Feb 21, 2010

Inventing ideologies

Noorvik is an Inupiaq village located in northwest Alaska. In a sociologically fascinating twist of events, the community recently decided to reject some of the Christian ideologies forced upon the people by missionaries. About a hundred years ago, when missionaries descended upon Alaska communities, Native people were forced to abandon much of their culture, including dancing and other traditional spiritual practices. The missionaries, in cahoots with the US government, sought to erase traditional Inupiaq culture and to impose Western ideas and culture. To justify their erasure of Native culture and to ensure compliance with official US policies of assimilation of Native people, missionaries invented ideologies. The invented ideologies centered around ideas that Native dancing was evil, that traditional healers and religious leaders were allied with Satan, and that Native people were doomed to hell if they persisted in their traditional way of life.

If the analysis of cultural changes that occured in Noorvik sounds like what a critical power conflict theorist would say, you are right! Recall that CPC theorists analyze social life as a series of conflicts, with inequalities justified and legitimated by dominant groups. One of the main strategies dominant oppressor groups use is to invent ideologies. The invented ideologies forced upon Noorvik and other Alaska Native groups are an excellent example of how the process works. The invented ideologies became so ingrained in members of the community that the people participated in their own oppression by reproducing the ideologies and passing them down through the generations through religious teaching. CPC theorists would consider also the role played by agents of socialization, including schools, religion, families, and the state, in the reproduction of Western ideas and the suppression of indigenous ideas and practices.

Earlier this year, when Noorvik discovered that their community would be the first to participate in the 2010 US Census, they decided to pass a new law that lifted the century-long ban on traditional dancing. I find it extremely interesting that Noorvik used the Census--an iconographic illustration of forced assimilation--as a moment to reclaim their traditions and to reject the very assimilationism that had been forced upon them by missionaries.

You can read a newspaper article about Noorvik's rejection of assimilationist ideologies and the hard work the community is taking on to recreate its culture here: http://newsminer.com/view/full_story/6423712/article-Native-dancing-ban-lifted-in-Alaska-village?instance=home_lead_story

You can read the profile of Noorvik here: http://www.idcide.com/citydata/ak/noorvik.htm Some interesting data to notice: the gender distribution; racial/ethnic distribution; and median age compared to the state's median age.

1 comment:

  1. Using the 2010 US Census to lift the ban on the Noorvik traditional way of dance was a stand in maintaining their way of life. From my understanding of the saying, it appears they are using the master’s tools to dismantle the master’s house. This statement has been used to describe people who have stood outside the circle of society's definition of acceptable. In the context of the Noorvik people, I believe the saying represents their stand against dominant groups in maintaining their culture.
    The issue remains in powerful groups inventing ideologies to justify their dominance and to oppress other groups. Oppression occurs slowly as the daily routines of life begin to mold into the dominant groups view of life. The Noorvik people’s traditional dancing is used to represent their beliefs in life, and the ban that was placed on it to slowly oppress them into another life style. The damage to the Noorvik’s culture by banning dance was to create a more established community. The goal of the ban was to develop a larger community by taking away those unique characteristics such as traditional dance. The forced assimilation that can be placed by the US Census was their tool of choice in dismantling the structure they were being placed under. The Noorvik people used the US Census to challenge the ban by using the very tools of the master to gain their traditional dance back.
    The hegemonic trend that our society is built on was represented in this article. People are socialized unconsciously by learning values, beliefs, and regulations that society runs on. When the ban on the Noorvik’s traditional dance occurred, it was beginning the decline in their culture being taught to younger generations. This process is very damaging to people who wish to maintain their way of life through the acts of dancing to represent the importance of their culture to the younger generations. It appears to me they were very successful in using the masters tools in this story to continue teaching their traditional ways to generations to come.


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