Voices from Russia

Saturday, 26 March 2016

26 March 2016. DNA Nails It… Siberian and American Natives ARE Brothers!

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Researchers proved scientifically what American and Siberian native peoples have known in their bones since Adam… that Indigenous Siberians and Native Americans share a common ancestry. Who woulda thunk it… science PROVES what people always knew to be so. I’d say that you needn’t have gone to such lengths… merely look at these people and listen to their native languages… but that’s the way science works. It never states something as FACT until one observes actual occurrences and other uninterested objective parties repeat the process. That’s why all theories on evolution are theories… no one actually observed it… but one CAN deduce from observable facts in the real world. What’s bogus is imposing a rigid artificial construct on the natural world… that’s lunatic and not completely sane. What does that tell us about fundies (of all sorts, including nutters obsessed with pseudoscience and activists hagridden by causes)? I’d say volumes… none of it good!

BMD

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Monday, 17 August 2015

Alaska’s Unangax Work to Preserve Culture Quashed by World War II Internment

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Harriet Hope’s family was last together in one place at the dawn of World War II, when she was five-years-old. In 1942, Hope was one of nearly 900 indigenous Unangax that were given only hours of notice to pack one suitcase and leave their homes in Alaska’s Aleutian and Pribilof islands. Without any choice or sign of where they were going, American soldiers put them onto crowded ships, who sent them to squalid internment camps in the then-territory’s southeastern rainforests. Hope, now in her late 70s, said, “Our whole lives were just a total upside down wreck. It was a huge tragedy that the US government pushed on us”. In 1945, the USA resettled the last interned Unangax. According to the National Parks Service, at least 74 people died in the camps, many from the unsanitary conditions. Many elders, who would’ve passed on traditions and customs to younger generations, succumbed to disease in the camps, along with the very young. Seven decades later, the cultural damage of the internment is still clear and many of the remaining survivors are hesitant to talk about the experience. However, even as the number of survivors dwindles, Unangax communities peppered along hundreds of miles of volcanic islands are working to preserve and restore their culture through educational programmes geared towards their youngest members.

Restoring a Culture

Sharon Svarny-Livingston’s mother, Harriet Hope’s older sister, was 12 when the family had to leave Unalaska. She went to a boarding school with other school-aged Unangax kids. She said, “The boarding school was the first place they learned that they would be beaten for speaking their language. So, a whole generation of these kids never taught their kids to speak their language. Our mother never taught us. When you lose those languages, you lose so much”. In the 1990s, for a short time, the school in Unalaska was able to hire a teacher who was fluent in the native language. As a result, they passed on the language, Unungam Tunuu, to a few young people, including the man who is now the Russian Orthodox priest in Unalaska. Svarny-Livingston noted, “To be able to keep that language in the church and be able to have the kids hear it is so important”. Svarny-Livingston also mentioned how important it is to teach subsistence to the next generation, the traditional way of living off the land and sea still practised by many Alaska Native communities, “It’s not necessary to survive, it’s necessary to sustain spirit”. Harriet Hope recalled, “None of the men were able to bring any kind of subsistence gear when they were interned. We couldn’t go out on our own and subsist. It’s sad. They just disconnected us from our whole culture”.

In the decades following the internment, Alaska’s Unangax community mobilised to preserve its cultural traditions; it’s created programs to pass them onto the next generation. Crystal Dushkin of Atka, who is involved in one of several Alaska summer camps that promote Unangax culture, said, “I’ve always wanted us to keep everything we’ve had and make sure that future generations know about it and learn about it, because it’s who we are, we aren’t the immigrants that make up the rest of this country. We actually originated here. This is where we belong”. The camps focus on traditional foods and other activities, such as basket weaving and carpentry. Dushkin observed, “So much has been lost as a result of World War II, and just all the changes that have come around since then”.

Rachel Mason, senior anthropologist with the National Park Service’s Alaska Regional Office, said, “The internment really hastened the erosion of some of the old customs. The deaths of many elders and the forgetting the language, and being outside of their ordinary environment, hastened the loss of the traditional way of life”. Mason was part of an effort that facilitated a trip to several Unangax villages never resettled after the internment. In 2010, a handful of former residents and their families visited three such settlements. She added, “It’s painful thing, and the trauma continues”.

