Yesterday we had our last lecture from John. He had asked us what topics we wanted to talk about and a couple of people suggested them. But the first one, and the one that we ended up talking about for the lecture was cultural relativism.
During one of our reflections in Bethel, some of us started to talk about the topic and Joh promised us that we would have a discussion about it at some point. One of the people talking about it was me.
I was puzzled. I had just seen Ray, a native Navajo from New Mexico gave us a presentation on historical trauma. He told us about the ways in which the people in the YK Delta had been oppressed and forced to practice a “Eurocentric” lifestyle. They were stripped from their families, put into boarding schools and forced to cut their hairs, stop wearing traditions clothes and never again say a Yu’pik word.
Today, with no more boarding schools in Alaska, the wounds are still healing, but the people were forever affected. The western way of life didn’t set well with the people in the region. They had lost their values and their identities. Devastating.
After his talk, we had a short activity in which we tried to imitate the Yu’pik family structure and then turn it into the western family structure. In his eyes, the Yu’pik family structure was sacred, something that had some kind of an undeniable rightness to it . On the other hand, the western structure was flawed and valueless.
And then he said: “We need to show people in the lower 48 that this, the Yu’pik way, is how things work. The western way of living is not right.”
I was shocked. He had just spent three hours talking about the way in which the western lifestyle had penetrated his, but he was now proposing the opposite. Didn’t he realize that his words are the type of words that begin what he called historical trauma?
Yesterday at out lecture, some things were made a little clearer, but there is still a lot of questions in my mind. We talked about relativism, exclusivism and inclusivism. And we were mostly referring to religious differences. What culture is right? Who decides what is “good” for everyone? What about the culture that we belong to? Has it all been a big lie?
They slowly became ethical questions.
I have no conclusions or answers for those questions, but all I can hope for is for a clear mind in times of despair and an openness to the truth that exists in every culture that I encounter.