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Marie Meade stated, “I am a modern Yup’ik woman living a contemporary life in Anchorage, the biggest city in Alaska, while remaining connected to a long lifeline of Yup’ik women who were strong and determined in their ways.“
Meade is Yup’ik Eskimo from Southwest Alaska. She was born and raised in Nunapicuaq, a village of about 300 on the tundra between the Kuskokwim River and the Bering Sea. Her late father, Upayuilnguq, was from the Kuskokwim River bay area, and her late mother, Narullgiar, was from Nelson Island. Marie graduated from Bethel high school and attended the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. She received most of her knowledge of Yup’ik language and culture from her parents, family and community.
In 1970 Meade was chosen by her community to teach the first bilingual program in her village under the Bureau of Indian Affairs school. In preparation for teaching first graders in their language, which she spoke fluently, she learned how to read and write Yup’ik at the Alaska Native Language Institute in Fairbanks. After teaching for a year, she went back to Fairbanks and worked at the Yup’ik Language Workshop creating curriculum and teaching materials for Yup’ik language instruction. There she worked with colleagues such as Irene Reed. She found this experience exhilarating and exciting – to create a written language. She used traditional stories that she had learned from elders, who illustrated them with pictures using a “story knife” in the mud of the Kuskokwim River.
She recalled going to spring camp and to fish camp, to sitting in her mother’s lap sipping tea and listening to the stories of elderly women. They often called Meade “grandmother” because she was named for her grandmother, who had died before Meade’s birth. The ebb and the flow of seasonal activities on the tundra became the foundation of the materials she developed for her Yup’ik language classes.
The Fairbanks opportunity was also the time for this village woman to manage the freedom from very strict parents at home. While arranged marriages were still common in the early 1970s, Meade resisted the idea. She met and married the father of her two sons who was stationed in Fairbanks with the U.S. Army. Two years later they all moved to Bethel where Meade was employed by the Kuskokwim Community College to teach Yup’ik. She recalls teaching now world-famous Corey Flintoff, then a young public radio announcer, how to pronounce Yup’ik words on the radio.
While her children were growing, Meade discovered the positive energy of Yup’ik dance – much of which had been stamped out by missionaries in the 1960s. She learned the graceful motions that accompanied the drums and found dancing to be life-giving.
In 1990 Meade went to an international conference in Fairbanks and was asked to take the place of another Alaska presenter, who was supposed to address Native “literacy.” With some hesitation, Meade volunteered a presentation about Yup’ik women’s fancy parkas with a slide show and the use of many Yup’ik terms to describe different parts of the clothing and its history. Ann Fienup-Riordan, an Alaska anthropologist, was present at this presentation. Their meeting initiated two decades of partnership in the documentation of Yup’ik culture, language and practices. Their first joint project was the Yup’ik mask exhibit in 1996 -1997.
Meade, Riordan and other museum professionals assembled the traveling mask exhibit called “Agayuliyararput; Our Way of Making Prayer” that opened in Toksook Bay in 1997 and traveled to Anchorage, New York, Washington, D.C. and Seattle. They prepared a book to accompany the exhibit titled, Kegginaqut, Kangiit-llu/Yup’ik Masks and the Stories They Tell, which was published with Meade’s translation of the elders’ interpretations of the masks.
Their next project included traveling to Berlin, Germany with a delegation of Yup’ik elders and educators from Bethel who were joined by cultural anthropologists and museum professionals at the Berlin Ethnologisches Museum to examine and interpret an unprecedented 2,000-item collection of Yup’ik material culture gathered in Alaska in 1883. The team produced a book describing and interpreting the contents of the collection, entitled, Ciuliamta Akluit / Things of Our Ancestors: Yup’ik Elders Explore the Jacobsen Collection at the Ethnologisches Museum Berlin. Meade translated the findings of the elders for the publication. It records the elders’ perspectives on the moral underpinnings of Yup’ik social relations.
In addition to these projects, Meade has been an instructor at the University of Alaska Anchorage, where she teaches Central Yup’ik language, Yup’ik orthography and Alaska Native dance classes. She dances with the world-traveled Nunamta Yup’ik dance group.
In 2002, Meade received the Alaska Governor’s Award for Distinguished Humanities Educator and in 2014 received the Meritorious Service Award from University of Alaska Anchorage.
Meade has taught thousands of people about the culture and language of the Yup’ik people of southwest Alaska. Her teaching materials and publications are distributed internationally. She shares her knowledge, wisdom and insight with other indigenous elders from across the globe. She has traveled with Alaska elder and healer Rita Blumenstein to meetings of “The 13 Indigenous Grandmothers,” a group of wise indigenous women from across the globe who encourage teaching indigenous languages and seek a peaceful condition for the earth and her inhabitants.
Her work has been shaped by her experiences with family and community. Meade’s Yup’ik name, Arnaq, means “woman.” Her childhood was always in the company of elder women who showed her the way of being Yupik. This included the care and preparation of food, fish camp, spring camp, gathering berries and greens and being the heartbeat of a family.
Meade is the mother of three grown sons and many grandchildren. She dances with healing grace, trusts her intuition and has a grateful and open heart. When asked about advice to young women, she said: “Come to know yourself. Learn to own yourself. Trust yourself the way you are and follow your feelings.”
Induction ceremony acceptance speech https://youtu.be/WO1VVHcXtAA