Music Matters
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

2/27/15 - Ancient Yup'ik way of healing being revived to prevent suicide, other social ills

Elders teach the laws of “living in ultimate purity,” as a way of healing

By Sophie Evan, KYUK

Health care providers in Bethel are reviving "Calricaraq," an ancient Yup'ik holistic way to live a long, healthy, and balanced life. The Yukon Kuskokwim Health Corporation’s Preventative Services Department is bringing back a system that’s meant to guide the Yup'ik, or “real people” in Yup'ik, from conception to adulthood. They hope it will help curb alarming suicide rates and tough social issues facing Yup’ik people today.

Sophie Jenkins, whose Yup’ik name is ‘Qass, for short, is the Native Connections Manager for YKHC’s Preventative Services Department.  As Jenkins speaks, a translator speaks in English. “Neqarilartut umyuaqalagtelluki imkut alerquceteng…” “The elders are remembering our Yup’ik laws,” said Jenkins.

Jenkins says their department relies on a group of 20 - plus elders from around the Y-K region to teach the age-old Calricaraq/Yuuluaqauciq laws. She says her teacher, the late Bethel Elder, Peter Jacobs Sr., who worked as a consultant for the first class of Rural Human Services at the local branch of University of Alaska Fairbanks, saw the problems Yup’ik people face and he urged students to learn the old ways and do something.

“Ellangcalalrukiikut, umpi elpengesqelluta, waten arenqiallugutun tekitaalput tamana piluku ullagnauraitkut, said Jenkins… ” “Peter Jacob Sr. would talk to us, to hurry up and become aware, that all
the problems we face could be solved.”

Calricaraq, in English translates to “living in ultimate purity.” It’s a set of Yup’ik laws meant to guide a person through the four phases of life: birth, Anqiiyaar; childhood, Yun’errar; Adulthood, Tagneq; and becoming an Elder, Temirta.

For example, one teaching guides pregnant mothers to eat a certain diet for health of both mother and child, restricts them from activities that might harm their unborn child and tells them to begin talking to and teaching their babies while they’re developing in the womb – a concept that modern science has recently proven out. Another teaching for young children, advises them to ignore bad behavior in other children, and even to turn away from them when they’re acting out in order to discourage the behavior
and keep the peace.

But colonization broke the ancient system resulting in historical trauma. Today Yup’ik people suffer high rates of suicide and alcohol-related deaths.

With the invaluable help of their elder’s council, a Calricaraq guidebook has been completed.

“Qaqiutuq, kalikaurteqatartuq, kiimta wangkuta ikiayurivkenata nunacuaraat tuaggun train arciqut  aturluki matun calriacaaram cycle aara, qumimek ayagluku yavet ellalirturtengurtelranun,” said Jenkins. ”The book is done, so we won’t be the only teachers, villagers, anyone can be trained to use the Calricaraq model to help their people from conception to adulthood.”

Jenkins says they travel to villages to present Calricaraq, but only when invited. “Ellaitnun ataluni weekendaungraan holiday qatangraan, yugtullerkatnun tangerluku set-up alarait, wangkuta-llu maligulluta,” said Jenkins. “It is up to each community when to present the caliracaraq model, it can be a weekend, a holiday, the community sets the date where they will have the most participation, and we oblige.”

Jenkins cites one village that has taken the model, made it their own, and is currently experiencing the first signs of success.

“Mairpak nepairutuq tauna nuna, aam tuar llu tekitengkii two years… niteksaunaku , imkut-llu yuuciteng teguaqluki pilruyaqut, taugaam yui calistait, ciulirneret-llu elder-aat tamakut ikaiyirluta nunani tuani
nangerluteng piameng yuteng ikaiyurait wanirpak,” said Jenkins. “There is one village that is healing for the past two years, we haven’t heard much violence from there, and there hasn’t been a suicide in two
years as well, the people in the village are credited with going to the elders for guidance, and have taken charge of helping their own people using the Calricaraq model.”

The name of the community was withheld out of respect. Various agencies in the Y-K delta community have taken notice of the program’s initial success and have reached out to YKHC’s Preventative Services for help.

“Cauvikluta, uumek llu acirluku, “operation healthy families.” Akmanek anguyalrianek utertelriit aptelratkut qaillun ikaiyullerkaitnek ciumek aipait irniarit-llu tamakut ikaiyuryugluki wangkuta piciryaramteggun pillemteni, ikiayuut’ngulruuq,” said Jenkins. “Army personnel contacted our department seeking help in transitioning war veterans back to civilian life, we named it “operation healthy families.” We counseled the wives and children first using the calricaraq model, and the feedback was positive.”

Preventative Services workers have also become part of an emergency first responder’s team. Now, when a tragedy happens in a village – they work alongside law enforcement officers and health aides to help local people remember the ancient laws meant to guide them through challenging times.

The group is also involved in a multi-agency team that meets once a month in Bethel, calling themselves the Elluatmun collaboration. In English “Elluatmun” means to be correct or perfect.

The guidebook, "Calricaraq," is expected to be published this year. The book will be available to communities that successfully complete YKHC’s Calricaraq training.