Dark Years

The Japanese invaded Alaska in 1942, capturing the 44 inhabitants of the Unangax village on Attu in the Aleutian Islands. They eventually took them to Japan as POWs, where many would die, including Brenda Maly’s great-grandfather. Maly, 39, whose grandfather Nick Golodoff was six when the Japanese captured Attu, said, “They were strong at the time. My grandfather’s mother, I think she was the strongest of them all, because she remained strong after her husband disappeared in Japan”. Eventually released, the US government didn’t allow the surviving people of Attu to return to their village, as the battle to take back the islands destroyed its remnants. Maly, who has never been to Attu, said, “The war robbed them and future generations of their island and their sense of place. It’s history. If there’s no history, there’s no today”.

The Japanese also bombed the port of Dutch Harbor near Unalaska, prompting the quick evacuation of the Unangax to camps near Juneau in 1942. The government only forced the native people of the Aleutians to leave their homes and villages… they allowed the region’s white residents to stay, sometimes, breaking up mixed families like Hope’s. Even though they were still in Alaska, the camps were in a different world. They dropped the Unangax in the damp forested panhandle in southeastern Alaska, more than a thousand miles across the Gulf of Alaska, far from the treeless, wind-swept islands in the North Pacific and Bering Sea they’d called home for thousands of years. Hope said, “It just broke up the whole family, and it broke up other families. When it came time to come home, a lot of them couldn’t come home for whatever reason, and a lot of them got back home and their homes were just wrecked by the military. It’s just sad”. 88-year-old Nicholai Lekanoff said of Unalaska’s historic Russian Orthodox church, recalling when he first saw it after the war, “They’d thrown rocks and everything at it. [They’d] broken the windows”.

There were as many as 20,000 Unangax living in the Aleutian Islands when Russian explorers arrived in the late 1700s. There were less than 1,000 in the islands by the time of the internment after waves of violence, disease, and famine took its toll on the population over the centuries. Near Juneau, the government put the Unangax in inadequate living quarters, sometimes, dozens of people in one structure, with a few days’ clothes. There was no electricity or running water. Tuberculosis and other diseases persisted with little or no medical services available in most of the camps. Survivors reported facing discrimination in nearby towns where many sought work. Hope recalled, As I grew into the age that my mother was at the time [of the internment], I thought, ‘My gosh, how did they manage this?’ I started getting angrier and angrier because of what they’d done not to me, but to my parents and family”. Congress passed the Aleut Restitution Act in 1988, giving a one-time payment to the surviving Unangax evacuees, months after granting Japanese-American internment survivors similar compensation. The act also provided funds to restore damaged Russian Orthodox churches in Unangax villages. Hope remembered getting her restitution check, reportedly about half the amount given to Japanese-Americans, in the mail, and thinking it was too little too late, “This shouldn’t ever happen to another group of people again. How they got away with it last time is beyond me”.

16 August 2015

Ryan Schuessler

al-Jazeera America

http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/8/16/alaskas-unangax-work-to-preserve-culture-quashed-by-wwii-internment.html

Friday, 22 May 2015

22 May 2015. Whenever You Hear Talk of “America the Exceptional”, Think on This…

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The Lakota Sioux still claim their ancestral home of the Black Hills. The Anglos drove them out, violating solemn treaties, because they found gold and silver there. In United States v. Sioux Nation of Indians, SCOTUS ruled that the government illegally took the Black Hills, so, it ordered the government to pay the Sioux the initial offering price plus interest. The Lakota refused the settlement; they wanted the Black Hills back. The money remains in an interest-bearing account, but the Lakota refuse the money. They believe that accepting the settlement would allow the government to justify taking ownership of the Black Hills. In 2012, UN Special Rapporteur James Anaya conducted a tour of Native American lands, to determine how the USA implements the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, endorsed by the Obama administration in 2010. Anaya met with Native Americans, besides members of the Obama administration and the US Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. Tentatively, Anaya recommended the return of lands to some nations, including the Black Hills to the Sioux. Earth to Anglos! Ȟe Sápa is sacred land to the Lakota and to the Cheyenne, too.

The First Nations were here first and they remain distinct nations in the European sense… independent cultures with their own languages, Weltanschauung, and civilisational basis. They are NOT Westerners, nor should we treat them as such. Yet, they do form a group within the larger American society… “American Indians”… with a common history of a rather sordid relationship with Anglo power (and of an equally long resistance to that power). I speak from long correspondence with members of the Tlingit, Inuit, Mohawk, and Lakota peoples. Yes, VERY distinct cultures, yet very similar in their history of relationship with the “dominant” Anglos.

