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Spheres of Wellbeing 



Our Elders - Cuqllipet

While there are many old men and old women or grandmothers within the stories, who play the role of advisors or caregivers, it is interesting to note that unigkuat and early quliyanguat typically do not feature Elders as the main characters or highlight the importance of respect for them. This is likely due to the fact that in the past children were inherently raised with this value impressed upon them in many other ways which did not require it be taught through stories, nor was the value threatened then by a conflicting worldview that merit youth over old age, as the western worldview does. Because extended families lived together and Elders played an active role raising children and educating them on a daily basis, their importance was obvious. The practices of providing the first of any catch or any meal, helping Elders with chores, and listening to them attentively were commonly understood as givens. Today, however, after generations of western assimilation that emphasizes individualism, school education separate from family, and the nuclear family unit over extended family, there is a growing lack of respect and appreciation for the value of Elders, as their presence within the lives of younger generations is limited. Therefore more life stories now are told that include examples of respect for Elders as an important Alutiiq value.

As Jim Dillard (2003b) explores in his essay on “Caring for Elders” in the Sharing Our Pathways newsletter, he summarizes his thoughts on the subject after talking with Cup’ik educator Cecilia Martz. Reflecting on his past interactions with Elders, he says “that a fairly strict set of guidelines [such as Cecilia described] could have made that sharing much more meaningful for both the Elders and myself” (p. 7). Perhaps this is a way that modern Alutiiq storytellers can assist families in helping revitalize this value and the practices associated with it.

Stories told to admonish young people and scare them into culturally acceptable behaviors are common across cultures. For the Alutiiq, one such story tells about the horrific results when young people did not heed their Elders’ warnings. This story about the Northern Lights was told by Jennie Zeedar in an issue of the Iluani project:

In the olden days everybody danced every night. Young people didn’t believe their mom and dad when they told them about the Northern Lights. The more the old people told the younger people not to dance too much, the more they danced when they were not supposed to. The Northern Lights swallowed them up and when that happened the people started believing their parents.

There were two old people that were scared because all the other people were dancing and the Northern Lights were out. When those old people didn’t want to be among the younger kids they went to a banya and stayed there because they were scared of what might happen to all the other people who were dancing. Finally when they didn’t hear anything they came out of the banya and they saw all those people’s heads cut off. That is what the Northern Lights did. (Zeedar, 1978)

Elders today still tell such stories about the northern lights or qiugyat. These stories stretch back through the oral tradition and were also recorded by Pinart (1872a, 1872b). They emphasize the need to listen to your elders or the consequences can be severe.

Kodiak Alutiiq Elders are the primary resources and culture-bearers supporting education about Alutiiq traditional knowledge. Many Alutiiq Elders haven been influential in shaping education about the Kodiak Alutiiq culture and serve as important role models for current and future generations, such as the following:

Larry Matfay

John "JP" Pestrikoff

Clyda Christiansen

Mary Simeonoff

Dennis Knagin

Florence Pestrikoff

Phyllis Peterson

Kathryn Chichenoff


Go to other Social Sphere values:


Excerpt from Alisha Drabek, Ph.D. (2012) dissertation:

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