Ilarion (Larry) Merculieff, an Aleut elder from the Bering Sea's Pribilof Islands shares his wisdom about the importance of our relationships with ourselves, our spirituality, and how our thoughts and actions matter in our relationship to nature. Are we listening?
For the past four decades, Ilarion (Larry) Merculieff has served as a bridge between his native people, the Aleuts of the Pribilof Islands, other Alaska Native peoples and the wider world. Mr. Merculieff has served in many leadership positions including as the Director of the Department of Public Policy and Advocacy in the Rural Alaska Community Action Program, where he was a major activist for native subsistence rights. He is the co-founder and former chairman of the Alaska Indigenous Council on Marine Mammals, and former chairman of the Nature Conservancy, Alaska chapter. He has served on numerous wildlife committees and forums.
Close to Mr. Merculieff’s heart are issues related to cultural and community wellness, traditional ways of living, elders and the environment. He has written about elder wisdom in publications such as the Winds of Change, YES, Red Ink, Alaska Geographic regional series, Smithsonian, National Geographic and Kindred Spirits. Mr. Merculieff was selected by Aleut leaders to be a part of a one-hour Discovery Channel documentary about the history and spiritual aspects of Aleuts, a show that was seen by an estimated sixty million people world-wide. Mr. Merculieff directs Seven Generations Consulting out of Anchorage, Alaska.
Larry Merculieff: [Speaking in Aleut]
Larry Merculieff: I said in my language, the Aleut language, we call ourselves [unintelligible] which means “the people” and western anthropologists will use the word Aleut. Who have lived in the Bering Sea for 10,000 years and that’s like 6,000 years before the height to the pyramid cultures and we’re still there. So we’ve been out there for a long time and what evolved over that is what I call spiritual technology and deep understanding and intimate connection with creation you know with the Bering Sea, with the land along the Aleutian Chain.
The island that I come from which are called the Pribilof Islands, it’s a group of islands and the largest one is where I come from, Saint Paul Island, and that’s not very large, its only 12 miles long and 5 miles wide. And I grew up with at that time about 1.8 million northern fur seals, 2 ½ million sea birds, 1,000 reindeer and 500 Aleut people.
All the names of traditional peoples in Alaska, mine [unintelligible] “the people,” the Inupiat, which are the Eskimo in the far north, means “the people.” Inupiat, the real human being or the human being. These are all code words for a way of living spiritually in totality. You know it’s not like we reserve certain days or times to express our spirituality, it threaded throughout all of our cultures with everything that we do. It didn’t matter what it was, its just there all the time.
Relationships, that’s a spiritual thing and its all about relationship, relationship to self, relationship to the others, relationship to the community, to the family, to the animals, to the mother earth, all about relationship. The hunters through my observation and also my observation of wildlife taught me what in today’s society might be considered magical things. But by the time I was 7 years old, I got to the point where I didn’t have a single thought in my head. I could just by intention stop any word from going through my head for hours. The best hunters had that ability because when we suspend thought, all of our senses come into play; you know our sight, our sound, our smell, our hearing, our touch, our intuition, our gut feel, what our heart is telling us all starts to mobilize and synthesize and allow us actually an expanded level of intelligence. Our feel of intelligence and awareness expands exponentially.
When outsiders first came into the Bering Sea, they saw nothing but huge abundance of everything because our people knew how to work through this profound spiritual connection in harmony to enhance and strengthen and keep healthy these natural systems. A highly evolved system of observation in the Bering Sea, that’s allowed our people not only to survive but thrive for thousands of years, that’s time tested proven right. We work with the environment. Now it’s a new mantra for the sustainability advocates, we are going to model ourselves after the environment and they act like its something totally new. And don’t work with indigenous peoples who have these ways intact to figure out how actually truly to do it.
The solution is partnerships, but you’ve got to have allies in the system to say “okay, we agree.” That would legitimize our ways to a level that most people I think feel threatened by, but what’s missing now is that we’ve forgotten how to reactivate that inherent intelligence because we’ve become so separated out of our bodies but you can’t create anything on the outside until you create it on the inside first. So if I’m disconnected on the inside, I’m disconnected on the outside. If I’m separate on the inside, I’m separate on the outside. If I’m in conflict inside, I’m in conflict outside. If I trash the environment inside, I trash the environment on the outside. What we work to protect and nurture is this ability to connect in a physical and a spiritual way with everything and starting with us first. I have to have it inside first and there’s a good reason for it.
One of the biggest ones, which most of humanity misses is how they choose to try to solve the problems in the world, be it pollution or global climate change or global warming to have the wisdom to know when the real solutions are there requires a fundamental switch in the way we are seeing, perceiving, acting, thinking and feeling and that has to do with what are you choosing to focus on? Are you choosing to focus on what you’re trying to move away from? In which case you’ll attack and you know you’ve got to stop the industry, this industry from doing that or are you choosing to focus on what you’re trying to move towards? And no matter how well intentioned I am, if I am focused on what I am trying to move away from, I’m compounding the negative energy by participating in a negative way, I’m adding to that destruction.
My traditional name means bridge, carrier of ancient knowledge into modern times, an arm extending out from the body and the body being traditional people. The most important thing is relationship and the spiritual foundation of understanding that and using that to protect what is there for us. Fundamentally there’s a need for a spiritual consciousness shift.