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Eskimos: friendship across the ocean
Dmitry Oparin on what distinguishes representatives of one people in Chukotka and Alaska
Eskimos inhabit four countries, four parts of a huge circumpolar world. They live in Greenland, Canada, Alaska and Chukotka. In Russia, their number is only 1 700 people, mostly concentrated in three "national" villages of the southeastern part of the Chukchi Peninsula. Their relatives live in 60 kilometers, on the island of St. Lawrence, which can be seen from the shore in good weather. However, they are already citizens of another country. EastRussia is a candidate of historical sciences, an anthropologist with rich expedition experience and an expert on Russian and Canadian Eskimos, Dmitry Oparin, tells about the friendship of one nation and two states.
- First of all, we must understand that on the island of St. Lawrence live direct relatives of the Eskimos of Chukotka - aunts, uncles, nephews. Their communication and interaction has been going on for several hundred years. It ended only with the beginning of the Cold War. Until 1948, the Eskimos constantly contacted each other, went to visit each other, married, exchanged goods. The main time for trips was in May and June, when there are no storms and the ice has already left. Moreover, in the middle of the 19th century there was a severe famine on the island, from which two-thirds of the population of the island of St. Lawrence died out, and the Chukchi Eskimos after this event again began to populate that locality. As a result, the population of the island was the descendants of the Chukchi Eskimos. In general, the interaction of Russian Eskimos and coastal Chukchi from the United States to the 20-ies of the XX century was much more intensive and close than with the Russian administration, the Orthodox mission or the Cossacks. For example, they served as harpooners on American whalers. From European languages the Eskimos knew English.
- How did this affect the Eskimos of Alaska and Chukotka?
- As a result, an interesting socio-cultural situation emerged that took shape under the great influence of Protestantism, the English language, American culture and the Western economy - the so-called contact-traditional society. It combines two main factors: on the one hand, people are in contact with the industrial world, being somewhat dependent on the products of civilization - sugar, tobacco, gramophones, whiskey and gunpowder, and on the other hand, continue to engage in traditional nature management. At the same time, the structure of society remains traditional, like religious ideas. This situation persisted until 1920-30-ies, when the Soviet presence in Chukotka became more and more noticeable.
- Is there any evidence from the period that characterizes this type of organization of the Eskimo socium?
- There are memories of the Alaskan and our Eskimos, who in 1930-ies went to visit each other. I interviewed many elderly people who remember such visits. They say that when the Alaskan Eskimos arrived on the Asian shore, our Eskimos performed a ritual - pretending to throw stones at the approaching boats to leave the spirits of guests in the sea and not to go ashore. When guests went ashore, they had to cross the fire for a kind of mystical disinfection. During such visits, festivals, exchanges and feasts were held.
I read the memoirs of an American Eskimo who came to Soviet Chukotka. He recalled the polite border guards, good medical care and a visit to the cinema. One of the strongest experiences of this Eskimo happened during a visit to the Providence regional center. There he was frightened of a huge dog that chased him through the whole village. Shouting requests for help, the hero of the story broke into the house to locals who had to calm down for a long time. As it turned out, a large dog turned out to be a horse with which the population of St. Lawrence Island was not yet familiar.
— Thus, the USSR did not prevent an active cross-border communication with Alaska at first?
- In 1948, the borders were closed and opened only in 1989 year. Soviet Eskimos hid the presence of relatives in Alaska, but apparently they sometimes met with them on boats in the border waters. In 1989, at the end of the restructuring, the borders were opened, close interaction of Chukotka and Alaska began - economic, humanitarian, cultural. In 1990-ies in Chukotka there was a crisis, and she lived worse than all regions of Russia, with the exception of military Chechnya. 2 / 3 population left the region. There were cases when our Eskimos left for Alaska. Firstly, it helped - it provided medicines, food, humanitarian assistance, so now there are our compatriots in Alaska.
In 90-s, Russians often went to the island of St. Lawrence in boats. This method of transportation was the main one before 8 drowned the passengers of one boat, and the authorities prohibited the use of boats. Since then small aircrafts of the private American company BeringAir fly there, which carry out a charter service. However, contacts facilitate that the indigenous peoples of Chukotka do not need a visa to St. Lawrence Island. A year ago the boat report was restored, so that the Russian and American Eskimos resumed active cooperation.
- Eskimos communicate only within the border territories, as in Chukotka and Alaska, or do they have any associations or associations?
There is the ICC - Inuit Circumpolar Conference, the main Eskimo association that unites the inhabitants of Greenland, Canada, Russia and the United States. It has a political rather than a practical meaning. If you want a globalized Euro-American world to know about you and your interests - you should play by its rules, create an association and conduct some activities. Of course, the Eskimos of the vast circumpolar region communicate with each other, exchange experience and try to solve their problems together. But practical use, at least for ordinary Eskimos of Chukotka and Alaska, is not observed from ICC.
- How do the Eskimos of Chukotka and Alaska live? Are there differences in their economic activities, culture and religious beliefs?
