During my college years I spent sleepless hours searching literature and photographs on shamanism and mask making. Everyone was referencing each other. I found mentions of shamans as evil and all masks as heathen worship.
I went throughout the whole library at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, but there was nothing concrete. I fell asleep after much reading and illustrating masks. Suddenly a whooshing sound of wings and the wind woke me up. I opened my eyes and noticed a raven's ghost just landing and folding his wings near my feet. He was all white. I tried to get up, but my body was still asleep. He hopped toward me with an open mouth cawing at me with wide open eyes at my face. He moved his head side to side looking at me intently taking turns with each eye.
Then he stood up opened his wings into the sky and took a deep breath. As he did, his feathers opened up on his chest revealing a face looking straight at me with scary eyes. Alarmed my body shook. They disappeared with my eyes still open. Straight away, I went to my desk and drew them. With my eyes still open.
Three days later, in the cold calm -50 below ice fog weather, I found a dead raven below electrical wires. I said to myself "This is a sign." At the time, I did not know about the regulations relating to feathers. Throughout these many years, the raven has played his role in many of my art creations. All that time, I have always wondered what the raven was trying to tell me. To my understanding now, it was a foreshadowing of all the different versions of how the raven would appear in my work. The big eyes I saw under the feathers would eventually turn into moving eyes in my work. This style of design is new in the Yukon Kuskokwim region since 1996. From simple hanging masks into interactive fine art that is expressive with stories included.
It was also all the encounters that I was about to embark. All the learning, challenges, downfalls, hunger, longing, searching, and all expression of experiences and wisdom gained in life is what I must accept with open eyes. After my body has expired, my spirit must also open up to the eventual fate to meet Ellam Yua.
Symbolically, the raven was looking up into the sky as we all must. The creator is the one I must face, to remind me of what I did or failed to do while my body lived. Did I follow Maligtaquyaraq - or follow Qaneryaraq - the Word.
Before the arrival of the first missionary, they lived a system attuned to christian-like living. Those elders said it had the same teachings of how one should live as the Bible instructs. The Bible is Qaneryaraq - the Word in Written Form. One late elder, Deacon Mike Angaiak said the teachings were the same. The reference to "Ellam Yua" after all has always been the same person Jesus the Emmanuel. Everything we see around us were gifts to share just as he has. The openings in the hands on some masks represents his hands and his control of those resources.
All our late-elders who have passed on predicted the weather would change when man succumbs to greed, with no regard or respect to the land, air and water. Those three things every living being on planet earth requires to live. Selfishness and overindulgence is causing destruction. A disposable society made of plastic, fossil fuel, chemicals, toxins and metals. From diapers, stores, restaurants to cars. The question is, how do I make those changes however small? What is my good deed today?
"Wake Up" must have been what the raven said.