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Alaska’s communities must work to accommodate caretakers

By Ina Pavila

Updated: 5 minutes ago Published: 5 minutes ago

This thought came into my mind yesterday. I was reflecting on our Calricaraq training and on the circle activity. “Calricaraq,” translated, is wellness and being whole as a person, community, family and region — at least to my understanding.

In the circle activity that is part of the training, we visit the historical trauma that our culture had to face when the Euro-American agenda was introduced. Before exposure, in the circle was our spirituality and around that the children. Around the children are the elders, and behind them the mothers, and behind the mother is the father. The children and the elders are taken care of by the mothers, and the fathers outside are the providers to take care of the whole family. This is not sexist; it is a divine order recognized and practiced by our Yup’ik people from generation to generation.

It was this way until Euro-Americans came. They perceived that the children were without education, they were rather taken away from the circle and removed and placed far away even as far as Oregon, as young as age 5. Imagine how the elders felt. Imagine how the mothers felt — and finally, imagine how the fathers felt. The emptiness, the absence of playing children and laughter. The absence of purpose for all of them. When I think about this, it makes me cry all the time. This is part of healing.

I was thinking very much about this yesterday. When COVID-19 first hit, some of us working mothers worked from home. I was able to get a lot of work done — not only for work, but also for home, and I was there for the children and grandchildren. I was able to cook for them when I needed to, breakfast, lunch, dinner. I baked with them, made fried bread. It worked out very much in our favor. We learned how to Zoom very quickly for meetings.

The reason for my writing this and my thought: We as a community should be able to accommodate mothers, caretakers and even fathers; allow them to work from home, or even allow them to schedule their workday in sync with the school’s schedule. With the mom or grandmother present once again at home when the children come home, how much more secure our children may feel once again. Would the number of suicides decrease? Would the abandoned child syndrome diminish? Would the purpose of being in “Calricaraq” – of being whole and the sense of security – be restored?

I am a mother of six boys (four my own and two stepsons) and two girls (one my own and one stepdaughter). I have seven grandchildren. I take care of two granddaughters who lost their mother a year ago. They look up to me as their secondary caretaker, their father being the first. I would love to be able to be “present” when they come home from school. Some days even with cookies waiting for them freshly baked. With that being said, I really do believe that organizations/companies should allow mothers, grandmothers, fathers and caretakers to work from home or sync their schedule with the school’s schedule. This should be made into law, allowing the presence of caretakers in the home. Then, I think, we would be well on our way to “Calricaraq” once again.

Ina Pavila is Yup’ik, from Southwest Alaska. She works as a translator for the Lower Kuskokwim School District in Bethel. She also trains teachers to teach our Yuuyaraq (Eskimo way of life) curriculum that derives from the Calista Corporation.

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