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Family and Community

Home  >  Family and Community  >  Family Collections  >  Sharp
Taking Initiative
By Amy Crawford

Suzanne hopes her girls will continue to be interested in learning about her culture. She says instances arise when she tries to expand their understanding of where she's from, who her relatives are, what they are like. "It's hard to do that when you're immersed in a bigger culture," she says. "We find ourselves being assimilated into the big city. It's almost like you don't have any control over it, so it takes a lot of work" to resist assimilation. "We're still really immersed, especially with a non-Native husband, doing more non-Native activities."

Suzanne tells her girls that if they want to learn about her culture (who she is and who they are as well), they can read, talk to people, and even take classes. They need to take the initiative. Though they don't have the exposure Suzanne wishes they had, there are ways.

Sharp family at the Fur Rendezvous Fair

During informal suppers at Suzanne's parents' house, the girls listen to Suzanne's stepfather tell stories about his experiences. They listen, enraptured. "It's important for the girls to hear unique experiences about living in that time and age," she says. Her stepfather has a sharp memory and recounts stories, about things such as hunting, with vivid details. He accurately remembers names and places, as is the Eskimo oral tradition. "It's interesting to listen to humorous stories while learning lessons about life in general," she says.

Suzanne, Janelle, and Rachel attend the Anchorage Friends Church, which is attended mostly by Alaska Natives living in Anchorage from northwest Alaska. It is a place where they can come together and fellowship with people from their own heritage. Here the girls are exposed to some Eskimo language, mostly in the form of translated songs in Inupiaq. At informal gatherings, it is a great pleasure to listen to "moments of remembering" in which Elders recount events of the past.

Tim, Janelle, and Rachel Sharp pose in front of their airplane.

The Friends Church, says Suzanne, was originally founded by Society of Friends (Quakers) in England by George Fox. The Kotzebue Sound Mission was started in 1897 by missionaries from the California Yearly Meeting. Every village in the NANA region now has a Friends Church; in Kotzebue, it is the primary church. Suzanne grew up attending the Friends Church with her family.

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