Thinking through violence and impunity: trauma, memory and silence among Yup'ik peoples of western Alaska
(University of Arizona)
Paper short abstract:
This paper examines the complex relationship between structural violence and cultural death among Yup'ik peoples of western Alsaka over the course of the twentieth century through the lens of impunity to explore how these processes are often understood to be inevitable by the dominant society and among its victims.
Paper long abstract:
Perhaps nowhere have the effects of tuberculosis been more dramatically felt than among the indigneous peoples of rural Alaska. Although tuberculosis had been endemic during the nineteenth century, by mid-twentieth century, during the second wave of Americanization (Oswalt 1990), it had reached such epidemic proportions that one out of every three Alaskan natives was dying of tuberculosis, with Yup'ik people having some of the highest rates of tb anywhere in the world. By the 1950s one out of every thirty Alaskan natives was in a tb sanatorium remaining there for two years or more, mostly outside of Alaska's borders. The epidemic was over by the late 1960s, yet by century's end Yup'ik's had some of the highest suicide rates of anywhere in the United States. This paper explores the complexity of events and the contradictions that arose in a radically changing social, cultural and political-economic order in rural Alaska from the 1930s to the 1990s to understand how the forces and structures of western scientific knowledge and public health policy contributed to a transfromation of the ways that Yup'ik people have lived and died. Conceptually, the paper examines the intricate relationship between structural violence and cultural death viewed through the lens of impunity to explore how traumatic processes are often understood and enacted upon as though inevitable by the dominant society and among its victims.