I read this opinion piece in the Tundra Drums today, and it was frustrating from the outset. Not because a lot of it isn't true, but because it's the least original thing to say about villages.
"We've entered the Native Dark Age. Everything that used to be good, strong, and healthy about Alaska Native villages is gone or fading."
It's the same perspective and complaint I've heard again and again and again. How bad things are, how bad they're going to be. How good things used to be (only to be interspersed with how bad things used to be.)
But this fatalistic view is a big part of the problem. And telling everyone a single, small thing they should do to start fixing everything wrong is enormously unhelpful. Why will having talking circles be the beginning of a revolution? Maybe it will be, but you're hanging an awful lot on something that is easy to say failed if it hits a small snag (and doesn't actually address most of the real issues in the first place.)
It's also enormously short-sighted. Instead of being frustrated with young people who text, why not embrace the new skills and technology being learned? Why not take exactly those things and use them as a tool to improve the community?
The Alaska Native people of history were experts of adaptation. They ability to take and create "new" technology, like halibut hooks, unique stands for whaling Turnagain Arm, and, eventually, steel and the written word - I'm proud of the history of entire cultures not only accepting change, but welcoming it. It's in our blood to adapt to whatever the world gives us, we just need to reach in and own it.
"The Fourth of July used to be so much fun, but now I don't even care when it arrives; same with Christmas, Easter, and other holidays. Long ago, when the elders were here, I used to be crazy about the holidays; now I'm not."
The irony here is, how long have the Native people of this land celebrated the 4th of July as a day of independance? Why was this change in culture acceptable - and why are new changes unacceptable? An old "good" thing about Native ways seems to be the celebration of Easter. But how long has this tradition been going on? A mere breath in the life of Alaska Native cultures.
I admit to fighting despair when it comes to culture. I admit to being afraid that I'll never know my full protocol, and to missing how the 4th of July used to be. You can't look at our history honestly, and not also feel a great deal of sadness, and grief.
But it is more frustrating to me to hear the same complaints and same negative view of entire cultures said over and over again in not very new ways. Because guess what? It doesn't help a damn thing.
I gaurantee you the most heroic, most respected, most loved Alaska Native leaders in history were not the ones who pointed out the wrong, but lead the change. I gaurantee you they were the leaders who inspired youth to be better, who adapted to the situaton as best they could, who fought what wrong they saw with all their might, but didn't give up on living when they lost the overwhelming battles. In fact, I could name a few dozen Native leaders in the past few decades alone who have been this kind of leader.
Here's a thought: instead of telling the young cousin in the village there's no more "moral" people where he lives (which has to include him), encourage the growth of the morality he has in him. Instead of making a sweeping comment about there being no hard workers left in the village, come up with an original idea about jobs in the village (and I know more than a few "hard workers" left in the village to discount that generalization).
Instead of telling a village full of people that the last people with good hearts are almost dead, I challenge you to find their good hearts. They do have good hearts, and it is more sad to me that you're missing out on that than anything.
You'll get a lot of people agreeing with you when you talk about all the bad. But you'll get a lot more done when you help grow the good.
I've met, talked with, and loved too many good-hearted, loving, smart, capable, excellent Native people both rural and urban to believe the sweeping judgements and despairing totality of this article. And they are not the exception.
While you're praying for a miracle to change everything, I challenge you to also pray for God to open your eyes. To believe there is a great deal of hope and brilliance and good things yet to come out of rural Alaska is not naivety, or ignorance, or futile - it is the only way things are actually going to change.
Someone certainly should do something, and that someone is me. I'm doing something. Daily, I'm surrounded by Native people who are also commited to doing something.
As trite or cliche or used as all the terms may be, there's a reason they're said so much. If you're not part of the solution, and you're not actively engaged in supporting the good things going on, get the hell out of my way. You do no one any good with your tired complaints, and I have a lot of work to do.