Wise Words of the Yup'ik People: We Talk to You Because We Love You

Wise Words of the Yup'ik People: We Talk to You Because We Love You

Wise Words of the Yup'ik People: We Talk to You Because We Love You

Wise Words of the Yup'ik People: We Talk to You Because We Love You


The Yup'ik people of southwestern Alaska were some of the last Arctic peoples to come into contact with non-Natives, and as a result, Yup'ik language and many traditions remain vital into the twenty-first century. Wise Words of the Yup'ik People documents their qanruyutet (adages, words of wisdom, and oral instructions) regarding the proper living of life. Throughout history, these distinctive wise words have guided the relations between men and women, parents and children, siblings and cousins, fellow villagers, visitors, strangers, and even with non-Natives. Yup'ik elders have chosen to share these wise words during Calista Elders Council gatherings and conventions since 1998 for instrumental reasons--because of their continued relevance and power to change lives. The Calista Elders Council, which represents some thirteen hundred Yup'ik elders, recently spearheaded efforts at cultural revitalization through gatherings with younger community members. In describing the content of traditional instruction as well as its central motivation--"We talk to you because we love you"--elders not only educate Yup'ik young people but also open a window into their view of the world for all of us. Wise Words of the Yup'ik People will serve as a valuable resource for the Yup'ik people and those who wish to learn more about their lives and values.


If our ancestors wrote what they knew in a book, I wonder how thick it would be.

Wassilie Evan, November 2000:33

I never heard the word culture used in southwestern Alaska thirty years ago - today it is on everyone’s lips. Conscious culture is the trademark of the new millennium in Alaska as elsewhere, requiring efforts to preserve and reproduce past practices and defend them against assimilative pressures. in this struggle, as Marshall Sahlins (2000:196) points out, “the continuity of indigenous cultures consists in the specific ways they change.”

In 1998 Mark John, eldest son of regional leader Paul John and a leader in his own right, took a job as director of the Calista Elders Council (CEC). the council is a nonprofit organization representing the more than 1,300 Yup’ik elders sixty-five years of age and older in the Yup’ik homeland. Under Mark’s leadership the cec elected a nine-person board of elders and hired small, dedicated staffs in Anchorage and Bethel. the board developed a five-pronged plan of action to preserve and transmit Yup’ik values and traditions, including youth culture camps, regionwide dance festivals, a network of village representatives, a series of bilingual publications, and annual youth and elders conventions and gatherings.

Because of the potential of the CEC’S plan to contribute both locally to community health and globally to arctic social science, the council successfully obtained Administration for Native Americans (ANA) and National Science Foundation (NSF) support, and I work with the council as part of the nsf project. Ironically, though non-Native society worked vigorously to erase differences and assimilate indigenous others during most of the twentieth century, current federal and state efforts materially support the new emphasis on differences.

The CEC’S real power and authority rest with its board of elders. Many . . .

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