"I guess my mother loved me enough to send me there. And the people at the home loved me enough to keep me."
How did they enforce not letting you speak Yup’ik?
Usually they had those yard sticks and of course back then we didn’t understand English and they didn’t understand Yupik. And I think part of it… I found out later on that part of it was that they wanted to know what we were talking about and of course they couldn’t if they didn’t understand Yup’ik. Of course they had the rap on the hand or whatever and you couldn’t shut up then you were isolated or put into a room. Isolation, you know or put in a corner or some kind of punishment. You were removed from the room for a certain period of time. And sometimes that was good because it gave you time to reflect and do whatever it is that you do. You know. It gave you a chance to not do whatever it is that they were doing or were involved in.
I learned English very fast and I learned how to suppress Yup’ik… speaking Yupik, you know. So it was after that, that I went back home and of course all those years of not speaking Yup’ik. I couldn’t speak it very well and I got a lot of teasing from my cousins you know about it. And of course I couldn’t handle the teasing. I was pretty sensitive about those kinds of things. And so rather than say anything I just shut up and that seemed to be the best answer. I learned very early not to talk. In fact, you know, with this project that you are working on, I’m not overly excited about it. Because it wasn’t… in a lot of ways it wasn’t the best experience for me, being in a home without my family. And also being forced to comply with whatever they wanted you to comply with, you know, religion or whatever.
What years were you at the home?
I was there from when I was about six I guess. Let’s see I was born in ’46 so ’52 to around ’58 or something like that. I was trying to get done with school so that I can move onto high school and that was the big motivating factor. I wanted to get out of there. That was the big factor for me. I don’t know if it makes any sense but I wanted to leave and so that’s what I did. I skipped some grades or whatever and I did a lot of work in school.
Why did you want to leave?
Being away from home, that was the biggest thing. That was the biggest, I guess the biggest pain that I had was leaving my home and my mother and everybody. Even though it wasn’t considered to be healthy for me to be there. There was the TB going around. There was different things. We were poor, we didn’t have all the niceties, and they consider that we were living in poverty. I was happier living at home with nothing. I don’t know if that makes any sense.
You said that you heard the Northern Lights when you were at the Children’s Home, what did they sound like?
They have a kind of a whoosh… kind of like sometimes you know they might snap or crackle. It’s kind of like, but they will do it in a very quiet way. But it could be an animal walking in the woods. Because a lot of times I’d have a certain place that would be my favorite place and it would be under a spruce tree, between two spruce trees and what would happen is that they would be so close together they provided shelter. So when it snowed, hardly any snow went in there. It was one of those places where you could sit and listen to yourself. Now, because of all the noise and everything and being in the cities and being in places where there is noise all the time I don’t, all I get is tendinitis… But I remember some of those, it’s almost like Eskimo songs. Some of the songs that they had were kind of like that… very quiet and measured… when it comes that that kind of music it gives you almost a motherly heartbeat. And its something that even though I was not home, I was at home.
Why did you live at the children’s home?
Well as I mentioned before, alcohol abuse was going on at home and I don’t know if my sister talked about some of that, that was going on around that time. And her and my mother you know would always be very protective and they would shield him from me, because when my father would get drunk then he would become violent.
And even though it affected me at the time. I said I’m never going to become like my father. And the sad fact is that when I drank I became just like him and that’s why I don’t drink. And you know besides the things that were going on with our family like that and the poverty and there was TB going around. I don’t know if my mother was trying to protect me. I’d like to think that she supported sending me there to get away from, first of all the violence that was going on. Even though I wanted so much to be home, you know. I cried my heart out just wanting to be home. Because you’re five or six-years-old and you are taken away. Even though it’s an abusive home. It’s still home. That’s why I said I would’ve turned out different if I had been raised at home… maybe I would be dead right now you know from alcohol abuse or whatever. But all those factors are factors that had something to play in getting… being sent there. The turn around for me came after I got into recovery. I started talking about not the ‘what-ifs,’ but the ‘what happened.’ I turned it around and said thank you to the missionaries because I think if it were not for them and the children’s home I would not be here today. Does that make sense? And also the big part is the creativity part because I was exposed to an artist who came to my school when I was 12-years-old.
