Vivian Mork Yéilk’ passes down plant knowledge to the next generation in Wrangell. (Breanne Pearson | For the Capital City Weekly)

Vivian Mork Yéilk’ passes down plant knowledge to the next generation in Wrangell. (Breanne Pearson | For the Capital City Weekly)

Planet Alaska: Season of storytelling

What kind of stories will our great-great grandchildren tell of us?

As winter settles in the season of storytelling is upon us.

For thousands of years, Alaska Natives told stories deep into the night, carrying wisdom to the next generation. This is how we have survived on this land since time immemorial. We are some of the oldest people in the world to survive sustainably in one area for so long. How did we accomplish this? Wisdom resides in our knowledge systems and at the core is our values.

Marie Olson and Vivian Mork Yéilk’ having tea and talking story about the Tlingit language, Higher Education, the importance of voting, Juneau’s history, Wooshkeetaan history, and more. (Vivian Prescott | For the Capital City Weekly)

Marie Olson and Vivian Mork Yéilk’ having tea and talking story about the Tlingit language, Higher Education, the importance of voting, Juneau’s history, Wooshkeetaan history, and more. (Vivian Prescott | For the Capital City Weekly)

Alaska Native cultures shares similar values that are embedded in the stories we tell. So as you settle in for the winter, as you attend events, go to school, start a new job, or share coffee with friends, listen to the stories around you. As you check your Instagram or Twitter, as you check your Facebook newsfeed, notice what values are being passed down.

Tlingit values

As shared by the Elders:

• Respect for self, elders and others

• Respect for nature and property

• Balance

• Responsibility

• Truth and wise use of words.

• Patience

• Discipline

• Be strong in mind, body, and spirit

• Hold each other up

• Listen well and with respect

• Speak with care

• Humor

• Sense of humility

• We are stewards of the air, land and water.

• Reverence — “We have one great word in our culture: haa shageinyáa. This was a Great Spirit above us, and today we have translated that reverence to God.” – Walter Soboleff

• Dignity. The Tlingit word for dignity is yan gaa duuneek.

• Pride in family, clan and traditions is found in love, loyalty and generosity. Practice and pass down our traditions.

• Peace with the family, peace with the neighbors, peace with the others, and peace with the world of Nature.

Our stories have been disregarded as myth; something untrue and filled with fallacy, but as Alaska Native peoples, we understand storytelling is an important way to learn proper behavior among animals, plants and other human beings. They are our survival lessons.

Alutiiq values

As shared by the Elders:

• Family and the kinship of our ancestors and living relatives.

• Our Elders

• Our heritage language.

• Ties to our homeland.

• A subsistence lifestyle, respectful of and sustained by the natural world.

• Traditional arts, skills and ingenuity.

• Faith and a spiritual life, from ancestral beliefs to the diverse faiths of today.

• Sharing: we welcome everyone.

• Sense of humor

• Learning by doing, observing and listening.

• Stewardship of the animals, land, sky and waters.

• Trust

• Our people: we are responsible for each other and ourselves.

• Respect for self, others and our environment is inherent in all of these values.

These values are not catchy phrases or bumper sticker quotes, they’re meant to be actions. There’s a lot of stress in our culture today. Leaders who are supposed to be role models lack empathy and compassion. We see the greed and hate. We are suffering and our children are suffering too. So how do we heal? Stories have a threefold purpose: to entertain, to teach and to heal. Ask: What story can I tell that’ll help you?

Athabaskan values

As shared by the Elders:

• Self-sufficiency and Hard Work

• Care and Provision for the Family

• Family Relations and Unity

• Love for Children

• Village Cooperation and Responsibility to Village

• Humor

• Honesty and fairness

• Sharing and caring

• Respect for Elders and others

• Respect for knowledge and wisdom from life experiences

• Respect for the land and nature

• Practice of Native traditions

• Honoring ancestors

• Spirituality

Stories play an essential role within Alaska Native communities and are used to educate and sustain our connection to ancestors. If we listen closely we can learn to balance our lives and the proper manner to conduct ourselves on the planet. We can learn how to treat our neighbors better.

