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Nicholai Joekay: Part 2


Sitting around the kitchen table and my ap’a would tell these stories.

And one of the stories was that my Ap’a Willie loved Uassili and wanted to be around him.

And there was this one day where Uassili was heading towards the bluffs below Oscarville towards Napaskiak.

And he was walking along.

It was winter time.

And my ap’a was trying to be sneaky, and he didn’t want Uassili to know that he was following him.

And so Uassili would turn around, and my ap’a would try to hide.

And one of the amazing talents and gifts that these shamans had was the ability to levitate and to fly, "elumaq" it’s called.

There’s a river behind Napaskiak called Elumarvik, and the name literally means "The Place Where You Go and Levitate and Fly."

And so, Uassili was heading down there.

And he was carrying his snowshoes, and hiked up to the top of the bluff, and my ap’a was watching him.

And my ap’a watched him put on his snowshoes, and in the back of the snowshoes were the snowshoes come together at the point

He said that after he put them on, he stood there, and then the back of the snowshoes started to spark.

And he would gain a little bit of altitude and then fall down.

And there was the key was that when shaman’s are levitating, when they’re using their powers to levitate, they couldn’t be seen by other humans, otherwise they couldn’t gain altitude, they couldn’t fly.

And so, a lot of them did this traveling through the air early in the morning before people got up and were able to see what they were doing.

And so, if it wasn’t for my ap’a’s account of seeing this, witnessing this, I think that this would be another one of those things in the back of my mind where I was like, "It’s probably superstition."

But that wasn’t the case, because there were stories of him healing people in my family when they had, you know, lesions that were bleeding, and things like that.

And so, there was another story that my ap’a told, and this is in the 1930’s, so it’s not even 100 years ago.

And it was four generations ago that we really started getting colonized, and the church was infiltrating, and, you know, gaining power and control.

And so, my people in Napaskiaq were faced with this choice whether or not to let go of the old ways and become Orthodox Christian.

And it was Orthodox Christian in my family, most of Napaskiaq.

And you know, these people got together, and they talked things through, they really reasoned, because this is a huge deal.

This is letting go of tens of thousands of years of tradition, and ritual, and just beauty.

And so, they didn’t take this lightly.

And when they decided that they were going to let go of the old ways, they said that they’re going to do one final show in the qasgiq, in the main community building

The big sod house in the community.

And so, my ap’a and his cousin were out playing, and that lost track of time.

By the time they remembered, "Oh, there’s an event happening today," they ran to the qasgiq.

But by the time they got to the opening, ’cause we had to, you know, go into the ground and go out into the main area of the qasgiq

They got to the entry, entrance, and the entrance, like a muscle, contracted.

And so, they, so he tried to, you know, stick his head in there, but it contracted.

And he was like, "What’s going on here?"

And he’s young.

And so, he told his cousin, like, "It’s not letting me in," you know, in Yup’ik, and so his cousin tried and it did the same thing.

So, they, you know, they were too late. They’re not allowed to go in anymore.

And so, they made sure the next day that they kept track of time.

And so, they got into the qasgiq.

His dad, my ap’a’s dad, was alive at the time.

And the inside the qasgiq, there’s oil lamps, and so it’s pretty dim.

And so, after a while, they took out Uassili, and he was tied up in different places.

His neck was tied to his knees, and his hands were behind him, and his ankles were tied together.

And they set him down on the ground. They set down his drum.

And then, all of a sudden, the lights went out. It became dark in the qasgiq.

And so, there was some shuffling.

And then after a while, he heard and kind of felt something above his head.

It sounded like it was going around the entire room of the qasgiq, which is round inside.

And so he’d hear it, whoosh whoosh, and it got faster, whoosh whoosh.

And he tried to look up, but his dad kind of covered his eyes, ’cause, you know, you can’t see the shaman, or else they’ll fall.

And so, you know, it got faster, faster. All of a sudden it stopped.

And then, he heard the drum start. The drum started beating a little, rhythmically.

And then the lights came back on.

And that was one of the many stories that I found out about.

And if it wasn’t for, you know, going back to school and doing this research

And finding out about how all of these things that were said by colonizers and by the church about our shamans, and what they were, and who they were

You know, these people were our family, and they loved us. They wanted to take care of us. They wanted nothing but the best for us.

So, it was an eye-opening experience, and I’m glad that I was able to hear these things about my ancestors.

And looking back to my experience at Washington, D.C., I got to model this mask that was made by my ancestor.

And thinking back on it, I just wish that I knew the significance of that moment.

And it would have made the moment so much more meaningful, so much more powerful, knowing that this came from my ancestors, you know, from my bloodline.

And knowing the amazing gifts and qualities of these people, it would’ve been so much more elevated back in 2003.

But, you know, now I have a picture of the mask and a picture of Uassili in my office

And I’m able to look up at that and remember all the things that he did with my family, what he meant to my family.

So, that’s my story.