Asian or Siberian or Chukchi Eskimos mostly live in three so-called “national” villages - Novaya Chaplino, Syreniki and Uelkal. Some live in the Providence center, the village of Lavrentiya, in the capital of the Anadyr region. Many study in St. Petersburg, someone lives in central Russia - for example, in Voronezh. The Eskimos living on the coast of Chukotka are engaged in traditional nature management, in particular, in hunting for marine mammals: walrus, bearded seals, seal, and whale. They have quotas for shooting animals. Although hunting is required to be a member of an artel in Russia, to get a lot of licenses and certificates. On the island of St. Lawrence with this is easier - everyone can hunt, earning their own food. They are also engaged in collecting.
- Has any industry in Chukotka and Alaska been organized in recent times? Are there any changes in the employment model?
- What is the religious picture of the beliefs of the Eskimos?
- Russian Eskimos preserved traditional beliefs and animistic ideas about the world - they "feed spirits", observe many different rules, but among them there are Orthodox and Protestants - especially representatives of charismatic evangelical currents, Baptists and Pentecostals. On the island of St. Lawrence the vast majority of Eskimos are Protestants. On this basis, religious contradictions sometimes arise.
- Has the Eskimo language survived in modern times? Are there any programs to support it or revitalize it?
- A big problem in Russia was formed in the field of the Eskimo language, since its bearers remained very few. The Chukchi Eskimos are mainly mestizo, children of interethnic marriages, which live in mixed Chukchi-Eskimo-Russian settlements. On the island of St. Lawrence, the situation is more healthy than in Russia, since there the Eskimos are practically isolated from the outside world, and they keep distance from the global culture. In this they helped geography and features of the historical development of America and Alaska. On the island of St. Lawrence there are two settlements in which live only Eskimos - there almost all speak Eskimo, there is a language environment. Moreover, they publish computer games in Eskimo for children, shoot movies and print books. We do not have such programs - only private and often weak initiatives. At one time in New Chaplin, the school did not even teach the language - there were no resources and specialists.
- Are you trying to solve the problem with the Eskimo language in Russia?
Attempts are, but against the background of international experience, they look insecure. There is a group in What's up, where together in one chat the Eskimos of Chukotka and the islands of St. Lawrence, only about 200 people. There they constantly correspond in equal proportion in Russian and Eskimo. Thanks to the Internet, a virtual space for communication is created. A positive example of the development of the Eskimo language and culture is the island of St. Lawrence, where there is no fear of innovation, and there is a basis for the development of aboriginal culture. In Alaska and Canada, the Eskimos actively use modern media space capabilities to preserve their identity. A healthy and correct work is under way which develops the Eskimo culture, adapting it to the modern world using information technologies. In Russia, on the contrary, they rarely use virtual technologies to help indigenous peoples, try to isolate their culture from the influence of the outside world. As practice shows, people can not be conserved - they also want to have beautiful clothes, smartphones and the blessings of civilization. They need to help them adapt themselves and adapt their culture to the realities of the present, which only helps to preserve identity, language and culture.
- How common is alcoholism in Chukotka and among the Eskimo Alaska? At the time of the USSR in those areas there was a severe “dry law”. Is it preserved?
- Limiting alcohol and alcohol is an extremely important measure for these regions. Alcoholism is a big problem for any aboriginal population, whether Siberian or North American. In the national villages of Chukotka, the uncontrolled importation of alcohol and vodka is still prohibited, but prohibited products pass to the Eskimos. There are corruption schemes, some private entrepreneurs sell alcohol 24 hours a day and transport it to hunting bases. Alcoholism among the Eskimos reaches insane, monstrous proportions. In Chukotka, he becomes the cause of violent deaths, accidents, suicides, early pregnancies, etc. In Alaska, the percentage of alcoholics is lower, but there is another problem - drugs that are not in Chukotka, as this is a more expensive object of dependence. On the island of St. Lawrence, too, operates a dry law - if you want to drink alcohol, then you go to the city, in Nome.
- Do the Eskimos have special privileges, rights, like the indigenous small people?
- Yes, certainly. First of all, these are quotas - they have the right to hunt whales and kill from 3 to 5 individuals per year. There are quotas for the shooting of walruses, seals, laghtaks, etc. The Eskimos are given a free road to the mainland, to Moscow, every two years, both ways. In the budgetary sphere, they are paid quite high salaries due to allowances, there are quotas for admission to some of St. Petersburg's universities. Many people, only a quarter of the Eskimos or the Chukchi, are enrolled in the indigenous population for the sake of gaining privileges. In case of pregnancy or illness, each resident of a remote village can call a medical flight and he or she will be taken by helicopter to the district center. Of course, this service does not only work for the Eskimos, but they actively use it. Each helicopter I was flying carried at least one pregnant girl.
- What would you as an expert advise the state or private activists who want to help the Russian Eskimos?
- Firstly, I believe that there are no exclusively "Eskimo" problems. We need to create jobs, so people do not go to sleep and do not leave for the mainland - to develop traditional nature management, to form a sales market, to develop tourism, bone carving. Secondly, it is necessary to invest in the preservation of the language - to make computer games on the Eskimo, to produce a new textbook and other educational materials. Thirdly, in each village there should be groups of anonymous alcoholics, regular narcologists and staff psychologists who would not work with the population, but would help people throughout the year.