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  2. Traditionalism or the market — is it always necessary to choose?

Traditionalism or the market — is it always necessary to choose?

Дмитрий Несанелис
Дмитрий Несанелис
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The Russian delegation has concluded a visit to the United States in the framework of the program «Indigenous Peoples: Economic Opportunities and Arctic Policy Formulation». Our group consisted of two journalists, two researchers (linguist and ethnologist), social activist and environmentalist. The route Washington – Oklahoma City – Helena – Seattle – Barrow – Anchorage – New York was long but very informative and intense.


A three-week tour was full of very interesting meetings, seminars and presentations with the participation of well-known politicians, successful businessmen, remarkable public figures, prominent scientists, indigenous peoples; there were also visits to the wonderful museums and cultural centers.


Much attention was paid to the history, current state and prospects of socio-economic, political and cultural development of the indigenous peoples of the USA, which are usually the Indians, Aleuts, Inuit, Eskimos, Athabaskan. In total, 560 indigenous peoples inhabit the country; they have formal agreements with the central government or its state authorities.


Bitterroot Feast

I think that my new friends and me were very lucky a few times during the trip. Perhaps the great luck was quite an unexpected invitation from the elders and tribal chiefs of Selish to take part in a special ceremony of the bitterroot search within the territory of their reservation in Montana. It was a very interesting event, about which I will tell later. In the meantime, I would only say a couple of words.

According to ancient custom, after the general thanksgiving prayer, a young girl who didn’t experience marital relations should find, dig out and clean the first root. After that, all the participants of the ceremony look for the root and fold it into a common stock, and it ends with cooking a special soup (with that same root) and other dishes.

Talking with a highly educated and erudite member of the tribe after the holiday, I heard this opinion: "The market, democracy and Christianity is a world of white people, and our culture is the native language, ancient beliefs and traditional economy". I think that not only the quoted companion shares such an understanding. Moreover, in many respects it is determined by still persisting (and largely fair!) offenses and commitment to conservative traditionalism. The position seems to be quite worthy of a sympathetic attitude.

Warm welcome in cold Barrow

Having flown across Canada and Alaska Russian group and three American interpreters of the highest efficiency have appeared in the most northern part of the country, in Barrow with the Chukchee and Beaufort seas. We walked across the ice of the ocean, visited a school and a hospital, a cultural center and a business corporation of Eskimos (they call themselves "Yupik" and "Inupiaq"). All of our meetings in a wintery and cold Barrow were tremendously warm, sincere and friendly.


Late April is the season when the residents of Barrow form whaling teams and go on traditional ships at sea. Eskimos successfully hunt on gray whale at this time; it is not only the traditional and beloved food but also special artisanal relations, terminology, mythology, which is explained by the stories of welcoming hosts, photographs, and a great museum exhibition.

Martin Luther King...

In the sixties, the movement of black Americans for civil rights led by the great Martin Luther King was rapidly gaining momentum. Indian tribes and peoples of Alaska felt moral and spiritual involvement and ardently supported this movement.

Around this time, a vast Arctic oil field was explored, a large-scale production of "black gold" began, and passionate indigenous peoples of American Arctic realized a historic opportunity for development. They started to demand their active participation and partnership in the economic development of Alaska. It is worth mentioning that the indigenous peoples of Alaska never moved to reservations. Moreover, something partly reversed happened in boarding schools, where "indigenous" children were taken by force (from XIX to the first half of XX) and weaned of their native language and culture.

The Eskimo, Aleut, Athabaskan and Inuit boys met in boarding schools gradually became close, became friends and keenly felt the cultural and political unity. In the sixties of the twentieth century. Therefore, the leaders of the Alaska peoples started to come out in a united front. "Native association" consisting of indigenous peoples became a strong player in the state and on federal level.

Besides, a so-called "judgmental factor" added to this.

