Lifting Up Our Northern Communities
Updated: Apr 19, 2020
Written by: Dewey Kk'ołeyo Putyuk Hoffman
April 2020 I come from a racially and socio-economically mixed family. Our parents raised my sisters and I to feel at home visiting family wherever they lived, in both Native communities and non-Native communities throughout Alaska and the continental US. We spent each summer at fish camp some twenty miles upriver from Ruby, our family’s home village of 170 people along the central Yukon River of Alaska. It is the same place where I go hunting and where we hold ceremonies to honor the passing of our loved ones. Each year we also visited relatives on my dad’s side in Washington state. Being raised with a large extended family included many loud joyful celebrations. I also saw my loved ones suffer due to a lack of resources, the failure to get the care they needed, or miss out on basic human dignity. I question why so many of our Indigenous people still live in a cycle of scarcity in our own homelands even though we are incredibly strong peoples, custom-built to survive among the most extreme conditions in the world. Sometimes I feel that it would be so convenient to be able to clearly identify “The Problem” and “The Solution.” Realizing that things are more complex than that, I have begun to take a broader look at systems-level changes. The same morally corrupt power structures that have intentionally broken apart my deeply interdependent thriving family are still in play today. We need to oppose those who are actively trying to steal, appropriate or altogether destroy what we hold most sacred. I cannot think of anything more important than using our voice to protect our ways of life and who we are in relation to the lands and waters for future generations.
The traditional values honed by my Ancestors promote ways of living that allow individuals and groups to thrive in any number of conditions. We maintained a social structure based upon clear rules for how to behave, with real consequences if the rules were disregarded. More than a few steps were carried out to show respect within the places where we lived, harvested, and shared despite or perhaps because of the potential risks of starvation, severe injury or early death. It seems that if my people had the patience and care to attain Native knowledge, they could have enough for what they needed plus enough to take care of others. As a clan-based society, our wealth was and, in some ways, still is measured by how much we can give away in lovingly prepared food, newly composed and remembered songs, and material wealth.
Becoming upwardly mobile is not the simple solution. We need to uplift flexible community development models that actually work for our Indigenous people. We need systems driven by our local values, more in synch with the local rhythms of the distinct places people call home. To authentically build relationships not based on a sterile business transaction laced with entitlement and disparity, visit and really get to know people and their communities. Create something based on shared experience and respect.
Just as the chain of Ancestors links us to the distant storytime of our pasts, we must stay connected to our distinct value systems that define who we are. I believe we can uphold a mindset of abundance and find ways to thrive in balance with our surroundings. We can protect and enhance cultural and spiritual resources while working to distribute power and opportunities more equitably.
I am one of 8 current Arctic Indigenous Fund advisors. We are all next-generation Indigenous scholars, artists, language learners and social justice advocates strongly committed to utilizing all potential resources to catalyze and support thriving Indigenous communities in the Arctic. We are working together to create allies and partnerships and navigate and possibly reshape the problematic world of philanthropy. What if we all measured wealth by how much we could freely help and take care of each other?
About the Author
Kk'ołeyo se'ooze'. Tl'eeyegge Hʉt'aan eslaanh. Bedzeyh Te Hʉt'aan eslaanh. Tlaa'ologhe hʉts'enh ts'aadaanselet dehoon Fairbanks lesdo. Se'ot Nekkon' be'ooze'. Sedenaa' Telele be'ooze'. Tl'eeyegge Hʉkkenaage' hedohʉdege'eh dehoon hedo'k'ʉhʉdeł'eeghenh. Uvaƞa Putyuk. Aƞayuukaaka Dee Olin-lu David Hoffman-lu. Tinaaġmiuġuruƞa. Atqasugiksuaq aniruƞa. Nuliaġa Kunaq. Paniġa Iƞmaġana. Ilisaniaqtuƞa Iñupiatun. I am Koyukon Athabascan and Swiss-American from Ruby, Alaska. My Denaakk'e name Kk'ołeyo means “walking” and my Iñupiaq name Putyuk means “pinch.” I live in Fairbanks, Alaska with my wife Marjorie Kunaq Nekkon’ Tahbone, and our daughter Telele Iŋmaġana. I am learning to speak and teach Koyukon Athabascan and Iñupiaq Eskimo with my family.