Respiritualization Project (Fairbanks)
January 22, 1985
Persons attending: Don Peter of Anchorage; Eber Hampton of Boston; austin Hammond of Haines; Matilda Lewis of Haines; Pam Morrison of Juneau; Bella Francis of Ft. Yukon.
Background of project:
DONALD: Last year, Pam and I got together and we talked about 1991 and the restrictions which would be lifted off the land claims act and the land. we thought about it and realized Alaska Natives don’t really know who they are right now, the younger people. They are the ones getting into the leadership positions and running the corporations and city governments, even the legislature. Since they don’t know who they are, we need to put some kind of a project together like the NANA Corporation up i the Kotzebue area put together a Spirit Movement camp. People go in there and learn about the Inupiat culture and values. There is no way to get out of it. The elders teach the younger people how it used to be 100 years ago. Before 1971 and the land claims, we were content, we survived even without money-we had the land. Well, the land claims was one to make us fail. We knew that a long time ago. What we need to do is put these Spirit camps around the state-in places like Haines or Bethel. We wrote up a proposal and gave it to the Kellog Foundation. I think we got $45,000 and we have until April to put this thing together into a proposal so we can get it funded by UNESCO or one of the funding sources. What we want to do is get our thoughts down on tape and reach our people through here and getting to find out who they are. There are a lot of things that deter us from thinking the way we use to do. There is alcoholism, white man’s way. Some of it is good and some of it is bad. We want to know why all this is happening. We are calling this whole thing a Respiritualization Process. When we spend summers in Ft. Yukon, my son learns a lot. I think other kids can learn too, from the elders.
I put together a proposal and submitted it to the legislature for a state-wide youth program. It’ for a half million dollars. Senator Sackett reviewed the proposal and he feels it is right down the line of the Governor’s speech—alcoholism, drug abuse, sex abuse. If the money goes through, it will be distributed around the state to different agencies with the youth camps. Along the same line, we get the Spirit camps going together with the youth camps, maybe we will get something tout of it. Maybe we will save something spiritual, since there is a Higher Power somewhere. Like the Outside Native people who lost almost everything, but they didn’t lose their spirituality.
PAM: We have two or three proposals to try to get money and so far it is working out pretty good. Five different people from different parts of the state feel that we could just make plans for people. Some of you know how I got interested in this. I grew up in a white way, except for my Grandfather who passed away when I was 12. When I was younger, he told me to be sure to get a college education. Just before he passed away, he talked to me and said I should be sure to follow the pipe, and for my people that means the traditional Oneida spiritual way. I really didn’t know what that meant. I was a young woman, and I already had my first child. My life was getting confused, I was getting involved with drugs and couldn’t seem to get relationships with people to work right. At that time I was living in Milwaukee because my folks moved down there when I was in high school. There were a lot of Oneida people and people from different tribes in the city. We found out that a lot of us were lost. I was working in an alcohol treatment program and it was when the American Indian Movement was strong. We organized and met with the bureaucrats and demanded money to treat our people with traditional Indian methods. They funded our alcohol program. It was one of the first funded in the country, in 1970. It took a year or two before we had to face the fact that we didn’t know what traditional Indian treatment was. We did not have any people who were practicing traditional healing ways. We didn’t know a lot of songs or dances. We started looking for what it meant to be Oneida in 1971-72. We went to Canada to find traditional Oneida people. They didn’t know what to do with us. They never encountered people like us before, people who were lost. They tried to be helpful, but there were many problems. In the next ten years we got help from other tribes. The ( ) people who lived next to us in Wisconsin came and helped us. We started using different ways in the alcohol treatment program. We still used western ways like the counseling and hospitals. Then we started using the sweat lodges which were a part of our culture a long time ago, but we had forgotten it. We began to see changes. I began to see changes in my life and I started to learn how an Oneida woman does things, how to relate with the land, how to sing songs and do dances. The people started to change. There still weren’t a lot of jobs there and we can’t promise people a very good life. It was not like Alaska where people could hunt or fish, they just had to do without a lot of the time. But it pulled us together somehow, pulled my own life together. Now I can look at my own children, ages 14, 7, and 4. They are so happy and comfortable when they do traditional things. It gives them a good foundation for life in the future. Whether the Oneida people lose all the land or not, my children will be prepared. I am married to a Haida. When I moved up here, I saw a lot of suffering in Hydaburg, but I understood that because I could remember how it was when I was young. That’s why I got interested in this. I thought maybe every tribe, every village, every person has to seek and find what is going to work for them. Anything that I can do to help young people up here. My children are now young people and I want them to understand when they get older. That’s why I got interested and contacted Don. Everyone is trying on their own, but if we come together and talk it through, we can come up with some ideas.