'share, not acquire'
Rachel Craig's job is to preserve the traditions of her Inupiat people while helping young people acquire the skills to survive in the American culture of laws and corporations.
She is director of the Material Development Center for the Northwest Arctic School District in Kotzebue. Her primary task is to develop school curriculum incorporating Inupiat language and traditions into state programs. She also helped organize the first Elders' Conference, in Kotzebue, as well as the NANA Corporation's spirituality-oriented Spirit Committee.
She was born in 1930 in Kotzebue and reared in traditional ways thus preserving her understanding and fluency in Inupiat. Now she is working to pass her knowledge on to younger people of the region.
* * *
There are layers and layers of problems for Native women to face. We have to know who we are; we need to know our family trees, our mother's family and our father's family, both sides. We need to know who they are, and to know their traditions. For younger Native women, they need to have the elders' approval on what they are doing from a cultural standpoint. They need to learn responsibility to the tribe, because we are not an individualistic people.
This is all very difficult because when we go to school we are taught to strive for the best grades; to be in the spotlights; to get the best job, with the most money; to have many things around you, the bigger your house, the flashier your car, the more elegant your furniture all supposed to show success.
But from our culture, a person learns to share, not acquire. If a hunter is successful, he shares his catch with those less fortunate. Anything we are blessed with that we brought home is for the use of feeding someone else, clothing someone else, warming someone else, talking to or loving someone else. It is always giving that matters. Young Native women need to understand both the white and Native worlds and realize that there is room for both of them in their lives.
Tell me about your involvements with the elders' conferences.
I was raised by my grandparents. I learned the language, absorbed the language.
I went to work for NANA Corporation, and used the radio a lot to enhance the image of the corporation and to start gaining support from the people for my job. I was trying to locate all the historic cemetery sites and other historical areas.
Because I spoke the language I could go out and live with the people in the villages and gather the data. I kept tape-recording the sessions in the villages because I kept hearing all kinds of stories and information that I knew I would forget if I didn't do something with it. I felt like I wanted to preserve the details.
Our kids need to know these stories and it could be integrated into our schools, social studies or something. They know more about Napoleon than they do about their own people. This was a small part of the initiative to get our elders together to discuss topics and hear their stories.
The sessions were effective primarily because people listened. It reminded many of the way it used to be and made them remember what their parents used to teach them. As a result of the conferences, many more people became interested in their own heritage.
What did the elders impress upon you?
At one of the conferences, there were some that took me aside and said, 'You will have opposition some time in this life. It may not be easy for you; people get jealous. But I want you to remember we are all behind what you are doing, because it is for the good of our people: our kids, their parents, their grandparents.'
I remember others who told me, 'Thank you for the work you are doing; we were falling asleep on the job and it has taken your generation to wake us up, like pulling us by the hair and setting us up again to teach our young children the wisdom which was passed on to us.'
I think of other people who have the dream to teach our kids the Inupiat culture and language as well as teach them English and English history. When we teach them both, it will be the strength of our people. They will then have their feet in both cultures.
We have both worlds; we have to make the corporations successful in order to retain our land and we must fight to know our identity so that we have the inner strength to face life and its problems.