Feb 28, 2010

Denali Wolves

Wolves have been controversial in Alaska for many decades. In fact, wolves have been controversial in many other states and around the globe. But none are so controversial as the wolves who live in Denali Park and the land surrounding the park.

Here is a news article that briefly describes the latest conflict: http://newsminer.com/view/full_story/6490848/article-Board-of-Game-ponders-wolf-trapping-in-Denali-buffer-zone?instance=home_news_window_left_top_1
The issue is whether to expand or eliminate a buffer zone around Denali Park that will protect the park's wolves when they wander outside the park's boundaries.

Regardless of your own personal opinion, consider the issue sociologically. How would a structural functionalist analyze the proposed elimination of the buffer zone? What kind of symbolic communication would a symbolic interaction notice? What would a conflict theorist say about the opposing groups and the ideologies that have been invented?

Thanks to http://www.alaskawolves.org/ for the photo of two Denali wolves.

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.

Feb 5, 2010

Being Caribou

Every time I watch the film, "Being Caribou", I get swept into the journey. I am startled when I turn on the lights and see people--you--instead of caribou. For those who missed the film, or those who want to see the last 18 minutes of the film, it is available to watch free online at this site: http://underdogcinema.com/nature/national-film-board-of-canada-being-caribou/

Feb 3, 2010

Old Crow

After our discussion in class today about Old Crow and the film, "Locked Horns," I looked up the community online. Old Crow and the Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation have an interesting website that includes a draft of their most recent integrated community plan. You can visit the community website here: http://www.vgfn.ca/index.php
I urge you to click on their intergrated community plan and spend a half hour reading. They frankly lay out their community's problems, analyze what needs to happen, state their plans for the future, and describe how they are going to achieve their objectives.

Make sure you also click on Caribou Coordination. If you had any doubts as to the importance of the Porcupine Caribou Herd to the culture of Old Crow and the Vuntut Gwitchin people, your doubts will disappear.

Only after you thoroughly read the community website can you imagine the fate of Old Crow. The picture that emerges for me is a community fiercely determined to maintain its heritage and the centrality of caribou and traditional ways. What picture emerges for you?