This teacher has it right. The modern world is threatened most by it's own ignorance that makes folks to arrogant to understand the valuable lessons this gal is teaching.http://alaskadispatch.com/dispatches/news/4735-after-school-special-butchering-a-seal
Standing in an Anchorage parking lot with a spring sun shining overhead, Yaari Kingeekuk cradled a green tarp with her tattooed hands and harms, lowered herself to the asphalt, gently placed the bundle on the ground and unwrapped the body of a seal.
"Huh," she said standing over the packaged body parts, including the seal's severed head.
Kingeekuk teaches a two-hour seal butchering seminar that's part of the Alaska Native Heritage Center's after-school program, offered to Alaska Native and Native American high school students throughout the Anchorage area.
Normally, Kingeekuk explained, teaching seals arrive with the head still attached, something she prefers since it allows her to skin the body from tail to ears, preserving more of the hide. Under the tutelage of her grandmother, Kingeekuk learned to hunt and butcher the marine mammals on St. Lawrence Island. More than two decades later, she's teaching big city teens the same tradition.
"When I do this I feel closer to home," she said as she demonstrated how to separate skin from the body, fat from the skin and muscle from the bone.
"OK, girls, guess what you're cooking?" she called out to her students as she pulled intestines from the seal's body cavity as if unraveling a rubbery skein of yarn.
"Ew, and I just ate!" squealed one transfixed onlooker.
"That's awesome!" another called out.
By the time the day was through, the students would have cut on the body, cleaned and braided intestines, rendered fat and boiled ribs, encouraged to jump in every step of the way.
Brianna Mike, a 10th grader at Chugiak High School, spends summers in Kotlik chasing seals with harpoons, but has yet to actually get one. And while she's watched family members butcher before, the Heritage Center show and tell was her first chance to do it herself.
"It's a fun thing to learn," she said, "because you don't really get to see this in the Lower 48. You only see this in Alaska."
But for Mike, who plans to go to nursing school before returning to live in Kotlik, the day's lesson was more than entertainment. It was also a chance to hone a skill she thinks too many Alaska Natives are quick to overlook.
"A lot of Natives won't do this," she said. "They just want to eat it but not know how to prepare it. They're too lazy to get it themselves."
Mike's older cousin, Melissa Okitkun, is an exception. The UAA senior was on hand as a teaching aid, working a side table showing students how to jar and boil fat, turning it into oil, which she said is used as a condiment like ketchup or ranch dressing. Okitkun, who grew up in Kotlik, hunts and butchers seals, and is in Anchorage studying civil engineering. Like her younger cousin, she agrees it's a good thing for Native youth distanced from their heritage either by family habits, time or geography to have a chance at a hands-on butchering experience.
"I don't think many of them go out hunting. If they're able to learn and get a good picture of what our ancestors went through, then one day they, too, will be able to go seal hunting and have it as a meal," she said.
Before long, Kingeekuk shouted again to the crowd.
"Who wants sushi?" she prompted, handing out slices of dark, raw meat. Among the takers was a 1-year-old Yupik boy whose foster family had brought him by for the experience, offering him his first-ever taste of seal. Several students also gave it a try, describing the meat variously as "chewy" and "fishy," and the fat as "funny textured" and "thick, hot and slippery" like "clotty blood."
Other students likened the boiled rib meat to roast beef in texture, but with a stronger flavor distinct to meat from the sea as opposed to a land animal.
Another student teasingly suggested we tell readers that seal oil tastes like fast food from McDonald's and that villagers ride polar bears in their spare time.
Joking aside, the students recognize that while harvesting marine mammals is part of everyday life for many families in Alaska, it may be unheard of for Lower 48 families with little or no connection to Native culture.
"They think we're weird," participant Frederick Walker said. "They just don't understand this is what we've been doing for thousands of years."
Walker, a junior at East High School who plans to enlist in the Marines after graduation, was keeping his hands clean. Walker has been in the center's after-school program, which also teaches dance, art and media and offers Native Youth Olympics training, for three years and has had a chance to butcher a seal before. On this day, he stayed clear to let newer students have a try.