Suupet - Our People (Community)
Kodiak Alutiiq Elders selected “Our People” as a value, but then further clarified the statement as “We are responsible for each other and ourselves” (NEAR, 2002). This value is closely linked to the value, “Respect for self, others and our environment is inherent in all of these values.” Caring for our people and ourselves, goes much further than just being polite. It is about interdependence with each other and the need for each person to fulfill their role or responsibilities to others in their family and community. The inclusion of “ourselves” or “self” in these value statements is important to note, as deterioration of self is a sign of an imbalance in wellbeing within the community or family. Chronic health issues, domestic violence, substance abuse, and suicide are unfortunate realities that all Alutiiq communities suffer. The importance of human life is one value that often falls into shadow when outside pressures become overwhelming for individuals and families, or when our traditional values are not lived or taught to our younger generations. Most Alutiiq stories explore this value to some extent. Although some of the stories appear to have a disregard for human life, given the level of violence and death that is portrayed, these are akin to mythological stories across the world that include harrowing topics. In fact, the stories that feature death are arguably the most reflective of the sanctity of human life. The drama of these stories is intended to illicit an emotion of fear and surprise to emphasize the wrong doing. For example, in “The Sinew Rope” (Golder, 1909) and “Tutga’urluq at Devil’s Lagoon” as told by John Pestrikoff (Leer, 1999, Transcripts of Tape 4, Side A), the heroes barely escape from the sinister cannibals within both of these stories.
In classical Alutiiq society, the community governance structure had safety checks built in to make sure that everyone held up their responsibilities and that the people were cared for. In the Russian era and start of the American era still, each community had a chief or tuyuq (although this name of chief comes from Russian), a second chief or sakaasiik (chief’s assistant) and later a church warden or staaRistaq (Steffian & Counceller, 2012). These leadership positions were a heavy responsibility, highly respected, and necessary for community wellbeing. Elders today remember the strictness of some tuyuq as they held high expectations for their village and made sure the people were safe and that community decisions were made to benefit all.
Within the Alutiiq culture there were several types of healers and spiritual guides, as discussed in Chapter 6. Each community had at least one midwife or paapuskaaq— “a healer versed in herbal medicines and the arts of bloodletting, surgery, and childbirth” (Steffian & Counceller, 2012, p. 101). In pre-contact times they also had kalla’let (shamans) and kas’at (wise ones, priests or masters of ceremony) who oversaw all aspects of ceremonial life before Russian Orthodoxy. The term kas’aq transferred meaning, with the coming of Russian Orthodoxy, to now be used for “priest” in the Christian sense, as explored in Chapter 6. Collectively, these leaders served as both guardians and healers and thus were capable of sustaining wellbeing for the community prior to colonization and all that it brought with it. Joanne Mulcahy (2001) describes traditional healing for the people as:
... a pivotal metaphor, emblematic of deeply held cultural values and often invoked for the social as well as the physical body. At the heart of Kodiak women’s stories is the concept of healing or ‘making whole’... healing seeks balance in the community or between human beings and a higher being (p. xxviii).
She recognizes that for the Alutiiq people, wellbeing occurs as a holistic state when harmony is brought between the various spheres of life, including spirituality.
While narratives are the most widely recognized form of storytelling, songs are also a major form of storytelling. One traditional song from the Russian era of Alutiiq history that responds to the social sphere is Ukut Skuunat ‑ These Schooners. Mentioned earlier in Chapter 5, this song tells of the dark days of forced hunting and enslavement after the massacre at Awa’uq or Refuge Rock. Accompanying the recording of the Ukut Skuunat song on the Generations CD, Elder Mary Peterson tells the story behind the song that she had heard about the cruel treatment suffered by the Alutiiq (Alutiiq Museum & Blanchett, 2007, Generations CD, Track 25). This song echoes the story that Arsenti Aminak told Holmberg in 1805 of the Russian conquest of the Alutiiq people in 1784 and the forced sea otter hunting that led to the loss of many Alutiiq men.
Go to other Social Sphere values:
- Suupet (Our people)
“Our People: we are responsible for each other and ourselves”
- Cuqllipet (Our Elders)
- Ilapet (Our Family)
“Our Family and Kinship of ancestors and living relatives”
Excerpt from Alisha Drabek, Ph.D. (2012) dissertation: