On human values in uncertain times

My friends, we are living in uncertain times, perhaps more than anytime in the living memories of most who will read this post. It is a time of reflection and awakening. A time to learn of historic and contemporary injustice and ideologies that threaten peace, security, and sustainability. A time for real conversations that elevate awareness on a broader level within our families, communities, and society.

I believe that most human beings share similar values that celebrate diversity, encourage brotherhood and sisterhood, promote equity, desire peace, highly regard knowledge and practical skills, seek sustainability for future generations, and uphold a healthy and honest life. I think that the greatest challenge humanity faces is the integration of these values into political and economic systems that shape our contemporary existence.

The path humanity is currently on is unsustainable, is perpetuating inequity in the consolidation of power and wealth, and is resulting in a high level of human suffering. I think that it will take a profound spiritual, educational, and conscious awakening for humanity to alter our course. Many alive today will be charged with helping to navigate substantial changes in our natural, economic, and political environments in their lifetime.

I pray that wisdom, love, and truth ground our path forward.

The Takeaway interview on Climate Change

I was invited to participate in a White House Arctic Science Ministerial pre-meeting on September 27th, along with thirty other Alaska Native and Arctic Indigenous Peoples, to inform senior leaders on matters of Arctic Policy and Research. It was a very unique meeting, in that the majority of three hours was provided for us to share our insights, perspectives, and recommendations, while senior White House officials and agency administrators listened. I feel really good about the remarks that were made by all the Arctic leaders. Here is a link to a radio interview I offered on The Takeaway, a national public radio broadcast, the following day about Climate Change and its impacts on the Arctic.


Luncheon Speech at GLACIER Conference

President Obama is coming to Alaska, as well as Secretary of State John Kerry, and ministers from over nine countries around the world on August 31st for the conference on Global Leadership in the Arctic: Cooperation, Innovation, Engagement and Resilience (GLACIER). The conference will be an opportunity for international dialogue on a changing Arctic, focused on addressing pressing issues in the region with an emphasis on climate change.

I have accepted an invitation from the US Department of State to be the featured luncheon speaker at the GLACIER conference. I am honored to have been invited to share some of my reflections and insight, but beyond the words I share, I feel that this invitation is a reflection of what will become an increasing role of leadership that indigenous peoples will fulfill in global change. The values our people live with and our intimate knowledge of the land and natural environment are critical in helping to guide humanity on a return to balance and sustainability.

The Daily Show segment on Denali

It has been a bit too long since I published any posts, but life has a way of keeping one busy.

I have made a few changes to simplify communication with folks interested in following my work, including changing the name of the website. I also merged the e-mail subscriptions into one list. If you are not interested in recieving the e-mails, you can simply unsubscribe. The pace of posts will continue to be slow.

I was featured in a segment on the The Daily Show with Jon Stewart this past week. It focused on the issue of officially returning the name of Denali to the Alaskan mountain. They had a lot of great footage to work with, including interviews with Miranda Wright and Adeline Raboff Kari, but were only able to include one of the voices in the 6 minute segment. It is a show on Comedy Central, so be warned it has some obscene language, but I think it carries the message well.

Watch Video Here

Best to everyone.

My Grandfather Tsee Gho' Tsyatsal

Shitsii Steefan Tsee Gho' Tsyatsal aii vichuii. This is probably the only picture I took of my grandfather who helped raise me Vashraii K'oo zhit (in Arctic Village). I only had one disposable film camera, I was under twelve years old at the time. I learned a lot from him, even though most of it was not spoken in words. As a young boy, I would sit and listen to him visit with other elders in the village, they all had a really good sense of humor.


Evon Choo Drives to Fairbanks

This is the story of my drive from Circle to Fairbanks today, told in third person, which was a style of at least one Gwich'in storyteller from the past. Thought I would have fun trying it out. Evon Choo is what my family calls me, because I used to have a round stomach as a baby, 'choo' meaning 'big', in reference to my belly. The beginning is in our language, Gwich'in, but the bulk of the scary drive is in English.

Evon Choo vagwandak. Tanan zhat niinzhii Danzhit Hanlaii gwats'an. "Jaghaii dzaa chiitaii ahtsin shree nanh ch'anjaa?" Evon Choo ahnyaa. "Dulee vit'eegwaahchyaa yak'ahaanjii," yaagha' ninjich'adhat. As he drove on this rainy January from Circle to Fairbanks, the roads were glare ice and the wind was high. He barely made it to the top of the summit, fishtailing his truck up the winding mountain pass. When he reached flat ground he stopped, but the wind began to carry his truck backwards across the ice toward the edge of a steep drop. He was ready to step on the gas and pray to catch enough traction to keep from sliding off if he had to, but the truck slowed to a stop. Lucky, he brought a pair of tire cleats to put on the rear tires. But when he stepped out of the truck, the high winds grabbed him, threw him to the ground with a good hit to the elbow against the truck door, and began carrying his body toward the drop off. He reached for his rear tire with his good arm, as he slid by on the ice. His grip was solid, so his body rounded the back end of the truck and came to a stop. He realized that if he let go of the truck he would be blown away, first time he ever experienced that kind of sheer ice and high winds. He carefully put on the tire cleats and slowly made his way, through the rain and across the ice back to Fairbanks. Was another eventful day in the life of Evon Choo.

Faith in what must be

What I do?
Is be,
A spirit,
Strong and free,
It doesn’t all make sense,
Even to me,
I’m fine with it,
I have to be,
It is my path to walk,
That much I see.

I see many possibilities,
The world a palette,
The paints my dreams,
And a single masterpiece,
Calling my name.

If only this art were simple,
Free of sorrow and pain,
Heartache and shame,
But then,
What would its value be?

A destiny it is,
Every step an adventure,
Deeper into imagination,
On approach to a river,
That nourishes us all.

The art of lessons,
Carried by stories,
Transforming reality,
So we may continue on.

It is beauty,
Life on purpose,
Faith in what must be.

Celebration & Ceremony

There are times when we find ourselves in a naturally generated altered state of consciousness. While we are in that place, our experience of being alive is full and we often feel our spiritual connection to all of life. The intentional entry into that space is ceremony, which has specific purpose. Some of those purposes are for protection, healing, honoring, meditation, and praying. This weekend our people, the Gwich'in, celebrated the continuation of our way of life, living from the land, maintaining our relationship with the caribou, carrying our language and cultural practices, and honoring the unity among our nation. We made prayers with our ancestral songs. Our spirits were lifted. We are thankful for all that we have been blessed with in our lands.

Vadzaih Ch'adzaa

Dehtr'yaa ch'adzaa

Camp Pigaaq 2013 Pics

Here are a few pics from the summer culture camp:

On an iceberg in the northwest arctic ocean

Coming back from a successful hunt, with Cape Blossom in the background.

Taking care of the ugruk.

Hanging fish and meat to dry on the inusuk.

Having some fun.

Cutting strips with fire to keep away the bugs (photo by Angela Monroe)

Finished cutting at some o'clock in the morning (photo by Angela Monroe)

Streched seal skin by Aucha

Sunset and almost sunrise.

Northwest Arctic Institute by Tagnak and Talu

This is a short reflection from the first Northwest Arctic institute, published by the Arctic Sounder, click HERE to view online.

There's a quiet revolution happening in rural Alaska. More and more people are making a conscious effort to live well, make healthy choices and cooperate to help others. They are practicing ways of being connected to the land, to each other and to the strong lineage of ancestry that has enabled us to thrive in some of the most beautiful and remote lands in the world.

Often, our small choices and practices are overlooked. But small efforts every day add up and make a significant impact over time. We choose the stories we will tell our children and grandchildren. The skills and knowledge we have is a gift we are able to share. Our choices, actions and values will be what make our coming generations succeed as so many of our people are succeeding today. There is a growing movement of people who are pursuing these positive changes.

The first Northwest Arctic Institute hosted 17 such people from April 14-19, 2013, Iñupiaq of the Northwest Arctic and Bering Straits regions. This unique gathering, hosted by Maniilaq Wellness, Gwanzhii, and the Indigenous Leadership Institute provided an opportunity for people in these two northern regions to share stories and strategies for community wellness and personal well-being.

"We were honored to bring people together from Kotzebue, Buckland, Selawik, Kiana, Noatak, Deering and Nome," said Evon Peter, NWAI facilitator and Maniilaq Wellness Director. "The Institute offers a unique cultural space to build healthy relationships, further our healing, and learn from one another."

Melissa Brown of Selawik affirmed about the Institute, "all the information shared here is valuable. An experience that will last a lifetime."

NWAI Participants had an opportunity to share their thoughts about wellness, challenges our communities face, delve into the history of Alaska Native peoples and strategize ways to bring support to those who are seeking healthy living, healing and positive changes. Also it was a time to reflect, to laugh, to enjoy a break from the everyday pressures of parenthood, work responsibilities and household chores.

"This whole experience has been both valuable to my personal life and my role as the ICWA/Wellness Coordinator for our Tribe. Many ideas, emotions and spirits were shared. We all have a better understanding of our roles in life in helping to promote wellness," said Naomi Munick Chappel of Kiana.

The Institute was also captured on film as one of the final locations for the documentary "We Breathe Again," planned for release in early 2014. The film is focused on suicide prevention and wellness among Alaska Native communities.

These 17 NWAI participants join a larger network of Arctic Institute for Indigenous Leadership Alumni, which include approximately sixty young Alaska Natives from across the state.

By Midnight Sun

The reddish orange hue of the sun spread behind a thin veil of overcast clouds, but was still high up on the horizon, accented by the subtle rise and fall of snow covered hilltops with a dip where the valley and frozen river lay. It was 11:30pm on Sunday, May 12th and I had to make a decision whether we would ride by snow machine overnight to Kotzebue. It was a very late spring, so the ocean, river, and tundra lay completely frozen. I was supposed to fly out from Kotzebue the following morning to the village of Shungnak, but had been weathered into Buckland since the day before. The wind was blowing, taking the temperature to about 2 degrees, but the sky was beginning to open up. I felt the land calling me.

I had been in Buckland since Thursday capturing interviews and filming the high school graduation ceremony, as the last shoot for our documentary film. They had thirteen graduates and each of them offered an emotion filled speech, acknowledging the challenges they overcame and their appreciative love of family and supporters. It was beautiful to witness and held special significance to me as well, as I had traveled to Buckland several times over the previous two years, building relationships with the people.

I was tired, but knew it was time for me to adventure out onto the land. I didn’t have the best gear, but felt it would be good enough to get me to Kotzebue. We had to gas up the snow machines, so had to pay an extra twenty dollars to get someone out to the gas pump that late. It happened to be a new friend Floyd and his wife Cheryl. Two days earlier they had shared some incredible home cooked blueberry and pumpkin pies with me after the graduation at their place. Cheryl looked at me and asked, “is that what you're wearing?” Floyd says, “you may have to learn how to eskimo dance to keep you warm.” We all had a good laugh. They had us follow them to their house and proceeded to hand me a good hat, mittens, and goggles, then said, “just have someone hand carry it back over on a flight from Kotz tomorrow.” Kind people.

That bright reddish orange sun had broken through the clouds, presenting its majestic spread of color and huge marble of a body. It was just setting as we tied down two sleds full of gear. There were three of us, Arthur who is from Buckland and knew the trail well, Thomas from Kotzebue, and myself. They doubled up on the Polaris and I drove the ski-doo, following behind them.

We traveled first by river, then ascended up onto the tundra, before reaching the ocean. While the sun had set, it still provided a dim light across the landscape throughout the night. We stopped at elephant point, shut down the snow machine engines and stood, listening to the wind howl and watching a dusting of snow traverse the land. The few minutes felt like they could have lasted a lifetime. I felt fully alive, every breath filling me with life.

We crossed the frozen ocean to cut time and stopped once again at Callahan, where there was a small cabin we could stand in for a break from the wind while sharing some coffee and dried caribou meat. We joked about winter not wanting to let go and questioned whether spring would come in time for youth camps at the end of June. We were about two hours into the trip by that time.

We spent another two hours crossing land and ice that evening. As we began our descent towards Kotzebue, coming out at Sadie Creek, the sun rose in the distance, offering full lighting across the land and ocean for our final few miles.

The guys went on to their house and I pulled away to my friend Aucha’ house. She had been the one who sent down the snow machines to let me drive back to Kotzebue. She had known I needed some time on the land. I was grateful for her insight. That night was a long much needed moment of meditation and rejuvenation.


Buckland SunsetCommencement Speaker Nathan Hadley Sr with wife and Graduate Esther HadleySelf-portrait at airstrip while waiting for a plane that never showed :)


If our universe moves in cycles,
In revolutions,
And we are conscious of its nature,
What do we pour into it?

If thoughts can propel us towards wellness or suffering,
Preempt our success or failure,
And open the doorway to miracles,
What thoughts do we cultivate?

If change is inevitable,
And we each contribute to the reality we share,
What kind of world do we nurture?

