The Kashunamiut People, Cup段k Ancestry
After the coming of the missionaries, many of the ceremonies of the people were banned. For several years the lives of the Kashunamiut people was in a standstill. There was no other lifestyle they known but their own ancestral way of living. The men of the community have just completed a Catholic church made out of driftwood and sod. The men also repaired the aging qaygiq(men痴 house). The men were sitting in the evening during fall season. The atmosphere of the qaygiq was gloomy with absolutely nothing to do. Finally one of the men said "Is this all we are going to do for the rest of our lives, having nothing to do?" The other men bust out in rebellion and all agreed. One of them made a suggestion "Hey let痴 restart the Eskimo Dance? The other men agreed with enthusiasm. They openly discussed the wishes of the church and made rules how the Eskimo dance will be conducted. In the past the Church and the Medicine men had confrontation in regards to how the ceremonies were conducted by the leadership of these medicine men. The ceremonies were misunderstood of those rituals that were conducted as interpreted by the priests. What the outside people saw was very strange but the concept behind the meaning was never known.
Today few explanations are provided for example the Agayuliyaraput or making prayer by the use of the spirit masks. The Agayuliyaraput is the mask traveling exhibit that is well known in the world today from this region. The use of fire during the ceremonies, especially during the bladder festival as the men lit the wild celery soaked in seal oil in one segment of the ceremony. When the ceremonial log or cangacikaq is taken out of the ceiling smoke hole of the qaygiq after dried celery is lit. A person carrying it runs to the open water at the lake, making sure the fire does not go out before reaching the water. The men hit their bladders to the fire creating sparks as they ran. The fire is put out into the water and later the bladders are slit open with knives and attached to a stick and staked to the bottom of the lake. This symbolize the safe journey back to the spirit world of the seal, the qaygiq under the ocean where the seals rest before returning again to the surface the coming year. This ritual was condemned by the priests indicating that the use of fire was related to hell or satan worship. In the custom of the Cup段k people the use of the fire was the way of purifying of the spirits of the people or even the spirits of the animals. The bladder festival was reassuring the return of the spirits of the seals that present themselves for a drink of water. Even the hunting equipment are purified over the fire or by the smoke of ayuk (labrator tea). The animal spirits know who was purified beforehand and present themselves willingly to the hunter. If the hunter does not cleanse himself before hunting, the animal spirits will not present themselves to the hunter, thus will stay away. This ritual is still used today by Cup段k and Yup段k hunters.
The stubbornness and the persistence of the Qissunamiut people as the Cup段k people is demonstrated in the historic events that took place regarded as the stepping stones of their grasp of their cultural heritage, the ancestral intentions as to "Who they are" and "Where their destiny lies as the Cup段k people". The total grasp of their own destiny has been demonstrated in the historic events that took place. The practice and the demonstration as the leaders were shown by the elders when the men did as the people decided. When the men of the Old Qissunaq restarted the eskimo dance they changed the concept of the dances and the songs that they will not have anything to do with the shamans or religion. They would be used for entertainment only. When the men were practicing songs and the dances, one priest was there but did not say anything. He may have supported what they were doing because he saw the change in their attitude becoming lively in their daily lives they lived as the Cup段k people. Another words, the spirits of the people was once again alive and was not dead. I truly believe that the spirits of our ancestors are still alive today in our efforts in trying to preserve the language and the culture of our Cup段k people.
When the first Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) school was offered, The men of Qissunaq refused. That school was established in Hooper Bay in 1948. The BIA when they offered the school wanted stable land to establish the school. Later after the great flood of 1946 in the month of December, the people of Qissunaq decided after a discussion in the qaygiq chose two sites. One site was present Chevak, which the belonged to the people of Hooper Bay and was considered the subsistence lands of the people. They were refused when they asked for permission to move there. The secondary site was Nunvarnaq. They then established the secluded subsistence boundary-lands allowing no other tribes to come in. When the boundary line was drawn the Hooper Bay people did not want those lands to be closed off to them because of their accessibility to the lands if certain dietary needs arise to the needs of the families. Also when they subsist and trap they did not have any boundaries to subsist for their families. The two villages were inter-related to their families. The agreement was made between the two villages, Chevak and Hooper Bay that: 1) Qissunamiut people can establish their village in Chevak. 2) No boundaries will be drawn for subsistence. The agreement was verbal and no written documents were signed. Today the new generation of the Cup段k and the Yup段k people is following the treaty of our ancestors. All customary and traditional lands that belonged to the villages will be accessible to all members of the Chevak and Hooper Bay. Today the treaty is practiced by the people of Chevak, Hooper Bay, Paimute, and Scammon Bay which allows all members to use the land for subsistence in which those lands acquired by Alaska Native Land Claims Settlement Act.
During the BIA transitions of schools to the State of Alaska, the village elders refused their school to transfered to the State, but instead wanted to contract the BIA for their school. The stubbornness and persistence of the elders as leaders was again demonstrated in insistence to take over their school. They wanted to have complete voice over their school as to incorporate the language and culture of their people be taught in the school. The money was not the factor for their takeover of the school, but the needs of the people was met with complete control over their school. Later after five years of operation of the school, the elders then fought for one single site school district under the State of Alaska. With the help of Senators Frank Fergusion and John Sackett they fulfilled their dream. It was a long battle with many unseen obstacles. Many of the new generations did not believe that this could be possible, thus many learned from the elders that anything no matter how impossible it may look can be done if the faith of the elders was at hand. It was a hard lesson to learn that we as the Cup段k people must never look away from our own people but, consistently support our people with positive outlook of who we are and what we want to become.
The mental concept of who these people are, may be a consistent question that people may ask? Truthfully the Cup段k people are no different then, the Yup段k people in their own environment. The only difference might be that the Cup段k people have demonstration leadership and took risks that others may not have. Sometimes the risk was not making hasty decisions that may effect the lives of our people. The elders practice of insisting for our young people to know who they are, outlines one means of who these Cup段k people are?
Can anybody be a Cup段k, one may ask? One logical answer would be "one must have Qissunamiut blood or ancestry. The Cup段k people in their own mental concept never regard other indigenous people as different. When someone comes to live in the village most often is accepted as one of the people regardless of race. The acceptance concept is developed over time. Especially, if the person is helpful for the community or even a person with good intention and not come in to change the lives of the people. Many of the fights occur politically within the community when family clans deal with issues that will effect the lives of the people. Usually oppositions occur when two major political ideals are impressed to the parties. The two parties can collide in public forum. The outcome is usually the majority vote of the people. There is always room for healing after big fights politically but, our people have gotten back together again and those that have caused the issues are often gone. The only people that will fight and stay are the true Cup段k and Yup段k people of the communities. The true Cup段k and Yup段k will fight for their own cause thinking mostly of their Children and not themselves. Also our people believe that the changes of living is gradual and not confusing. The decisions our leaders make will benefit our community members and not just few. Our Cup段k people believe that no one will come in from the outside and tell us what to do. When new programs and concepts are introduced then people are given opportunities to be educated. The elders know that they give advice to the new generations and expect them to be proficient in pen and paper, making sure the process is not harmful to our people. The elders accept the fact that western culture exists. The elders also have been adapted to the western way of living. My grandfather痴 philosophy about living our ancestral way of life will never be done. We can only train our young people to go back in time so much and that痴 all. But, we can adapt the concepts that are meaningful to our people today. We can also change those traditional ways so that they become meaningful to us today. Our ancestors believe that we should never forget the survival methods of our forefathers. Also the ways our people have mastered all of the land, rivers, lake, and the ocean of our environment.