I identify with the "white" side? Message: Native people need to get educated, get good jobs, build the economy - leave the villages. Simultaneous message: Native people need to learn the cultural ways, remember ancestral ways, be "real" Natives.

One thing I am certain of when I read things like Yaari's article - in the struggle to figure out what is best, how to honor culture, how to honor the gifts you're given, what to compromise, what to fight for... all these things I don't feel I'm any closer to figuring out - I am not alone. There are a couple of generations of Native people that are stumbling along this path with me.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you for your very thoughtful comments on this complex issue. I really enjoy your blog and use it to help educate myself as I parent blended AK Native/White children.