There are large “peoples” such as the Russians and the Chinese… there are small peoples such as the Lakota, Sorbs, and Karens… there are middling groups such as the Magyars, Finns, and Sikhs. Yet, all are cultures in the fullest sense of the word. All are “families”… that’s why I’m loath to speak of any other group other than my own. To really speak of a group requires an “inside” voice… outsiders can learn “of” a culture, but can never quite “become” that culture. Some things are only expressible by a family member. To really speak of the Black Hills… that would require a Lakota or Cheyenne voice… I don’t have that. I did my best…

BMD

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Alaska: Starring

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Last week’s Russian Christmas in Unalaska looked a little different from elsewhere in the state. Over the years, the town evolved from a Native village into an industrial hub. Now, it has miles of roads and thousands of residents from countless different faiths. Therefore, the little congregation of the oldest Russian Orthodox Church on the continent has had to evolve, too. KUCB’s Annie Ropeik has more on how their Slaaviq became a community celebration. In Unalaska’s historic downtown, Christmastime means almost every building is strung with lights… all but the Orthodox Church, which sits at the back of the neighbourhood. Its green onion domes date back 200 years, standing out in a skyline of cargo cranes and seafood plants. Outside the church, you wouldn’t know it’s Christmas… until early January, when a rare sound rings out across the island. In the sanctuary, about 15 worshippers sing a set of Russian and English carols. They’re grouped around a pair of spinning wooden stars, each a few feet across and strung with lights, bells, and tinsel. This starring ceremony will repeat dozens of times in the next few nights, in kitchens and living rooms across town.

However, the biggest, newest, part of the holiday came earlier in the day. At least 100 people packed into the local senior centre for a community Slaaviq potluck. The meal only dates back about 15 years, designed to give the elders a starring in the daytime. Fr Evon Bereskin, the Orthodox priest for Unalaska and several nearby villages, said, “The meaning of the celebration of the Nativity of Christ, the starring, is that we’re going out to proclaim the birth of Christ. The stars that we’re spinning are the stars which the wise men followed. So, we’re spinning and singing and following the star, which leads us to Christ”. From here, Fr Evon said that they’d spend three days starring in people’s homes. These days, that can include long-time Unalaskans who aren’t actually part of the congregation. However, the list for the second night is all churchgoers. The group that will bring the star to them is bigger than the one at the church. They meet at Fr Evon’s apartment for coffee and brownies, then, try to figure out who’s next… and spread the word via text message. Lifelong Unalaskan Sharon Svarny Livingston is one of the starring group. She said that this part has changed a lot since she was little, when the town looked more like the villages that celebrate Slaaviq in the rest of Alaska. She told us, “In all those other places, you walk with the star all over the whole town, you know? So, that creates a different feeling. Here you gotta drive. If you’re working and you don’t get off until late, you’ve gotta try to find the star, which can be really difficult sometimes. It’s easier now with cell phones”.

The congregation’s also had to condense some over the years. With many parents now raising their kids to celebrate two Christmases… American and Russian… Livingston says that they’ve had to work harder to pass on the traditions, saying, “We kind of went through a period where we really had to teach the young kids the songs and stuff. We all started to go in one group and we just kind of stayed that way. That’s what’s really changed”. The single star they’re using now is thought to be their oldest… made about a century ago in the Native village of Kashega, abandoned during World War II. Tonight, that star… as big as a small child… gets a ride in one of the SUVs caravanning up the road to the first houses on the list. Then, it crowds into Vicki Williams’ living room with its entourage of carollers singing in Russian. The starring always ends the same way… with a blessing of long life. The choir sang, “Many years to all, many years to all, to the people in this house. (In Russian and English) Merry Christmas, merry Christmas!” Williams replied, “Thank you!” Williams wears a big smile, standing in the middle of the crowd and thanking all her friends for coming as they file out, saying, “I feel like I’m having my house blessed when they come here, you know, with the cross and the star and stuff”. She bid a “see you later” to a pair of young fishermen on their way out the door. Around her, the room emptied out as quickly as it filled. The starring group is heading back to their cars. They have lots more houses to get to before the night is over.

16 January 2015

Annie Ropeik

KUCB (Unalaska AK USA)

AK Alaska Public Media

http://www.alaskapublic.org/2015/01/16/ak-starring/

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