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Spheres of Wellbeing 



Ilakuisngukut - Sharing

Sharing is an extremely important value within the Alutiiq culture—a culture based on survival in what can be an unforgiving climate. This value is explored through many traditional stories through the consequences of not sharing. In “The Raven and His Grandmother,” the story starts with how Raven and his grandmother lived on the outskirts of a village, almost as outcasts (Golder, 1903a). Although “Raven would come and beg a fish, [the villagers] would never give him one.” Instead he and his grandmother were left to live off “any sick fish or refuse that may have been left,” in essence living on garbage. As the story develops, during one particularly harsh winter the people are hungry and hunting was sparse. Raven seeks a wife and provides food for the village in exchange for the chief’s daughter. Despite his proof that he is a good provider his first bride shuns him. Upon his second effort to win a bride he is successful, but this time she stays because “with him she would have enough to eat, at least” (p. 18). The curious conclusion to the story is death to all the gluttonous villagers, who before were selfish and did not share, and then gorged themselves without acknowledging his generosity.

While looking at the list of Alutiiq values it may appear that the values are similar to or the same as western values by name, yet the prioritization or importance of the values is often very different between cultures. For the Alutiiq, sharing is one of the most important values, even more sacred than the sanctity of life. A murderer can be forgiven, but someone who is habitually stingy will be cast out or put to death. In “The Unnatural Uncle” (Golder, 1903b), when the hero returns to the village to check on his parents and brings them a whale as a gift to share, his gesture is thwarted. This story explores an important value priority that conflicts with western values, and therefore may be confusing for some unfamiliar with the importance of sharing in the Alutiiq culture. The hero says to his selfish uncle, “I could have forgiven you the death of my brothers, the four attempts on my life, but for the cruel treatment of my parents [for not sharing] you shall pay” (Golder, 1903b, p. 94). The hero proceeds to transform into an eagle and kills his uncle by dropping him from high above the sea.

Another story that focuses on the value of sharing is “Light,” also known as “How Raven Stole the Light” (Golder, 1903b). In this story their is a selfish chief who will not share light with the other villages. After great cleverness on Raven’s part he is successful in bringing the moon and the stars to the world in exchange for a wife. Raven is a bit greedy himself, as is only human, and is able to also negotiate a second wife in exchange for the sun. His reward of two wives is a small price to pay for the gift of light unleashed.

I will not go into depth here on the concept of respect, trust and sharing as told through the story “Woman Who Became a Bear” as it is explored more in-depth in Chapter 8. This story offers a strong reminder of the importance of all of these ethical values, and the duties we have to share with our families and our community.


Excerpt from Alisha Drabek's dissertation:


Liitukut Sugpiat'stun (We are Learning How to be Real People):
Exploring Kodiak Alutiiq Literature through Core Values