Alaska Native

“When outsiders first came to Alaska, they found the lands and waters teaming with fish and wildlife, and the lands pristinely clean and undisturbed…an undeniable testament to the wisdom of our people as stewards.” – Ilarion Merculieff


SP_view across lagoon Stephanie Mandregan 2010
Alaska Native Wisdom for Modern Times

by Ilarion Merculieff

Source: Yes! Magazine. May 2010.

There is a single place in the United States where indigenous peoples still live on ancestral lands, consume over four hundred pounds of wild foods annually per capita, and indigenous elders still remember the arrival of the first Westerners in their regions. That place is Alaska.

Despite daunting challenges to cultural integrity and ways of life, Alaska’s Native peoples retain vast storehouses of their traditional knowledge, wisdom, and lifeways. Thus, many traditional Alaska Native lifeways and understandings about how human beings fit into the bigger matrix of creation remain relatively intact. These ways have allowed our cultures to survive and thrive for thousands of years, even in the face of many daunting ecological and economic crises. In today’s challenging times, such ways, having evolved through an intimate and profound relationship to lands, waters, and all life, have much to offer the American people and the entire human family.

Alaska’s vast lands are home to many indigenous nations. One, in Southwestern Alaska, is the Yup’ik nation. Yup’ik elders call modern society the “reverse” or “inside out” society because it has reversed the laws for healthy and sustainable living. These reversals include many of the constructs and paradigms that have brought this country and the world to its economic knees in recent months and years. For example, multinational companies and large profit-making corporations collectively are the driving force behind the U.S. economy and the source of many of the challenges that are pushing the planet’s life support systems to the edge. These companies operate under the widely accepted economic paradigms of growth, market share, competition, and profitability. Such paradigms ignore the reality that the basis for endless economic growth (as currently defined and practiced) is overutilization and exploitation of finite resources.

By contrast, Alaska Native cultures survived and thrived for millennia based on cultural and economic systems that recognized and lived within natural limits. These cultures embodied respect, reciprocity, cooperation, sharing, and harmonious relationships between the individual human being and his or her family and community, as well as the fish, wildlife, and habitat upon which human communities depend. Human societies “exploited” the ecosystems in which they lived, but recognized at all times that natural laws trump human ambitions and that humans must fit themselves into natural systems rather than the other way around. These ways have outlasted the boldest and strongest of empires throughout the world by an order of magnitude.

…Alaska Native cultures have always recognized that adversity is best faced collectively—that, as the famine-acquainted Irish say, ‘It is in the shelter of each other that the people live.’

…Traditionally, Alaska’s Native peoples have also always exercised reciprocity and cooperation with nature. Our “resources” came from what the lands and waters provided, but this is not a one-way relationship. We strongly held to the principle of being givers, not just takers. Whatever we received from the lands and waters, we found ways to give back. For example, the Tlingit peoples of Southeastern Alaska developed highly sophisticated systems to not only protect the salmon in surrounding waters, but also to enhance and strengthen their stocks in ways that were consistent with environmental dictates. As a result, when Westerners arrived, they found the rivers in Tlingit country teeming with so much life that a person could not walk across a stream during the annual fish migration upriver without stepping on a salmon. Athabascan peoples of Interior Alaska developed sophisticated techniques for burning vegetation and controlling apex predators to help the land be more balanced and productive; consequently, just two generations ago, it was not unusual to see a caribou herd, stretching a mile wide, crossing the Yukon River for three days non-stop. These highly evolved economic systems of management and harvesting all considered future generations and did not destroy the ecosystems; to the contrary, they increased their vitality and productivity.

Albert Einstein said, ‘No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it,’ and, ‘We shall require a substantially new manner of thinking if mankind is to survive.’ If we look to the same old formulas to solve the daunting problems facing us, we are using the same consciousness that spawned this crisis in the first place… Perhaps instead the “new manner of thinking” that can help us survive will involve honoring and utilizing ancient wisdom for modern solutions. Perhaps then, like Alaska’s Native cultures, all of humankind can survive and thrive for thousands of years to come.”