To know love once again

If I could channel all that I feel,
Into the strength to pull suffering from its root,
Shaking the earth, but not breaking it,
So that the spirit in each person became alert,
And for a moment the world stood still,
Just long enough for a miracle to occur,
A shower of tears,
From fourteen billion eyes,
Mourning three thousand years of sorrow,
Releasing the blinding lenses of distorted perception,
So that we could see ourselves in the eyes of every stranger,
And feel the earth course through our veins,
So that we could know love once again,
I would.

Be Yourself, It is Okay

Every human being is unique and beautiful. When a society succeeds in preventing someone from honoring and expressing their true nature, character, personality, and gifts, it is a tragedy. This is one of the roots of suffering among humankind today. Be yourself, it is okay, even if others may not understand.

Just Me

I am just a person,
Like you,
I wrestle with my shadows,
I don't always win.

Not above or beyond,
I am beside you,
Of the land,
Of the people.

My roots are ancient,
But I live in the now,
It doesn’t always make sense,
But I continue on.

There is our work,
I am a part of it,
Breathing life into it,
Lifting what I can.

I will always be just me,
Uncorrectable eyes,
Big heart,
Raw life adventurer.

See me as any other,
That is who I am,
Journeying the road,
Following the stars.

A Story of Camp Pigaaq

In early spring of 2011, I sat down to visit with Lance Kramer in Kotzebue at the Ferguson Building to talk about how we could reach out to young people and offer support to help prevent suicide and break cycles of abuse. I had begun working in the Northwest to develop the Maniilaq Wellness program starting in the fall of 2010 and was told Mr. Kramer would be a good person to visit, as he was already reaching out to young people in the region. One of the first things he said was, “we need to call up Aucha (Adeline Kameroff) and invite her to join us in this discussion.” Aucha didn’t hesitate and came right over to meet with us. We introduced ourselves and jumped into a discussion on what we could work on together.

Lance is an Inupiaq family man from the Northwest, a hunter, and former full-time schoolteacher. Aucha is a Yupik grandmother and hunter from Emmonak who works for Juvenile Justice Youth Service in Kotzebue. I’m Gwich’in from Arctic Village with a background in Indigenous leadership development and prevention work. Almost sounds like the start to a joke, “an Inupiaq, a Gwich’in, and a Yupik walk into a meeting room...” but we found that we had several traits in common. Among the most important were a deep appreciation for our cultures, values, land, and a drive to get things done to support young people.

On that same afternoon we envisioned a culturally based youth camp that would be held out on the land, following in the footsteps of our ancestors. We would live from the land, learn from one another about our cultures, share stories of hardship and strength, and focus on building healthy relationships. We wanted to provide an opportunity for youth to reflect on their lives, learn about the history of our peoples, gain hands-on experience with survival from the land, and have a safe space to talk.

We spent the rest of that afternoon planning what would become our first camp, to be held two months later in early June, in time for spring seal hunting, egging, and bird hunting. We asked Walter and Belynda Gregg for permission to use their campsite at Sadie Creek, just south of Kotzebue, which they agreed to allow us to use. The Maniilaq Wellness program was operating under a Methamphetamine and Suicide Prevention Initiative (MSPI) grant that focused on four villages a year in the Northwest region, so youth would be invited from Noorvik, Kiana, Buckland, and Selawik, as well as a few from Kotzebue to attend.

We invited Keggulluk (Earl Polk) to join us as a camp counselor and leader, as I had been working with him on several other camps and weeklong retreats, such as Camp Igaliq in the Nome region and the statewide Arctic Institute for Indigenous Leadership. He brings a wealth of knowledge about the land, his Yupik culture, maqiivik (traditional steam bath), and working with youth. We also invited local guest presenters to join us to speak with the youth, as the campsite was within four-wheeler driving distance of Kotzebue.

We split the coordinating and preparation responsibilities between our Wellness Coordinator Dollie Hawley, Lance, Aucha, Keggulluk, and myself to spread the workload, as we had a short window to get all of the pieces in order. Kathy Burgo from Kiana joined our team as the camp cook and Marsh Chamberlain joined us as a camp filmmaker to capture the experience on film. It all came together very well and in early June, youth and mentors began arriving from the villages into Kotzebue.

A few days earlier, Lance, Keggulluk, Aucha, and myself had begun hauling supplies by boat and set up a twenty-four by twenty canvas tent with a wood stove to serve as our base and cookhouse. In total we had eighteen youth, four mentors, and seven staff heading by boat, van, and four-wheeler towards Sadie Creek to finish our camp set-up together. Each group of youth had to put up their own tent, cots, and prepare for the first evening.

