With the lighting of the naniq, the Iñupiaq word for our traditional oil lamp, our family celebrates Native American Heritage Month this 2020. This is a time of fall, thankfulness and celebration of Alaska Native and Native American heritage.

A naniq is an Indigenous technology for heat, light and cooking. The naniq was the sole source of heat and light during the long winter months. The naniq also represents spirituality by symbolizing warm kindness and hope in darkness. The wick is dried tundra moss and the oil rendered from seal fat. The unique flame smells of the tundra and seals and facilitates a connection to the environment. The radiating heat from the stone reminds us of the importance of the land and its resources.

In the light of the naniq, we remember and honor many generations of our Inuit ancestors that made our lives possible. We said prayers to strengthen our people and communities in this time. By sharing the history and use of the naniq with each other and our children, it supports a way to celebrate our heritage while reflecting on the past and living in today.

From left, the Okleasik family: Ukallaysaaq, Igluguq, Ivik, Talugnaqtuaq and Kavlaq. One son, Qaulluq, is not pictured.

Our family also celebrates Heritage Month with a meal of traditional foods such as tuttu (caribou) or qunŋiq (reindeer) soup, niqiniknaq (dried seal meat), tugaayuk (tundra green), with uqsruq (seal oil). We share our personal family histories and discuss how our ancestors successfully lived in Alaska with connections to the land, sea and spirits.

I am glad to share these ways to support personal, family and community celebrations during Heritage Month. I spoke about our naniq at a Rasmuson Foundation staff meeting, and team members told me they were so glad I did. I am grateful to be at a workplace that embraces diversity as an organizational philosophy.

Consider taking a moment at your next Zoom meeting or maybe in an email to remind your colleagues of the importance of this November. Heritage Month provides a great opportunity to learn more about the cultures of our First Peoples, acknowledge the many important contributions, and find ways to address challenges that remain together.

The rich diversity of Alaska Native peoples, communities and cultures are the origins of our state.  Our Native people’s identity and lives are intertwined with the land.  Embracing this diversity enriches our experiences, organizations and society.

It is good! Or in Iñupiatun, aarigaa!

Naniq, a traditional seal oil lamp, is lit on Nov. 8, 2020, in the Okleasik home in Nome.