 

“We have a rich heritage of strong peoples who had visionary, dedicated, and courageous leaders we must not forget. We Dare Not Forget. We dare not forget because today’s generation faces new challenges that will continue to ask [us] to have courage, integrity, persistence and vision to the same degree, and perhaps more, than what was required of our people in the past.” – Ilarion Merculieff

 

Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK) and Wisdom of Alaska Native Peoples

The foundation for the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of Alaska Native peoples about fish, wildlife, habitat, and environment stems from the profound qualities of connectedness, reverence and reciprocity indigenous peoples have nurtured over hundreds of generations and thousands of years. These qualities, it can be argued, are what Alaska Native peoples consider to be the essence of their spirituality. Indeed, the Alaska Native elders understand that without this kind of spirituality, it is not possible to communicate with, relate to, adapt to, understand, or properly steward the fish, wildlife, and habitat so central to the viability of the Alaska Native ways of life.

Although it is changing a bit, Western scientific paradigms still do not acknowledge these ways of knowing as scientifically valid, nor is Western science equipped to determine whether or not these ways have validity. This situation, de facto, marginalizes traditional ways of knowing and ensures that they do not play a central role in the conduct of conservation, environmental protection and scientific research. Forums are needed to help bring these ways of knowing together to explore the obstacles and challenges, and to strategically develop solutions and mutually beneficial partnerships toward overcoming our global challenges. More and more such forums exist and the fruits of these collaborations are featured in the resources below.

As a Native to the Pribilof Islands, this work is very close to Ilarion’s heart.

 

More on Alaska Native Peoples—History, Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), Wisdom and Lifeways

 

Video – Books – Published Articles – Essays – Reports – Testimonies

 

Video

Moore Up North 2/20/10 Part 5/5

Summary: Panel including Larry Merculieff. Focuses on questions from the audience on issues of business structures and administration in Alaska Native companies.

Source: Moore Up North. February, 2010.

 

Books 

Key Issues in Hunter Gatherer Research, Chapter 18: Western Society’s Linear Systems and aboriginal Cultures: The Need for Two-Way Exchanges for the Sake of Survival

Editors Ernest S. Burch, Jr. and Linda J. Ellana; Contributing Author, Ilarion Merculieff.

Summary: Ilarion Merculieff articulates the negative consequences animal rights activists and wildlife managers have had on his people.

Source: Key Issues in Hunter Gatherer Research. Second Edition 1996.

 

Children of the Midnight Sun, Young Native Voices of Alaska

By Tricia Brown

Summary: “For Native children, growing up in Alaska today means dwelling in a place where traditional practices sometimes mix oddly with modern conveniences. Children of the Midnight Sun explores the lives of eight Alaskan Native children, each representing a unique and ancient culture. This extraordinary book also looks at the critical role elders play in teaching the young Native traditions. 40 color photos. (Review copied from Google Books.) Includes a foreword by Ilarion Merculieff.

Source: Alaska Northwest Books. May 2006.

 

Alaska Native Cultures and Issues: Responses to Frequently Asked Questions

Article Edited by Libby Roderick.

Summary: Roderick, a non-indigenous ally, gives insight into understanding Alaska Native peoples, cultures and lifeways. Includes a chapter by Ilarion Merculieff entitled: “Another Response: ANCSA and Economic Development”
Source: University of Alaska Press.  2010.

 

Do Alaska Native people get health care?* And other frequently asked questions about Alaska Native issues and cultures  *No, they paid in advance.

Edited by Libby Roderick.

Summary: Roderick tackles issues related to identity, language, culture, relatonship to place, tribal government and more. In Chapter one, “Where do we go from here?” Merculieff summarizes a few highlights of what many in the Native community have been working to achieve over the last decades.

Source: University of Alaska Anchorage. 2008.

 

The 13th Step: A Global Journey in search of our Cosmic Destiny

by Jude Currivan

Summary: This is a true story of ordinary people on 13 sacred journeys around the world that reveals our human heritage and cosmic destiny. Merculieff is encountered on the journey and provides critical information.

Source: Hay House, Inc. 2007.

 

Cultivating Arctic Landscapes: Knowing and Managing Animals in the Circumpolar North

Edited by David G. Anderson and Mark Nuttall

Summary: This volume is the first to give a well-rounded portrait of wildlife management, aboriginal rights, and politics in the circumpolar north. The book reveals unexpected continuities between socialist and capitalist ecological styles, as well as addressing the problems facing a new era of cultural exchanges between aboriginal peoples in each region. (from the Publisher’s Summary)
Source: Berghahn Books. 2004.