...and Richard Nixon

This "factor" was the president, republican Richard Nixon. His name probably comes to mind of the older generation of Russians mainly because of a loud "Watergate", after which Nixon resigned in 1973. Meanwhile, many Americans, including almost all "indigenous", remember the name of Nixon with great warmth due to the fact that Nixon were very sympathetic to the descendants of pre-Columbian population of North America. With the active participation of Richard Nixon the law was passed; it provided indigenous peoples of Alaska with significant lands and financial compensation.

Act 1971

The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act ANCSA

This law provided indigenous peoples with large plots of land for successful hunting, fishing, gathering and other traditional activities. Alongside this, the indigenous peoples of Alaska got kind of historical compensation of $ 900 million, big money at the time. It was divided proportionally among indigenous communities. Some of them invested owed money in the development of their own business. Thus, one of the Eskimos communities created a business corporation NaNa, which reached amazing results to this day.

Where did the money go?

NaNa has received its share of $ 42 million and 2.2 million acres of land in an allotment with explored deposits of zinc. All members of the community became shareholders of the corporation, and many began to work there. Obviously, it provided a very conscientious attitude to their duties. Business of NaNa rised due to hard work and good management, and now the corporation successfully cooperates with the oil giants such as BP, Shell, Exxon Mobile (Services), exports zinc to Canada and South Korea, develops a network of hotels and telecommunications, and, incidentally, holistically services Obama’s plain!..

At the same time, community members continue to be engaged in hunting and fishing on their land, but these trades are for the soul and stomach. In other words, to maintain the traditional way of life and nutrition, not for business... Thus, there are indigenous communities who have learned to successfully combine the market economy with elements of traditional culture.


The money that the corporation earns go for the development and expansion of business in the US and abroad, for example in Australia. Besides, NaNa invests in the education of their children and youth, research of their native language and cultural anthropology. These things, as well as subsistence production, support the community identity. However, not all the communities have deposits of zinc, experienced management and co-operation with the oilers. That is why a significant part of the corporation tax (as well as other successful enterprises of indigenous peoples) goes to a separate Investment Fund of the State of Alaska, which supports the less successful communities without attractive natural and other resources.

NaNa and the "Club of Rome"

I don’t want the readers to have the impression of the serene life of indigenous peoples of the American Arctic after reading this material. It is not a land of milk and honey. The described achievements are mainly recent victories extracted by "tears, sweat and blood" but fixed legislatively, morally and politically!

Leaders of the Eskimo business corporation NaNa at a meeting with the Russian delegation rightly stressed that "investment" in the indigenous peoples are beneficial to everyone — especially to themselves, but also to their habitat areas (in this case — Alaska) and the central government. The latter are freed from worries about the social support of potential indigent, as they can provide not only themselves but can also create jobs, introduce high technology, pay hefty taxes, to engage the support of culture and sports...

In this regard, I recall a forecast of the outstanding scientist Aurelio Peccei and his associates from the "Club of Rome" (the beginning of the 60s of the last century), according to which the rich northern countries (the US, Soviet Union, Europe and Japan) are to invest heavily in the development of the southern regions, especially Africa. Otherwise, Peccei warned that in fifty years waves of uncontrolled migration would create very acute problems on a prosperous North.

Peccei wasn’t heard neither by politicians nor by business. Experience of partnership of the government and indigenous peoples in the United States is much more successful in this sense...

P.S. I would like to emphasize that we are not talking about the opposition "Selish Eskimos" (traditions the market). The fact is that one of the Selish communities successfully develops ultra-modern plant for the production of electronics and some Eskimos prefers traditional farming. Moreover, "tradition" and "market" in the case are not built on the scale of "good bad" (dynamically traditionally). But clearly "good" is that today indigenous peoples, their communities and leaders have a wide choice, involving a variety of combinations and priorities...

P.P.S. I consider it a pleasant duty to thank Irina Kurilova, with whom we were traveling, for valuable comments and suggestions, which she expressed during the preparation of this article.

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Joseph A.
13 мая 2015 01:14

Great read! Glad to hear you had a fulfilling time here in the U.S.

Carroll College, Helena, MT

- Joe, Thank You so much for Your reference!

13 мая 2015 10:38

like it

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