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Four staff from AK Child & Family traveled to Bethel to attend a four day workshop on Healthy Families. The workshop is designed to assist people in understanding the Yupik way of raising children. Since we are working towards the goal of developing Native Treatment Foster Homes in the Bethel area, we believe it important to learn as much as we can about the Yupik culture.

We four were in the minority in the group; there was one other non-native Alaskan, a new Office of Children’s Services (OCS) worker who had moved from San Diego to Aniak the weekend before. We were, however, the only people from Anchorage in the workshop. The other people were from villages up and down the Yukon and the Kuskokwim rivers, including the Office of Children’s Services worker now hailing from Aniak. As you might expect we learned as much from the other participants as we did from the formal presentations. We all went back to our rooms exhausted each night, tired from the informational transfer and emotionally drained from the heartbreaking stories told by many of the participants.

The following gives you a few examples of that cultural learning we picked up: If one were to hunt or fish with some of the men in the class you would find yourself giving away all of your first catch of the season, whether that be a seal, caribou or a net full of king salmon. I am told they do this to assure the entire season will be blessed. In their minds, not doing so would definitely negatively affect their chance of a good “harvest” the rest of the season. Another learning would be, if you were to arrive at a home where there is a newborn, you should not expect to be able to hold the infant. After all in the Yupik culture passing the child around would break the all important bond between the mother and child and might result in a child who wanders too far from home too early in life. Those four days we heard from many elders giving sage advice, the one I am most fond of was this. “If we think what we always think, we will do what we always do and feel what we have always felt.”Now isn’t that a line that will make you start looking at the world we live in differently?