Indian Country Today
"There are as many ways to be Indigenous as there are Native people in the state, and because our communities are in such a state of flux and have changed so quickly over just a few short generations, we are all still figuring it out,” writes Cordelia Qiġñaaq Kellie, Inupiaq. The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was one of those recent changes. As with any other topic, there are countless different ways that individual Indigenous Alaskans and the 200 + communities they belong to view ANCSA and navigate the dynamics it created.
Leading up to the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act on Dec. 17, Indian Country Today will be highlighting a wide range of these experiences, including insights from the elders who fought for the land, perspectives from current leaders today, and future goals from younger generations.
Charity Qalutaq Blanchett
My name is Charity Qalutaq Blanchett. My Yupik name is Qalutaq. I’m an Indigenous Yupik and Black woman born on Dena’ina Land, a descendant of the Yupik tundra from a bloodline of royalty, the Real People. I was given the name Qalutaq as an infant from my Indigenous Yupik mother. I am Dipping Spoon. She dips into the water, the water is given to everyone, it grows and keeps going.
I am founder of nonprofit Dipping Spoon Foundation, founder and executive creative director of Qalutaq, social entrepreneur, cycle instructor, storyteller, mentor and food bon vivant. I am a proud shareholder of Calista and Tuntutuliak Village Corporation and currently live fulltime in New Orleans, Louisiana.
What motivated you to pursue this line of work?
I’ve lived a blessed life with access to many experiences, things, immersed myself in culture, traveled and have always been keen on what the world would look like without the bold creativity, flavors and design of Indigenous peoples and artisans. My access to the world beyond showed me the lack of access and opportunity for Black and Indigenous women and girls of color in every single industry. Especially cultural and gender representation in the food, culinary and fashion industries.
The Dipping Spoon Foundation mission is identifying and cultivating the next generation of Black, Indigenous, women of color and girls to become culinary rockstars by providing aspiring chefs between 18-26 years old with a full ride culinary and pastry arts scholarship and shifting culture by creating access to inclusive and dynamic FoodSTEM programs rooted in Cultural Identity, Food Sovereignty, Food Science and Food Math for BIPOC Girls and Boys through 7th-11th grade. We've recently piloted our FoodSTEM curriculum with the Lower Kuskokwim School District at three rural school sites (Tuntuttuliak, Goodnews Bay and Kipnuk) in partnership with the Gear Up program in Bethel, Alaska.
Qalutaq is an Indigenous ceremony collection of timeless design and style inspired by raw materials, natural elements and nomadic movement of today.
Our first piece: Qalutaq Uluaq is a woman’s knife of sleek ergonomic design, power and strength. She dances back and forth in our hands filled with visceral beauty as a storied heirloom of timeless precision and keen performance. Bringing Qalutaq Uluaq knife to a global market is only the beginning of Qalutaq’s startup growth. We are a memoir of stories, textiles and gems connecting us through a lifestyle of sharing and love. Stay tuned for our crowdfunding pre-seed startup campaign to launch on iFundWomen.
Qalutaq Uluaq // Knife
fragile as a rose. sharp as a thorn.
sexy & deadly. curvy & keen.
she’s the flower of the tundra.
I am a champion of culture by rebelling against boundaries. The greatest asset and beneficiaries we have are our youth. They are our bottom line. The work I do is fueled by my heart, desire and purpose to support and empower Indigenous women and girls, create job and entrepreneurial endeavors for Indigenous women and girls and support social justice for Indigenous people through the arts based on cultural values, equity and owning our consumer power.
What is a goal you have for the Alaska Native community in the next 50 years?
For all Indigenous youth in Alaska to have a say in creating, implementing and actioning out public policy change. Alaska Association of Student Government was a huge developmental factor for me in high school and peaked my interest in understanding how our government operates from local to global levels. We need individuals who look like us to hold office, become business owners in every industry from mom and pop, Fortune 500 and startups. I especially foresee a world where we have Indigenous people pursuing careers in food, science, technology, engineering, arts and math. We are masters at adapting to all elements, yet our ancestral expertise is hardly recognized as trailblazing or groundbreaking. It's an oversight of monumental proportion. I would like to see the traditional cuisine of our people honored and documented by the USDA and FDA for its nutritional value and sold at grocery stores and highlighted plus elevated on restaurant menus. Farm to table is nothing new. It's a gentrified term for subsistence living. I want to deconstruct the "colonization of culinization". No longer can we afford to operate from a western lens of food.
