A Message from the Elders

Hauling a skin boat for whaling
Horsepower replaces dogpower in hauling a skin boat for whale hunting—Gambell. Photo credit: Anchorage Museum, Ward Wells Collection, B83.91.S4706.110

Yuungnaqsaraq—our way of being (Central Yup'ik)

Kiyaqhneq—way of life (St. Lawrence Yupik)

Inuuniagniqput—the way we live as people (Inupiaq)1

This report is a record of our ancestral connection to the ocean. The teaching of our ancestors was based on respect for what the ocean provides. Respectful actions are rewarded by hunting success; disrespectful actions have negative consequences. We were taught never to waste what the Creator has given us, to share our food with the community and to listen to our elders because they acquired wisdom over a long life and keen observation of the world around us.

Today, while technology has changed and certain traditional practices have been left behind, knowing our family relations, sharing food from successful hunts, not wasting our catch and listening to elders’ advice remain the foundation of our culture. Respect for the natural world and caring for our resources are the basis for continued opportunity to thrive on the bounty of the ocean and land. These are the values that the elders Group is committed to transmitting to our younger leaders and to the outside world where decisions are made that affect us.

Edward Kiokun butchering a seal—Mekoryuk. Photo credit: Archives, University of Alaska Fairbanks; Robert W. & Elizabeth L. Stevens Collection; UAF-2003-194-2028

This Island is small but there are names [for places] all around the island, bottom and top, from the waterline to the top. North, south, east, west. What we eat is seafood out of the ocean. Auklets feed out of the sea. Seals, walrus, crabs, bullhead, blue cods, and the birds are eating off of the sea. So that everything that we eat depends on the sea for their food too as well as ourselves here on the island. The sea is our food warehouse.2 From “Diomede Island Names, Places and Stories”

Our subsistence lifestyle IS our culture. Without subsistence we will not survive as a people...If our culture, our subsistence lifestyle, should disappear, we are no more and there shall not be another kind as we in the entire world.3 John Active – Bethel

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

Last Updated: 
Thu, 01/21/2016