These past three years have brought non-stop northern mobility for me, as I have studied and worked in Iilgayaq (Bristol Bay), Alaska; Tromsø, Norway; and Guovdageaidnu (Kautokeino), Sápmi. I have spent this year as a student at Sámi Allaskuvla/Sámi University of Applied Sciences studying the Northern Sámi language in Allaskuvla’s year-long introductory program. As a student particularly interested in Arctic languages, I have been thrilled to have this opportunity to build on my Indigenous language repertoire, from the Central Alaskan Yup’ik (Yugtun dialect) I spent six months working with while living in Iilgayaq through gaining proficiency in the Northern Sámi tongue.
Outside of class, I have had the pleasure to work as a project assistant for UArctic’s Thematic Network on Verdde Program during their 2021 Virtual Exchange Project. This international cooperation includes university partners in Sápmi, Inuit Nunangat (Northern Canada), Kalaallit Nunaat (Greenland), and Alax̂sxax̂ (Alaska). In my position, I aid Indigenous scholars in the creation of versatile and accessible learning resources. These resources, which are based on Indigenous knowledge, can be incorporated into the classroom in such a way that they become cohesive with differing national frameworks that guide education systems in the North.
The greatest joy of my position has been the ability to use the different northern Indigenous languages I have studied in a professional context. For example, I am able to use these languages in my interactions with Indigenous scholars as well as in writing multilingual documents. Our network’s Indigenous languages are powerful tools when communicating shared Indigenous pedagogies to students and other (particularly non-northern) scholars. In Yup’ik, it is common to say “Kenekngamceci Qanrutamceci.” In English, “We Talk to You Because We Love You.” Education, especially for younger people on distinctive, cultural, and place-based expertises of those who came before them, is an act of love deeply rooted in northern ways of life.
This knowledge Verdde is producing, and the methods of communicating it to others, help bring people like me into cultures foreign from our own while also forcing us to think about our own identities, lifestyles, and heritage.
How does migration factor into my identity beyond my past three years of circumpolar mobility? How is the way I perceive the world shaped by where I came from? As I reflect on these questions, I am forced to consider my own heritage not just through inherited genes, but also through the impact of my ancestors’ cultures as well as the influences of lands they inhabited and traveled through on the essence of who I am. Everything they learned and then shared with the next generation, who went further – all the way to New York City. The land on which I was born, and on which my parents live. In considering the totality of my heritage now, I consider not only what my responsibility is to preserve and pass on the knowledge of my ancestors, but also to honor the different lands I occupy in my work and travel.
The Verdde network has shown me that home is not just a piece of land, but the knowledge we carry with us and build upon, ready to share with the next generation. Through this process of communicating cultural pedagogies, the knowledge lives on. For northern cultures, passing down this knowledge ensures people learn to be effective environmental stewards over natural lands. A skill set desperately needed in this period of mass global warming. When I can contribute to these kinds of meaningful projects in the North, whether through the Verdde Program or otherwise, I know that I am home. My heart beats for the northern cities and towns I’ve called home, and the northern people I’ve come to call my family. They are with me every day that I consider the Arctic, which happens to be quite frequently.
In the future, I hope to use socio-linguistic approaches to affect polar community resilience by first applying for a graduate degree in migration studies, and then hopefully pursuing a degree in international or polar law, with which I can work directly with the northern communities that mean so much to me. But for the moment, I am content to sit at the feet of Elders and listen to their wisdom while immersing myself in an abundance of polar studies so that I may one day grow into the educated change-maker I wish to become.
Acknowledgements: This article is dedicated to the UArctic Verdde Network and everything you all have taught me, especially Elisabeth Utsi Gaup for her mentorship. Thank you to my friends and family who supported me during my time in Guovdageaidnu, Maileen Norheim, Berit Ellen Skum, Lemet Ivar Hætta, Arina Shaborshina, Rebekka Steen, the people of Dillingham, Alaska, especially Ida, Nadia, Amelia, and John-John, as well as my mom and grandmother – You all help me remember why I do the things I do. Finally, a treat for my dog Hunter who at the ripe ages of 12 and 13 was made to endure two winters in the Arctic.
Originally published in the UArctic Shared Voices Magazine 2022