What are Indigenous cultures?
Our new Inner Transition Coordinator, Claire Milne, met Ilarion Merculieff whilst visiting what is commonly known as Alaska. They enjoyed potent conversations and connection and it quickly became clear to Claire that those of us working for social and ecological renewal could learn a lot from Ilarion and the ancient teachings of his Unangan ancestors. These conversations focused largely on the imperative for us as a species to re-learn how to come into embodied connection with our hearts – and how this differs from so much of what is being taught through modern approaches to social change, spirituality and psychotherapy.
Ilarion Merculieff was born and raised on St. Paul Island in the middle of the Bering Sea. St. Paul Island is part of a five-island group called the Pribilof Islands. He is an Unangan (Unungan), Aleut, raised in a traditional way. At a young age Ilarion was initiated into his cultural role as Kuuyux, or traditional messenger for the Aleut people. Throughout his life Ilarion has acted as a bridge from the past to those alive today by focusing on traditional knowledge, wisdom and spirituality gained from culture bearers around the world. He lived on St. Paul Island for half his life and now lives in Anchorage, Alaska.
“I miss community and the ocean. One day I will complete my work and live somewhere that has both, ” he says. In the meantime, Ilarion continues to take what he knows to the world, wherever he is invited. “I don’t go where I am not invited, ” is a refrain he frequently says.
Ilarion’s work has been broad and eclectic. His passions are community wellness, the fate of the planet and elder wisdom. It is reflected in his work on climate change, the Bering Sea and its people, and the work we humans must do to re-establish harmony with ourselves, our families, our communities, and Mother Earth. Claire asked Ilarion what the traditional teachings of his People – and other Culture Bearers, has to teach us about burn out...
Out of the Head; Into the Heart: The Way of the Human Being
I had a fully traditional upbringing where the entire village raised me. I had to spend equal time with the men, the women, the Elders, and my peers. I know that this traditional upbringing is why I have never experienced “burnout” as it is known in western society. I used to work 17 hours a day, six days a week for some twenty years and what kept me centered and “in the flow” was what my people, the Unangan (Aleut) people gave to me.