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Monday, 25 June 2012

On Alaska, families, saints, and the passing of ways

My post last week on dancing in Alaska, and Matt's dancing reminded me to tell you all that Alaska is one of the most beautiful places to visit or live in the entire world.

The people are fantastic, and the Catholics friendly. Like Lake Wobegone "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average."

There is something mystical about the mountains and the sea, as if one sensed Alaska was some ancient place which belongs to God Alone. And, it is warmer in some places than Minnesota. I know, as I have lived in both places. (I do not count Fairbanks, but I think International Falls, Minnesota beats even Fairbanks for the coldest temperatures.)

One place to visit is the ANHC, the Alaska Native Heritage Center, where I danced.  On the site, is an amazing interactive map of the indigenous peoples. One reason I am writing this post is an idea which is connected to what I have been thinking for two weeks on gender roles. The people of Alaska, although varied, have kept traditional male and female roles.
For example, the Yup'iks and the Cup'iks have this note on their section:  Cultural roles and social rank were largely determined by gender and individual skills. Successful hunters, nukalpiit, usually become group leaders. Women roles included child rearing, food preparation and sewing.

The men and women are proud to have kept their traditional roles.

What happened to us? The Inupiaq note that Division of labor was by gender. 

The Unangax and Alutiiq (Sugpiaq)  note that: 

Still important ( these...)cultures are kinship and family relationships. These connections persist throughout the regions and are important in the management of the village, as well as decision-making related to everyday life. Today, many Elders reminisce about the past, mentioning the culture of sharing and helping one another in the villages of their youth. Village members would punish those who violated the rules of conduct of the village. The most serious form of punishment was banishment.

The Eyak, Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian had a highly organized society and marriage were arranged by the families. The Athabascans note that: 

Clan elders made decisions concerning marriage, leadership, and trading customs. Often the core of the traditional culture was a woman and her brother, and their two families. In such a combination the brother and his sister's husband often became hunting partners for life. Sometimes these hunting partnerships started when a couple married.

Traditional Athabascan husbands were expected to live with the wife's family during the first year, when the new husband would work for the family and go hunting with his brothers-in-law. A central feature of traditional Athabascan life was (and still is for some) a system whereby the mother's brother takes social responsibility for training and socializing his sister's children so that the children grow up knowing their clan history and customs.
Many of these customs are lost, and Christianity enhanced some. But, the common thread is the importance of the family. Can we go back to this lost priority in our sophisticated climate? 

The Catholic Church knows the importance of the family, children and the rule of law. We have been given the old and the new, nature and Revelation. Can we go back to simpler times and have the families we desire, full of commitment and love, duty and history? I know the natives have problems now, partly owing to the worst influences of imports and odd laws.

By the way, I have the icon of the saints of Alaska. There are several. One native is a martyr. Here is his story. And, we can honor the Orthodox Saints who are martyrs, as per an agreement with Rome in about 1922, which maybe a reader can find online for me. Here is one of my favorite Alaska saints, the Great Innocent.
St. Innocent was born in 1797 to a poor family in a remote village in a rural area of Irkutsk Province in Russia, and named Ioann (John). He was orphaned at the age of six, and assigned to the seminary at Irkutsk at nine. Shortly after he arrived, the relics of St. Innocent of Irkutsk were found, whose name and apostolic ministry young Ioann later would inherit. He was a hard working and outstanding student, who also was seen as humble and kind, and for these qualities he was given the name of Veniaminov after the late Bishop Veniamin of Irkutsk who was beloved by the faithful.
After he was ordained to the priesthood, he spent a year as a parish priest in Irkutsk, and then volunteered to go into missionary work in Alaska, though many other clergy were afraid to do so, because they had heard it was a wild country filled with dangerous savages. His wife broke into tears when she heard the news of this mission, but was unable to dissuade him, so at age 26, he and his family traveled over 2,000 miles, taking over a year to complete this arduous journey, and arrived finally in the Aleutian Islands in 1824.
He built a church with his own hands, traveled to remote areas by kayak, dog sled, even reindeer. He learned six dialects of the native language and developed the first written alphabet for the native Aleuts. He translated the Bible and other sacred books into their language. Years later, he also translated scriptural books into other Alaskan native languages. He also studied all aspects of the local area, and wrote ethnographic, geographical and linguistic works for which he later was elected an honorary member of the Russian Geographical Society and Moscow Royal University.
He returned to Russia to seek more resources and support for the Alaska mission, where, after his wife died, he took monastic vows and the name Innocent, after Bishop Innocent of Irkutsk. He was later consecrated Bishop, and was assigned to the new see of Kamchatka-kurils and the Aleutian Islands, to which he returned, tirelessly building churches, guiding priests, seeking to bring the Gospel and the Holy Orthodox Church to native peoples of Alaska. He encouraged the use of English, and the use of indigenous clergy.
He was later made Archbishop, and later, having returned to Russia, ultimately became Metropolitan of Moscow, where he continued his missionary zeal, establishing and guiding an Orthodox Missionary Society. He is perhaps especially remembered for his zeal to bring the gospel to the world. The apostolic preaching of Metropolitan Innocent spread to a vast territory including Alaska and Chukotka, the Aleutian, Kurils and Commander Islands, eastern Siberia, the Amur region, Kamchatka and the Far East. Metropolitan Innocent brought the light of Christian faith to the Aleutians, Koloshes, Kurils, Eskimo, Kenai, Chugaches, Kamchadals, Oliutores, Negidales, Mongols, Samogirs, Golds, Gulyaks, Koryaks, Tungus, Chukcha, Yakutians, and Kitians.
The preaching of the gospel was a primary achievement in the life of Metropolitan Innocent and occupied a special place in his apostolic service. The metropolitan had a great homiletic gift and was a remarkable preacher. He never missed an opportunity to preach and talk to people and tirelessly instructed his clergy to do the same.
Holy St. Innocent, pray to God for us.
Our Father among the saints, St. Innocent, Metropolitan of Moscow, Enlightener of Siberia & America, is commemorated on March 31.

Troparion in Tone III:  O holy hierarch Innocent our father, thou who wast first to teach the tribes which before lay in heathen darkness, and first to show them the way to salvation, who didst labor as an apostle in the enlightenment of Siberia and America: Entreat the Master of all, that He grant peace to the whole world and great mercy to our souls. 

Kontakion in Tone IV:  Thou wast a true and truthful teacher; for, having thyself done what the Lord commanded, thou didst thereby teach and instruct in piety those who came to thee, didst enlighten unbelievers to recognize the true Faith, illumining them with holy baptism. Wherefore, thou rejoicest with the apostles, receiving the honor of an evangelist of Christ.

Next time, I shall write about my very favorite Alaskan saint, Herman