Natives share culture with soldiers

Posted: Monday, November 18, 2002

FORT WAINWRIGHT -- Even though the building was warm, Morgan Solomon donned his heavy-duty ceremonial parka before addressing the audience.

The black velvet coat trimmed with wolverine fur denotes that Solomon is head of his household, a good provider for his family and that he is worthy of respect.

''It's waterproof and tough and built to last,'' Solomon explained to the crowd at Fort Wainwright on Friday.

His lesson in parkas was a way to introduce soldiers to Native Alaska ways, a part of the American Indian Heritage Month celebration the Army hosted for its troops and for the public. Solomon was joined by Native dancers, musicians and crafters, all willing to share a slice of their culture with fellow Alaskans.

''It's an opportunity for a segment of our culture to be celebrated,'' said Sgt. Billy Carmichael, equal opportunity adviser for the 172nd Brigade. ''We want everybody to celebrate the things Native Americans have done for this country.''

Fort Wainwright has been hosting the event for at least a decade but opened it to the public this year. ''This gives the soldiers an opportunity to see the culture firsthand,'' Lt. Jarrod Crockett said. ''We're surrounded by the culture. We just don't recognize it all the time.''

Telling the crowd with a big grin on his face that he is a ''full-blown Eskimo,'' Solomon said, ''If you've never seen an Eskimo, you're looking at one.''

He gave a brief lesson in Inupiat culture.

''Our lifestyle is so different and so unique from the people in the Interior,'' he said.

Although Solomon, 67, lives in Fairbanks now, he grew up in Wainwright -- the village, not the fort -- and has spent considerable time in Barrow, where he is a member of a whaling crew. He served in the Army from 1954 to 1960 and in the Alaska Territorial Guard throughout the 1960s. He said he experienced little prejudice while he was in the service.

''Once you're in they take good care of you,'' he said and what negative experiences he suffered during that era he simply overlooked.

Solomon told how people in northern Alaska depend on the subsistence lifestyle and the spring and fall whale hunts.

''We consider the Arctic Ocean our garden,'' he said.

Harvesting seals and whales from the ocean and hunting caribou, the Inupiat continue the lifestyle of their grandparents, Solomon said.

''As it was yesterday we live it today,'' he said.

Solomon is especially glad that his grandchildren are learning their Native language. A lifelong Alaskan, Solomon said that since statehood his people have learned to live two lifestyles: Western and subsistence.

''We learned to live with both worlds peacefully,'' he said. ''I'm very proud to be from both worlds. But sometimes it's awful hard.''

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