Sunday, February 21, 2010

Inventing and uninventing ideologies

Noorvik is an Inupiaq village located in northwest Alaska. In a sociologically fascinating twist of events, the community recently decided to reject some of the Christian ideologies forced upon the people by missionaries. About a hundred years ago, when missionaries descended upon Alaska communities, Native people were forced to abandon much of their culture, including dancing and other traditional spiritual practices. The missionaries, in cahoots with the US government, sought to erase traditional Inupiaq culture and to impose Western ideas and culture. To justify their erasure of Native culture and to ensure compliance with official US policies of assimilation of Native people, missionaries invented ideologies. The invented ideologies centered around ideas that Native dancing was evil, that traditional healers and religious leaders were allied with Satan, and that Native people were doomed to hell if they persisted in their traditional way of life.

If the analysis of cultural changes that occured in Noorvik sounds like what a critical power conflict theorist would say, you are right! Recall that CPC theorists analyze social life as a series of conflicts, with inequalities justified and legitimated by dominant groups. One of the main strategies dominant oppressor groups use is to invent ideologies. The invented ideologies forced upon Noorvik and other Alaska Native groups are an excellent example of how the process works. The invented ideologies became so ingrained in members of the community that the people participated in their own oppression by reproducing the ideologies and passing them down through the generations through religious teaching. CPC theorists would consider also the role played by agents of socialization, including schools, religion, families, and the state, in the reproduction of Western ideas and the suppression of indigenous ideas and practices.

Earlier this year, when Noorvik discovered that their community would be the first to participate in the 2010 US Census, they decided to pass a new law that lifted the century-long ban on traditional dancing. I find it extremely interesting that Noorvik used the Census--an iconographic illustration of forced assimilation--as a moment to reclaim their traditions and to reject the very assimilationism that had been forced upon them by missionaries.

You can read a newspaper article about Noorvik's rejection of assimilationist ideologies and the hard work the community is taking on to recreate its culture here:
You can read the profile of Noorvik here: Some interesting data to notice: the gender distribution; racial/ethnic distribution; and median age compared to the state's median age.

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