Saavlatun: Like Saavla

Carved Fossilized Mastodon Ivory

When most, if not all, the residents of St. Lawrence Island converted to Christianity, including his father Siluk, My father Saavla did not. He remained proudly steadfast in his Yupik identity , and was full of stories about hunters, strongmen, the medicine of some people. He sang atuun, Yupik songs, constantly, especially as he worked with whalebone, baleen, and ivory. He was full of stories of the Spirit World and often told stories of the Raven, whom he taught served as conduit at times for communication from the other side. He himself had these encounters, shared his accounts excitedly, gesticulating the action in the stories.

The legends he told are the same ones my grandfather Siluk recorded in his writing. Siluk’s extensive writing for teachers, missionaries, and archaeologists are in the national, state, and university archives of the United States. He was an extraordinary man, though I never met him as he’d walked on before my time.

I try to work with my dad’s positive attitude, the one he said we are supposed to cultivate, and was critical to our mindset as we went about the hard and continuous work of surviving, thriving, in arctic and sub-arctic regions. The hand represents our shared creativity and perpetuation of culture. It’s his drumming, singing, making art. It’s my favorite appendage for it makes possible many things. It’s universal and says we are connected, we endure.

I miss him every day.

Susie Silook

May 6, 2017