 

Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men

by Leonard Sax

Summary: According to Sax, changes at school, video games, medications for ADHD, environmental toxins and the devaluation of masculinity are contributing to the underdevelopment of men in Western society. Ilarion Larry Merculieff quoted on Pg. 124.

Source: Basic Books. Reprint edition January 2009.

 

Ecological Education in Action: On weaving Education, Culture and the Environment

Edited by Gregory A. Smith and Dilafruz R. Williams.

Summary: Anthology of perspectives on developing environmental education that produces ecological literacy. Merculieff is referenced in the text.

Source: State University of New York. 1999.

 

Not One Drop: Betrayal and Courage in the Wake of the Exxon Valdez Oil spill

by Riki Ott

Summary: Ott provides a window in to the historical facts of the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill and the resulting false promises made since.

Source: Chelsea Green Publishing. 2008

 

Changing Views on Change: Participatory Approaches to Monitoring the Environment, SARL Discussion Paper No. 2

by Joanne Abbot and Irene Guijt

Summary: This Discussion Paper reviews participatory approaches to monitoring environmental change. It draws on published literature, interviews with practitioners, and the practical experiences of a research project on participatory monitoring of sustainable agriculture in Brazil. This project seeks to develop a viable and relevant monitoring process with farmers, farmers unions, and NGOs to help assess the social and environmental impacts of their efforts in developing more sustainable forms of agriculture. (From IIED.org) Merculieff quoted on Pg. 27

Source: Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Livelihoods (SARL). 1998

 

Arctic Voices – Resistance at the tipping Point

Edited by Subhanker Banerjee

Summary: A pristine environment of ecological richness and biodiversity. Home to generations of indigenous people for thousands of years. The location of vast quantities of oil, natural gas and coal. Largely uninhabited and long at the margins of global affairs, in the last decade Arctic Alaska has quickly become the most contested land in recent US history. World-renowned photographer, writer, and activist Subhankar Banerjee brings together first-person narratives from more than thirty prominent activists, writers, and researchers who address issues of climate change, resource war, and human rights with stunning urgency and groundbreaking research. From Gwich’in activist Sarah James’s impassioned appeal, “We Are the Ones Who Have Everything to Lose,” during the UN Climate Conference in Copenhagen in 2009 to an original piece by acclaimed historian Dan O’Neill about his recent trips to the Yukon Flats fish camps, Arctic Voices is a window into a remarkable region. (from Amazon.com) Merculieff acknowledged and thanked for his contribution.

Source: Seven Stories Press. 2012.

 

The Routledge Handbook of Tourism and Environment

Edited by Andrew Holden and David Fennell

Summary: Explores and critically evaluates the debates and controversies inherent to tourism’s relationship with nature, especially pertinent at a time of major re-evaluation of our relationship with the environment as a consequence of the environmental problems we now face. Merculieff quoted on pg. 510.

Source: Routledge. 2012.

 

The Extraordinary Book of Native American Lists

by Arlene Hirschfelder and Paulette F. Molin

Summary: While Native Americans are perhaps the most studied people in our society, they too often remain the least understood and visible. Fictions and stereotypes predominate, obscuring substantive and fascinating facts about Native societies. The Extraordinary Book of Native American Lists works to remedy this problem by compiling fun, unique, and significant facts about Native groups into one volume, complete with references to additional online and print resources. In this volume, readers can learn about Native figures from a diverse range of cultures and professions, including award-winning athletes, authors, filmmakers, musicians, and environmentalists. Readers are introduced to Native U.S. senators, Medal of Freedom winners, Medal of Honor recipients, Major League baseball players, and U.S. Olympians, as well as a U.S. vice president, a NASA astronaut, a National Book Award recipient, and a Pulitzer Prize winner. Ilarion Larry Merculief listed as 2006 winner of Ecotrust Indigenous Leadership Awardees on pg., 134.

Source: Scarecrow Press. March 2012.