That first evening we were strangers to one another. The youth were shy and it took a while to get everyone to introduce themselves loud enough for us all to hear. But that changed quickly as we worked together building a maqiivik, catching fish and seals, cleaning animals, making seal oil, hanging black meat, playing games, going up Sadie Creek to set-up duck blinds, hiking out on the land, and hauling wood and water.

We spent time in the mornings to talk about more serious issues in our lives and communities, how we can help end cycles of abuse and be there for one another in our families and communities. In smaller groups or pairs we would make time to visit and support one another. We all laughed and learned, some of us cried, and we all built relationships, some of which will span a lifetime. It was a powerful and moving time on the Northwest coast.

We produced a short thirty-minute documentary film entitled Camp Pigaaq 2011 that premiered at the First Alaskans Institute Youth and Elders Conference in Anchorage during AFN that October. A couple of the youth, Lance, Marsh, Keggulluk, and myself were in attendance and had a panel conversation following the film on statewide television. We were encouraged by the Maniilaq Board to share what we were learning about helping to prevent suicide and abuse, as they understand it is a statewide issue. The film and panel provided us with an opportunity to contribute to the statewide conversation with a positive message and focus. The Camp Pigaaq 2011, as well as another film Camp Igaliq 2011 are both available to view online for free or a DVD copy can be requested from the Kawerak Wellness program.

We have since hosted the second annual Camp Pigaaq, this time at Riley Wreck, which we expanded to include youth from more villages in the Northwest. The Camp is unique in that we are sharing knowledge and experiences from several cultural backgrounds, as well as intentionally creating spaces that are safe for youth to open up about their experiences and receive supportive counseling. It is hard work, but it is worth every ounce of energy, time, and resource that make it happen. The Maniilaq Wellness program is very thankful to all the organizations, individuals, leaders, families, and youth who are making the Camp successful.

Published in the Fall 2012 Issue of RuralCap's Village Voices , where you can view more photos of the Camps.

A Discourse on Change

I just attended a couple conference presentations at the International Congress of Circumpolar Health being hosted this year in Fairbanks, Alaska. It was good to catch up on some of the health research and statistics about northern peoples, much of it focused on Indigenous populations. The presentations laid out a scientific picture of the immediate and emerging challenges in northern health and sustainability. These challenges include very high suicide, cancer, sexual abuse, and alcohol abuse rates, in addition to poor health conditions related to poor housing, water, sewer, energy, and sanitation systems. Of course, the findings of this research is already known to observant people living in the North, but it is helpful to have data and research supporting our understandings. I left the conference reflecting on what bringing change to these many negative findings really entails?

I believe that solutions to these daunting issues must be grounded in a holistic understanding of the full circumstances that are generating them.  This means that the solutions to these challenges must address the physical, emotional, spiritual, social, economic, and political context from which the problems arise. This is particularly relevant when addressing mental and behavioral health, where policy and regulation often dictate a very narrow array of solutions.  These solutions aim to “fix” the individual rather than the holistic context in which that individual exists.  The individual is well worth this focused attention, however, if the environment in which that individual exists is not also “fixed” there can be no lasting solution.  This is no easy task, however to pursue solutions to the mental health dilemmas we face without holistic awareness of the problem is to be short sighted. For example, we must understand that poor mental health among Alaska Native people is largely connected with the current and historic trauma generated by colonization, forced assimilation, and stripped rights to self-determination.

It is astounding how many different people - from all cultures and levels of influence; from both inside and outside institutions and government - want real, fundamental and lasting changes in our education, healthcare, energy, political, and economic systems. Yet we struggle to bring change; as a whole we are stifled by old ideologies that are unsustainable and paternalistic. These deeply entrenched beliefs largely benefit a small percentage of the global population; leaving many to struggle with emotional, physical, economic, and social injustices. We must work to usher in change that addresses root causes of unnecessary suffering, injustice, and inequity.

I recognize that this change has to take place at all levels from local to global and that we all play a role. I give thanks to those on the front lines of change and those taking personal steps to heal and seek truth. My sense is that courageous leaders, willing to speak truth, have open dialogue about what is really happening, and discuss solutions many people currently consider to be "unrealistic" will emerge more often in the coming years. I look forward to contributing to that discourse :)