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  • Writer's pictureArctic Indigenous Fund

Upinġaaq tikinman nakuuchuuruq | When summer arrives, it is always good


It’s summer solstice as I write this! (I’ll get out there, but I gotta write first.) The morning sun took its good time, yawning up behind mountains before flexing up into the bright, high noon, the hours tumbling with activity around Alaska, around the whole North, like water rushing over river stones. Later, the day’s activity will wane, trickling out into a long, low sunset.

The sun makes me return to a year ago when the Arctic Indigenous Fund was still new. Our little group didn’t know what this should look like (we still joke that one of our first meeting’s phrases was to “be the spaceship”—which is still meaningful!). It was early April, when the sun really made its way back to us. We had learned a lot from facing challenges together over the fall and winter when we were brand new, and we were all doing our best to connect with each other, and with our grant partners.

I touched base with our Director, whose hard work made this effort come to life. Over the phone, I could hear the sunshine in her voice. A day or two later, I checked in with my fellow Advisor, a law student in Sapmi. I recognized that same bright tone, just a little higher than usual—like skipping down the street after hearing good news. I could hear their eyebrows getting just a little higher, the corners of our mouths a wee bit wider. Their voices had the smiles of the new spring sun, familiar to those who are blessed to call the Arctic our home.

I realized how special it was, that even with two or four or nine or *twelve* hour time differences, our understanding of our world is connected by our belonging to our Arctic environments. Blammo—lightning bolt moment!—and it felt like moving on to a new chapter.

Since then, our group has grown, rounded out into a full team from Alaska, Canada, Greenland, and Sapmi. We all know what it feels like when the sun comes back in the spring. We know how good it feels to have precious days with family at camp in the summer, away from the hustle of work and school and city; how good it feels to hear our original languages being spoken, or even to speak ourselves, some of us just a few words, others of us totally fluent. We know how good it feels when you use up last year’s fish and berries and meat, then replace it with fresh bags from this year’s.

And, we know what it feels like when we don’t have many new bags to put away, and the reasons beneath a dwindling harvest.

That’s why the Arctic Indigenous Fund is so dear—when there are too many resource gaps in our communities, this group wants to use our collective knowledge to help fill those gaps. When Native peoples who know what it feels like to be from the Arctic can help distribute resources, it can make a real difference.

Year 1, 2019: Supporting Native Languages

For the first grant year, the AIF wanted to help boost Indigenous language efforts. These are the schools, the camps, and the next generations of learners and teachers, who are keeping languages alive in our regions across the global Arctic. The people making sure that this precious knowledge lives and thrives are not boastful—but they are vital to keep our peoples moving into the future.

We learned a lot those first couple years, and we are thankful to everyone who has been on this journey with us.

Year 2, 2020: Covid-19 Response, and Indigenous Youth

As we all know by now, 2020 keeps coming up with new ways to keep us humans on our feet. Covid-19 has disrupted people and programs everywhere, so we reallocated funds to help respond.

Here in Alaska, we wanted to ensure that language efforts continue, so we put some funds toward our language partners from last year. We also wanted to ensure that elders in urban areas are cared for: during Covid-19, it was not safe for elders to simply go to the grocery store, and in the cities, they might not have the same social nets as in smaller communities to ensure they even have basic necessities. So, we reached out to people whose efforts are going toward literally filling freezers for elders. (“Every little bit helps,” said our soon-to-be grant partner in Anchorage.)

We know also that non-2020 efforts continue to support Indigenous youth. When the sun goes blinking into the sky at next year’s solstice, we are hopeful that some of this year’s resources will have gone to help lift up young Indigenous peoples. Will it be with culture camps? Will it be young entrepreneurs, using today’s technology combined with what they learned from the land and their elders? Will it be connecting youth in remote communities with urban resources? The possibilities are as high and endless as the summer sun.

Quyanaqpak to the creators of the Iñupiatun language app: Edna McClean, the North Slope Borough Iñupiat Heritage Center, and UAF. The app is the source of the title of this article, and evidence of the important resources created when original knowledge is combined with modern technology. The title is respectfully adapted from the app’s North Slope Iñupiat dialect.

By Chandre Iqugan Szafran- Alaska Advisor

“Last year’s berries become this year’s fresh jam.”

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