 

Culturally Responsive Mathematics Education

Edited by Brian Greer, Swapna Mukhopadhyay, Arthur B. Powell, Sharon Nelson-Barber

Summary: At a time of rapid demographic change and amidst the many educational challenges facing the US, this critical new collection presents mathematics education from a culturally responsive perspective. It tackles the most crucial issues of teaching mathematics to an ethnically diverse school population, including the political dimension of mathematics education within the context of governmental efforts to improve achievement in school mathematics. Culturally Responsive Mathematics Education moves beyond a point of view that is internal to mathematics education as a discipline, and instead offers a broad perspective of mathematics as a significant, liberating intellectual force in our society. The editors of this volume bring together contributions from many of the leading teachers, teacher educators, researchers, scholars, and activists who have been working to reorient mathematics education in ways that reflect mathematics education as accomplished, first and foremost, through human interactions. (Amazon.com) Merculieff’s, “The Value and Use of Traditional Knowledge and Wisdom” cited.

Source: Routledge. 2006.

 

Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Applying Principles of Sustainability to Wilderness

By Nancy C. Ratner and Davin L. Holen

Summary: Traditional ecological knowledge within specific cultural and geographical contexts was explored during an interactive session at the 8th World Wilderness Congress to identify traditional principles of sustainability. Participants analyzed the traditional knowledge contained in ten posters from Canada and Alaska and identified and discussed the traditional principles of sustainability inherent in specific examples. An invited panel discussed the opportunities and challenges of incorporating traditional principles of sustainability in wilderness management. This paper reports on principles of sustainability and associated cultural concepts related to indigenous engagement with homelands and makes suggestions for how to bridge cultural differences when considering traditional principles of sustainability. A co-management relation- ship was preferred as the most effective strategy for incorporating the traditional expertise of Native peoples into wilderness policy where a wilderness area encompasses the homelands of a surviving indigenous population. (From the article, link above)

Source: USDA Forest Service Proceedings. 2007.

 

Native Men of Courage

by Vincent Schilling

Summary: Merculieff’s life and teachings are featured in a chapter of this book. He was one of ten Native American men in the U.S. featured, chosen because of his pivotal role during a time where many of his Aleut people on St. Paul Island experienced community-wide depression, suicides and suicide attempts, and murders.

Source: Second Story Press. 2008.

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Published Articles

 

Indigenous Solutions to Intellectual Violence

Source: University of Texas, June 2014.

Summary: review of program led by Ilarion Merculieff and Dr. Libby Roderick where Indigenous practices and perspectives are included within academia.

 

Alaska Native Wisdom for Modern Times

by Ilarion Merculieff

Summary: The Roman Empire lasted for 500 years; southwest Alaska’s Aleuts for 9,000. As the economy crumbles, what can Alaska Natives teach us about sustainable economics?

SourceYes! Magazine. May 2010. (link)

North American Governments Agree to Protect Wilderness

Summary: United States, Canada, and Mexico agreed this week to work together to protect wilderness areas across North America.The cooperation agreement establishes an intergovernmental committee to exchange research and approaches that address challenges such as climate change, fire control, and invasive species in land, marine, and coastal protected areas throughout the continent. Merculieff commends the progress and calls attention to the continued marginalization of Native peoples in government-led wildlife decisions.

Source: Worldwatch Institute. 2013.

 

2012 Snoqualmie Summit: Traditional Knowledge and Healthy Ecosystems.

Summary: Larry Merculieff gave a keynote speech to this summit focused on traditional knowledge and indigenous health, contemporary resource management, storytelling, and more.

Source: University of Oregon. Tribal Climate Change Profile: Traditional Knowledge and Healthy Ecosystems Summit. August 2012.

 

Education Indigenous to Place: Western Science Meets Native Reality

by Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley and Ray Barnhardt

Summary: Indigenous peoples throughout the world have sustained their unique worldviews and associated knowledge systems for millenia, even while undergoing major social upheavals as a result of transformative forces beyond their control. Many of the core values, beliefs and practices associated with those worldviews have survived and are beginning to be recognized as having an adaptive integrity that is as valid for today’s generation as it was for generations past. The depth of indigenous knowledge rooted in the long inhabitation of a particular place offers lessons that can benefit everyone, from educator to scientist, as we search for a more satisfying and sustainable way to live on this planet. (Copied from ANKN site.)

Source: Alaska Native Knowledge Network, University of Alaska, Fairbanks. 2007.

 

Arctic Science News

by Sonya Senkowsky

Summary: Science has been overlooking the human dimensions of the rapid changes taking place in the Arctic. Senkowsky calls attention to Alaska’s indigenous peoples and what they can teach us.

