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An Archaeologist Turns Ethnographer

August 7, 2015

While most of this season’s crew have been spending long days out on site excavating, I’ve been staying back at the red Q-Corp building to interview Quinhagak residents about their thoughts on Yup’ik gender roles both past and present. I’m doing these interviews as a pilot study for my dissertation, which will explore how gender dynamics in the Quinhagak area have changed from pre-contact times, up through the Euro-american contact period, and into the present day. I’m interested in learning about how gender roles are defined in Yup’ik culture, and about what aspects of these roles are important to people in Quinhagak. This information will help us to better understand some of the gendered artifacts and spaces that we’re uncovering at Nunalleq, while also helping me to form dissertation research questions that are relevant to the community.

Beginning the ethnographic interview process at first felt daunting. Although I had some contacts in town who I had met during last years’ excavation, I wasn’t sure that I’d find enough people to interview. I shouldn’t have worried–after renewing a few of my village connections and hanging up a sign in the grocery shop to advertise the interviews, I received a flood of interest. I’ve spend the past week and a half sitting down for hour-long interview sessions with both women and men ranging in age from early twenties to elder. The people who I’ve spoken to in Quinhagak have been incredibly generous with their time and knowledge, teaching me about their culture and their values over stories and laughter.

Anna & Mary talking with George Pleasant

Anna & Mary talking with George Pleasant

So far, I’ve been excited, surprised, and humbled by what I’ve learned. I’ve listened to stories about grandmothers and grandfathers, about cutting fish with uluaqs and taking steam in the qasgiq. Many conversations that have started on the subject of men’s and women’s roles have ended up being about the value of teaching traditional knowledge to children. It seems that families, in all of their myriad forms, are at the core of how many people in Quinhagak organize their lives. Many people who I’ve spoken with have emphasized the significance of respect–for the members of one’s household, for one’s elders, for one’s fellow community members, and for the animals, plants, and landscapes of the living world. Some Quinhagak residents have expressed concerns about the future of their Yup’ik language, with more and more children learning to speak only English. During the interviews, I’ve spend a small amount of time asking questions, and a lot more time listening.

The Quinhagak residents that I’ve spoken with for this project care deeply about their history and their culture, and many have expressed curiosity about the Nunalleq excavation. Its been wonderful to hear people share thoughts and memories about the types of artifacts that we’re finding on site. Some of my interviewees have asked really interesting questions about archaeology (how do you know how old the site is? what are the digging methods?) and its been fun for me to share some of the knowledge that I have with them. Best of all, the interviews have allowed me to make many new friends in the village! This is only the beginning of my research in Quinhagak, and already I feel excited to return here and continue my learning for years to come.

Anna S.

Thanks to Deana for correcting us!

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Marjorie permalink
    August 7, 2015 06:51

    Culture is wonderfully durable, and it is the greatest gift one generation can leave another.
    It usually complex and can be difficult to articulate, like genealogy. How awesome that your interviews can allow cherished family memories to be given wider sharing. Today’s struggles can be better understood and better accomplished when the past ones are understood. It gives gives dignity to past generations, strength to current generations and courage to future ones.
    Best wishes to all.

  2. Chris S. permalink
    August 7, 2015 12:29

    Very exciting! Tying what you are learning during the interviews to the excavation and artifacts makes so much sense! Capturing this information is so important for its preservation and our learning. Good luck!

  3. Deanna permalink
    August 10, 2015 23:12

    Good job and what an exciting project in my hometown! Quick FYI, the proper term is “Uluaq” in Yup’ik and is the word used in Quinhagak. “Ulu” is the term used up North in the Inupiaq region. Could I suggest using the right terminology of the people that those ancient artifacts originated from would probably be greatly appreciated. Thank you again for being such great partners with the people of Quinhagak!

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