A Message from the Elders: On Gratitude and Respect

walrus hunter
Walrus hunter—King Island. Photo credit: Archives, University of Alaska, Fairbanks; Albert Johnson Photograph Collection 1905-1917, UAF-1989-166-402-Print

I take some snow and when I catch a bearded seal, I’ll put some in my mouth, melt it, and put it in the mouth and the hand of the seal for its spirit to come to me again. Because whatever remains that I have I put it back in the water so that his spirit can go back to the spirit world and also come back to me.9 John Pingayak—Chevak

That was the first seal that I caught and my father told me to melt water in my mouth and to give him water. He said that the seal was thirsty and that’s why he gave himself to me. I melted ice and snow in my mouth and I gave the water to the bearded seal.10 Stuart Olrun—Mekoryuk

The elders used to tell us, when we shoot anything, they always tell us not to say anything after you shoot it. They said you’re never going to kill it after you say that word. They tell us not to say anything about it when we shoot anything. If you want to kill it, just shoot it without saying anything.11 Joseph David—Mekoryuk

Umyugaa-gguq tukniluni [They said that one’s mind is powerful]. They told us that a person’s gratefulness is powerful, and their hurtful feelings are also powerful. If we cause that poor person to have hurtful feelings, they can shove us into negative circumstances. But if that person is grateful, it is like they are pushing us toward our own happiness. They make all things [all animals] more available to men, and every time they travel, something is available.12 Theresa Moses—Toksook Bay

When you are given a plate, you think of the ocean as your source of food and you take a little from your food and discard it some place where it won’t get trampled on in the memory of those who have gone before us…And then you take the first little bite from your side of the plate thinking that soon as you get to the Bering Sea, a seal might come to you….13 John Pingayak—Chevak

More messages from the elders:
On sharing
On gratitude and respect

Last Updated: 
Thu, 01/21/2016