She came and she set-up her drawing and she did some drawings and it was amazing to me. What she did. And I was kind of… I watched and observed how she did it and how fast she was and I knew that when I watched her I wanted to do that too. It planted a seed in me. That’s why for years after that when I went to elementary schools and different schools, I used to go and just set-up and do sketches. I don’t know if any of them got inspired by any of that but I know that when I was teaching a community education class that one of my students went on to become a great artist that commanded $25,000 for a portrait. I don’t command that kind of price and I don’t really care if I do. I make do with what I have. That’s one of the things that I learned.
This was in both cultures… not only in the Yup’ik culture where we have practical education and we grew-up with nothing. And in the Western culture we have everything, you know, it’s like I come to the conclusion that I’m real grateful for what they did because if it wasn’t for them I might not be here now. I don’t make any assumptions. I only look at what happened and what it was like and what I’m doing now as a testimony to the good that there is.
And these are people down in the lower 48-states that donated money and food and clothing and everything without even knowing who they were donating to. And when I think about that. I think, there is some good in this world. And I’m a part of that too. It’s like paying it forward. If you do something good it will come back to you … you’ll be able to pass it on to somebody else. I guess my mother loved me enough to send me there. And the people at the home loved me enough to keep me.
If you could narrow your experience down to one word
what would it be?
I don’t know that’s a tough one because words can’t describe some of the experiences that we had. Even though I don’t like to admit it, I would probably have to say Hope. Because I came from a place where we would probably be considered hopeless. Not to me but… because I just wanted to go home. I didn’t care what it was like at home. I just wanted to go there and be there. And even now when I write I like to quote… Desiderata? And it goes something like… go placidly amidst this noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. And then it goes into all these different things and in the end it says, with all the sham, drudgery and broken dreams it is still a beautiful world. Strive to be happy. Sometimes when I think about happiness, even though I didn’t want to be there I had to accept the fact that I was.
And even though I can’t say that I was proud to be an orphan, you know because for a lot of people especially in your culture, an orphan is associated with something negative. And I don’t know, maybe its not. A lot of people think that you have to feel sorry for them. That they don’t have a home, they don’t have nobody. But I do. I have a home. It’s out in the tundra. That’s the place that I was born, where I was raised. I know exactly the place where it is. And I know that when I’m gone, when I leave I’ll go back to visit there. That’s the first place that I’ll go. I was so sick. And that was a big part of why I was brought there. I was so sick that I had to go to the infirmary. And my sister was the only one that was there. I don’t know how long I was there. I know that I was in and out and she would always give me water and hold my hand and she was always there. But at a certain time, I left. I left my body. And I looked down at her and she was sleeping, she stayed with me that whole time. She slept there and stayed there. And that was the only reason that I came back.
But before that I could travel, I could travel in a heartbeat. Just like that. I could go wherever I wanted to go. Just by thinking about it. And I looked and I went back and I seen country, I seen things and I thought boy what a great life this would be. To be able to go some place and not feel any pain. Because I didn’t… there was no pain. No physical sensation. Not even with the wind, you don’t feel anything. It’s all spiritual.
But I came back and I looked at my sister and she was still there. And I said to myself that I couldn’t let her go without… giving it a shot. I had to go back to my body and I had to go back to the pain. Whatever it is that I was going through in order to help her. It was not for me, if it was up to me and I was by myself I would be gone. I wouldn’t be there. But because of her I came back and I came back to my body.
You know when we talk about those out of body experiences. That’s what its like. And you travel. You can go anywhere you want to go. You can go up, and I was up in the clouds. I was up and I was free. I felt free. And I know that some people would consider that to be crazy talk because people you know we were so worried about what other people are gonna say or think because of what experience we’ve had, you know. Because they might think its super natural and it may be, but its what happened to me. For a long time I didn’t talk about it because I didn’t want to be considered weird or a freak, you know. When we went through that Woodstock period we were kind of freaks anyways to begin with. But that’s ok we had to go through that experience just to say I’ve been there and I did that. But even at Edgecumbe a lot of the guys that I went to school with there are a few of them that are still around, not too many. Because a lot of them got into drugs and alcohol. Or wound up getting killed or killing somebody… all that crazy stuff. I think I’m one of the lucky ones.