Iñupiat Ilitqusiat

• As shared by the Elders:

• With guidance and support from Elders, we must teach our children Iñupiaq values:

• Knowledge of language

• Sharing

• Respect for others

• Cooperation

• Respect for Elders

• Love for children

• Hard work

• Knowledge of family tree and history

• Avoidance of conflict

• Respect for nature

• Spirituality

• Humor

• Family roles

• Hunter success

• Domestic skills

• Humility

• Responsibility to tribe

In our Native communities, we rely on the traditional storyteller role, but our Native poets, playwrights, carvers, filmmakers, educators, weavers and photographers are our storytellers too. A carver tells a story by carving a shame pole for today. A photographer captures canoes coming ashore at Celebration, hundreds of people paddling together. An artist sews a 12-foot kuspuk with the faces of missing and murdered Native women. An educator teaches a child her first Lingít word, then she hears her first story in the Lingít language.

Alaska Natives have always believed in the power of words. Stories have the power to transmit knowledge and to strengthen a culture. Listen to the story of Salmon Boy and learn how to respect salmon, or of Raven tossing a blanket into the bushes, of a child making fun of the moon. What value is that story teaching? Today, we hear stories of children wrapped in space blankets, but we also hear stories of people volunteering to reunite families. We hear stories of people building tiny houses for veterans, stories of a drag show to support a friend’s fight with cancer. These are the stories that sustain and empower, that keep us going in this winter season.

Yupik Values

As shared by the Elders:

• Love for children

• Respect for others

• Sharing

• Humility

• Hard work

• Spirituality

• Cooperation

• Family roles

• Knowledge of family tree

• Knowledge of language

• Hunter success

• Domestic skills

• Avoid conflict

• Humor

• Respect for nature

• Respect for land

• Respect for nature

If a child is sad, tell a story. If your elder is lonely, visit and tell a story. If your partner or teacher needs encouragement, tell a story. If you can learn a story in your Native language, do that!

Unangan values

As shared by the Elders:

• Share

• Listen

• Don’t be boastful

• Be kind to other people

• Help others

• Take care of the land

• Take care of the sea/ocean

• Take care of the water

• Do not do anything to excess

• Be happy

• Behave yourself: Do the things you know are right

• Don’t steal

• Don’t lie

• Respect Elders, including parents, teachers and community members

• Respect your peers

• Be strong

• Don’t be envious of what belongs to another

• Admire one who does well by honest means

• Don’t make promises quickly, but keep those you make

• Live like you want people to see you live

• Don’t be greedy

• Don’t talk bad about the weather or the sun, the moon or the stars

• Don’t slander another person

• Don’t get ahead of yourself

• Pay your debts

• Subsistence is sustenance for the life

• Don’t forget your Unangan language

As I look at these cultural commonalities, these values that’ve held together the spirit of this place for so long, I think about who will we become as things continue to change in Alaska? It seems some of those changes have been hard or are harmful. And yet, I see others in my community who are fighting for us all, for the changes that will make us a better state. They are living their values.

Great-Grandpa Mickey Prescott, retired Forest Service, and Great grandson Jackson Pearson smoking salmon and talking story in Wrangell. (Vivian Mork Yéilk’ | For the Capital City Weekly)

Great-Grandpa Mickey Prescott, retired Forest Service, and Great grandson Jackson Pearson smoking salmon and talking story in Wrangell. (Vivian Mork Yéilk’ | For the Capital City Weekly)

This winter, I’m reflecting on how our Native values are passed down in our stories. What if all Alaskans tried their best to incorporate these values into the systems they create here? Many of the Native values found in traditional indigenous communities, such as harmonious living, cooperation, teamwork and adaptation have long been an integral part of life. As you shovel your neighbor’s driveway, as you work with the Legislature, sit on a committee, as you bring an elder their groceries, as you write that play, hold that piece of cedar in your hand, think about the stories you’re living and telling. What values are you living? What kind of stories will our great-great grandchildren tell of us?

• The complete Alaska Native Values list can be found online at the Alaska Native Knowledge Network. http://ankn.uaf.edu/ANCR/Values/


• Vivian Mork Yéilk’ writes the Planet Alaska column with her mother, Vivian Faith Prescott. Planet Alaska publishes every other week in the Capital City Weekly.


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