Source: BioScience , Vol. 54, No. 11, p. 1056. University of California Press. 2004.

 

Aleut: A problem of geography

Summary: Article discussing the land The Aleut Corp. received in the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Settlement focused on land not sea, posing major problems for this people of the sea. Includes quote by Ilarion Merculieff.
Source: JuneauEmpire.com. January, 1999.

 

Television: Alaska’s Valley of the Kings

By Eric A. Powell

Summary: Review of the television show, Mystery of the Alaskan Mummies, which follows archaeologist Rick Knecht, geologist Gary Carver, physical anthropologist Bruno Frohlich, and Aleut representative Larry Merculieff on a tour of the most remote reaches of the Aleutian chain.

Source: Archaeology Archive. December 2001.

 

Limitation on selections, individuals and regional corporations 

Summary: Larry Merculieff is quoted in article about the Settlements Act.

Source: The Tundra Times. May 1977

 

Exploratory Essay No. 3 – Heart of the Halibut – (Heart-of-the-halibut-merculieff-2.pdf)

Summary: Larry Merculieff is cited in this academic research paper on the value of conserving and preserving lands and Native peoples and their lifeways.

Source: University of Alaska

 

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Essays

The Alaska Native Male

by Larry Merculieff

Summary: Merculieff shares a beautiful vision of the embodied Alaska Native male.

 

Traditional Knowledge is Critical to Conservation Success: 8th World Wilderness Congress Can Help

by Larry Merculieff

Summary: Merculieff calls on Alaska Natives to attend the 8th World Wilderness Congress, to bring their knowledge and wisdom forward to complement other sources, simultaneously acknowledging there will be many others there to learn from.

 

The Gifts of Water

by Larry Merculieff

Summary: The waters of the riverways and the oceans were and are sacred to Aleut peoples. In this essay, Merculieff shares the values of water and through sharing his personal memoirs, brings forward the lessons and legacy of the Aleut people to strengthen the heart and our ability to make decisions for the benefit of the waters, and the whole.

 

Elder Wisdom, Subsistence Rights, and the Environment

By Larry Merculiff

Summary: The wisdom of the elders is needed and essential for facing the challenges we face today. Merculieff honors many who have gone before, who gave their lives to protect Aleut traditional ways of life and subsistence rights and acknowledges these ways are challenged now more than ever. He calls on the next generation to think big, honor the past and look toward the next seven generations with every act. Keynote Presentation to the Alaska Tribal Conference on Environmental Management. October 9, 2006.

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Reports

 

Indigenous Stewardship Methods and NRCS Conservation Practices

By NRCS/Native Practices Work Group

Summary: Ilarion was part of a workgroup responsible for creating this 37-page guidebook, providing guidance to the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Science (NRSC) Department and indigenous cooperators on how to integrate indigenous knowledge and worldview into government-assisted conservation projects and programs.

Source: UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF AGRICULTURE NATURAL RESOURCES CONSERVATION SERVICE. July 2010

Alaska Seminar on Private Philanthropy, Indigenous Capacity, and Environmental Stewardship

A Report by the Alaska Conservation Foundation

Summary: Report providing insight and recommendations into how funders and Alaska Native communities can better work together toward effecting solutions to pressing biocultural issues.

Source: Alaska Conservation Foundation. September 2009.

National Forum on Tribal Environmental Science: Conference Proceedings and Executive Summary

Summary: This report contains environmental research highlighting tribal success stories, summaries of panel discussions, speeches, and notes from the plenary sessions. (From the Executive Summary)

Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency, National EPA-Tribal Science Council. September 2006.

 

Testimonies

Testimony of Larry Merculieff for the Alaska Legislature, House Resources Committee Subsistence Hearing. March 27

Summary: Merculieff takes a stand for Alaska Natives subsistence rights which are in jeopardy due to changes in state laws. In Merculieff’s words, “The controversy over subsistence in Alaska is not about an ‘urban-rural divide’; it is not about zip codes, and it is not about where Alaskans hunt, fish or gather food. This issue is about the rights of Alaska’s indigenous peoples, whether they be Aleut, Yupik, Tlingit, Inupiaq, Haida, Tsimpsian, Aluttiq, or Athabaskan, to support themselves, their families and their communities as they have for thousands of years.”