Yup’ik cultural leader Earl Polk from Bethel talked to students concerned with the recent death of a North Hall resident. The event, which took place in the Commons and was sponsored by UAA Native Student Services and Residence Life, marked the end of a week of various activities designed to help students grieve.
Throughout the three-hour presentation, Polk used the art of storytelling that was passed down to him from his grandfather. He talked about the power of speech and the dynamics between the speaker and the listener.
“We’ve become disconnected with ourselves,” Polk said. “We’ve forgotten how to listen. This is our responsibility: to listen, to extend yourself.”
Polk entranced about 25 UAA students, local high school students and faculty members as he incorporated Native stories with modern accents. He frequently jumped into his native language as he was telling a story. As the presentation went along, Polk’s use of humor quickly became the theme of the evening.
Freshman biological sciences major Denise Haviland found Polk’s style uplifting.
“You can talk about something serious and still have fun at the same time,” Haviland said.
Not until the last 10 minutes of the presentation did Polk actually talk about the reason why he was there. Even then, he did not directly address the tragedy.
“Talking about something gives it strength,” Polk said. “You have to be careful about how much attention you give it. You must address it but not dwell on it.”
Polk emphasized maintaining a positive mindset in times of struggle. Polk had the audience chant “P-M-S, P-M-S” to continue the theme of healing through humor.
Sophomore nursing major Erica Kameroff will remember this when she talks to students who are mourning.
“A positive mindset is what I’ll take away from this,” she said. “He really puts a perspective on things that need to be addressed, and he’s very careful about it.”
Polk added an element of intimacy to the night by explaining his personal ties to the student who took his life last week. Tragedy struck his life once before when he lost his oldest son in an accidental shooting. Polk’s son attempted to thwart his friend’s suicide attempt, but the gun fired and killed him instead. Careful not to dwell on his sadness, Polk claimed even though his son is no longer on this earth, his spirit lives on.
Polk closed by telling the audience that you must constantly strive to reach beyond where you are and always be aware of your surroundings.
“It’s always good to keep your eyes open,” he said, “because your life is coming to you.”