The circle started with only twenty chairs, but quickly grew to include nearly 150 young men surrounding an elder who guided talking points.
George Edwardsen hosted the men’s talking circle to discuss violence against Native women. He is an elder, and the president of the Inupiat Community of the Arctic Slope, the region’s tribal government.
Violence against women was a main issue addressed at this year’s Elders & Youth Conference, held preceding the Alaska Federation of Natives’ (AFN) Conference in Fairbanks.
Edwardsen said it is important that people, and men especially, speak about harm they’ve experienced, instead of taking it out on others: even if the abuser was someone important to them, or an elder in the community. “They’ve got to learn to let everybody know what somebody did. Don’t be bashful. Stand up.”
Nome brothers Oliver and Wilson Hoogendorn were the keynote speakers for Elders & Youth, after being the first to summit Denali earlier this year. Oliver Hoogendorn said “it seems like Native men are just taught to hold it in, so they don’t really talk that much. They’re starting to bring it up a lot more.”
The men in the circle also shared ways to handle their feelings and control themselves. Wilson Hoogendorn remarked that good self-governance can be a way to prevent assault. “We talked a lot about how to handle your anger, maybe ways to deal with stress other than just reacting,” he said.
Edwardson said he wants Alaska Native youth to lead the conversation. He thinks communities are safer when men embrace who they are: and that means embracing their culture, too.
Edwardson told the young men, “don’t be afraid to use your name, your Native name. That allows you more courage than you usually have using your English name.”
Image at top: A 12-foot qaspeq with portraits of murdered indigenous women stirred debate at this year’s AFN.