Building a Foundation For Living
That Feels Just Right
Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley, Ph.D.
University of Alaska Fairbanks
First, I would like to thank the conference committee of Greenland for inviting
me to speak. I am a Yupiaq from Bethel, Alaska which is a member of the Inuit.
I have been involved in education all my life and have experienced the alienation
from my own Yupiaq language and lifeways, and a segregated school system in
my early years. The things that I will say about what education should be and
do for the Native students will be generated from my own experiences and what
I am seeing now from the younger generations.
You and I know as we read and
hear reports of what young people are doing to themselves, to each other
and those around them how life is so irrelevant to
these young people. They have no respect for anyone, their families, their
possesions, law and order. This to me is due in large part to the valueless
education that they have received in public schools. This is not to say that
there is NO value in education because everything that is taught to them
has the underlying value of consumerism, conformity, linearism, standardization,
efficiency, and fragmentation. The students get the understanding that technology
has an answer for all problems that confront us. But, did you know that mathematics,
science, and their offspring the technologies are destroying our world from
what it to be? To give an example, modern medical technology has increased
live births and longevity and we are in the midst of a global population
And, it is straining the earthly natural resources. We are polluting our
backyards which destroy flora and fauna.
My questions is: How long can Mother
Earth be able to connect life web breakages due to extinctions until there
is a complete collapse of the ecological system?
We, in America, are known to be voracious eaters and consumers, and at
whose expense do we live this abundant life? Yours and mine! We, as members
the First Nations, don’t care that that rest of the world is going
hungry, live at the poverty level, grow cash crops to feed us at their
deplete their natural resources, receive technological tools and chemical
material which are known to be destructive, and learn the “American
is an unattainable goal for many. So, what should our schools be teaching
the youngsters to bring about a turnaround in our narcissistic thinking?
believe the first step would be to instruct school in the language of
its Native people, the language of instruction has to be the Native language.
It is the God-given language, developed lovingly and caringly from the
It is the language of place and tells us how to relate to ourselves,
others, to nature and to the spiritual. It gives us our identity, our
a special people. Without our language, we become a people with an identity
determined by others especially those that live outside their birthplace.
We hear what others think of us, we read what a person thinks of us,
see what an anthropologist thinks about us, we hear what religious people
think about us. We don’t have a true identity without fluency in
our own Native tongue!
We must learn about our own cosmogony, cosmology,
ecosophy, ecopsychology, and epistemology in our own Native language.
It must use the myths, legends
and stories which contain the webbing for what it means to be human,
how to interact with others, nature and the spirits. The elders will
vital role in this endeavor.
Secondly, we must have elders and knowledgeable
people explain how, what and why we make certain implements for use in hunting,
foodstuffs, and making clothing. Our technology is nature-mediated
which is why our ancestors merely modified a natural resource to
make an instrument.
Our ancestors could see and make use of nature-refined copper but
chose not to replicate the process because to do so would change our relationship
Mother Earth and her natural resources especially mineral. This whole
process must be value-creating based on the Greenlandic values. The
to be explicitly explained, examples given, and role models identified.
models have to be Native people who are at peace with themselves
are living a life that feels just right. In balance physically, mentally,
Thirdly, in determining what from the Eurocentric
worldviews is to be grafted onto the Greenlandic worldviews, those that are
must ask the following questions:
- Does adding this particular
knowledge enhance or detract from ones Nativeness?
- Does adding this
knowledge increase or decrease natural diversity and cultural adaptability?
Is this Eurocentric knowledge useable in place?
- Are the Native people
able to come up with phrases or coin words that reflect the most often
used mathematical and
to feel that these are important to know.
- Are the
estimation measurements of our ancestors applicable today? Make use of
their sense of pattern
to confuse the issue.
- Are the computers and other
technological tools conducive to natural diversity and cultural adaptability?
our memories are
- Will the addition of these
technological tools add to the environmental and mental pollution?
Fourthly, we must begin to
address the psychological and emotional responses to what Native
elders, scientists and environmentalists
see as nuclear
pollution and environmental degradation. Have the elders come
into the classroom and
talk about their observations from the time that they were
born to what they see now. What do they see that is disturbing to
emotionally? How do you as student react to this? In this technological
world, has life
become easier? At what expense? Look around your own community
if you can see signs of pollution? When you happen to get away
from your community,
what debris, flotsam, noise, and signs of pollution do you
see? If we can begin
to think on this level then we can begin to deal with it on
a pragmatic level. We and the students can begin to connect with
life and everything
us. Then we begin to ask ourselves what can we do to begin
to clean our own environment?
When we begin to clean without ourselves, we begin our own
healing as a people.
These are just a few thoughts on what education should
do to make a person and people who are satisfied with self, have
wants that are
kept to a minimum, whose greatest satisfaction is living
in harmony and cooperation
with the two-leggeds, the four-leggeds, the winged, fish,
wind, the mountain, and the sea. When we have reached this highest
we have attained connectedness with life and all living beings.