In your opinion, what are some solutions that the community can work towards to achieve these goals? Is there anything you'd like to see Alaska Native corporations or tribes focus on more?
Western communities, White led organizations or White entertainers need to realize they do not have all the answers for rural villages and surrounding areas no matter how good their intentions may seem. Much of the work needed, I believe, is rooted in healing cultural trauma because of western ideals that forbade our Indigenous identity. This is where the next generation comes in. Our elders hold wisdom beyond and always will, but we must acknowledge next generation leaders and changemakers who are stepping up and not afraid to constructively confront past wrongs for solution based rights that are reflective of the world around us. This means access, creating access and staying ahead of the trends. Creative equitable access is key. I'd love to see Alaska Native corporations and tribes diversify their portfolio more and/or assist in the creation of Angel and Venture Capital firms for Indigenous peoples, especially women. Life is one big continuing education credit.
What is one of your favorite Alaska Native community / cultural memories?
When I became a woman. I was 11 years old when I had my period. It was a week before sixth grade. I was three weeks shy from turning 12. My mother was out of town, up river from Tuntutuliak at fish camp. I was home with my father and three brothers. I. Was. Mortified. (lol) In my Yupik culture, a girl has an “uuqiiquq” after their first period - in honor of the Llam Yua (Spirit of the world) for providing the food from the land, sea, air, a girl goes on a year fast ritual of certain foods. This is done so no evil will enter her, strings are placed as a bracelet around the wrists and ankles, and a belt can be placed around the waist with a piece of bone from a fish attached to it. The head is to be covered at all times, either with a hat or scarf, gloves are to be worn, this is so that the skin is not exposed. Water had to be boiled at all times, and you’re only allowed to eat dry fish from the previous year. Depending what time of the year a girl has her first period will determine what foods she will have to refrain from for the year. Near the end of the year (before starting back to consume certain foods) one must eat a little bit of ash. When the year is over, one can be given a feast and uuqiiquq - throw away party. Only women participate in this event - the host stocks up on new items to give away to those who are in attendance and the last item to throw away are candies - which little boys can participate during this time. This is to finish the fasting and to celebrate the transition from a girl to womanhood. Even though I didn't live in the village, my mother made sure my family honored our traditional Yupik values, especially in Wasilla, Alaska.
What is the most important lesson you learned from older generations? Do you have any advice for future generations?
My elders and mentors have shared to never forget where you come from. Never forget your Alaska Native roots. Never forget that you come from a bloodline of Yupik royalty, the Real People. I want the next generation to become rockstars in everything they do. I want them to LIKE, LOVE and OWN their cultural identity and who they are. I want them to JUST DO IT. I want them to champion their culture by rebelling against boundaries. I want future generations to know what they want is waiting there for them with open arms and electrifying energy. I want all women and girls to know they are capable of anything and everything! If they need help or someone to talk to, I am here! The elders I admired were realistic mentors who shaped my idealistic values. Our elders gave us ancestral blueprints, now we build and move forward based on healing and honor.
Don't sleep on self care and the power of mental health. They're our strengths. The new taboo, not investing in yourself. The longest relationship we have in life is with ourselves. Be kind to yourself, believe in yourself and keep health in mind, body and spirit. One the greatest return on investments ever is believing in our raw power. Declare your personal agency and own it.
What is one word that comes to mind when you think of ANCSA?
Economic Power (it's two words! I know).
What is something you think people should know about you, your community, or your work, that people might not be aware of?
I have successfully founded, created and led two digitally native companies birthed during the pandemic - nonprofit Dipping Spoon and for-profit Qalutaq as a solo founder, creative director, startup entrepreneur and small business owner. It has been one of the most exhilarating, exhaustingingly hard and rewarding experiences of my life, career and womanhood. I've had many moments when I've cried, screamed, cursed, yelled and wanted to give up...but I straightened up my crown and said, "Charity, Queens never quit." I love what I do because the work is beyond me. It's meant to stand the test of time.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
My Yupik name is Qalutaq which means, Dipping Spoon. The meaning of Dipping Spoon is, "from one dip you serve other people, dip into water and the water is given to everybody, it grows and keeps going.”
My western and Yupik names are rooted in love, sharing and serving others. This is my ancestral blueprint.
This story is part of Indian Country Today’s series on the 50th anniversary of the landmark Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. Funding for ICT’s ANCSA project is provided in part by the Alaska Center for Excellence in Journalism. Stay updated on ICT’s ANCSA project using #ANCSA50 and at https://indiancountrytoday.com/tag/ancsa-50.
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