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Elders and Experts  

Ludakiim axtax samtaaxtxin. E
Ludaa}is, tukus ama uchiitilas sahnga{tada
. W
Respect Elders (including parents, teachers and all people, young and old).


Because it may take some time to arrange for Elders, experts or mentors to come into the classroom or into the field, you should begin early to plan for your visitors. You should also begin early to plan for the concluding activity, a community celebration where you will share all your work on plants.

Plan carefully for visits from Elders, experts or mentors.

Ask your class who to invite. You may wish to give students a homework assignment to talk with their families or friends to find names of Elders and experts. However, please do not assume that all Elders have expert knowledge of plants. Nor should you assume that an Elder automatically accepts designation as an “expert.” If you have a Native Parent Advisory committee for the school, they might be able to suggest someone who would be good to ask. Ask at the grocery store, the Post Office, the Health Clinic, and your fellow staff members, “Who knows a lot about the plants in this area and might help us at the school?”

Brainstorm with your class how to contact Elders and experts—written invitation, posters, phone calls are some options—and where to conduct the interviews. While it is tempting to ask Elders and experts to walk about and show you information in the outdoors, it may not be always possible to do this in your community. Your Elders and experts may prefer to come into your classroom to share their knowledge with the students. Be flexible about the ways to accommodate this participation. Keeping a positive attitude and listening and watching how things can happen in rural Alaska are keys to success. Things do not always happen on a strict timeline.

After you have arranged for the invitations, take the time to show Elders and experts your interest in and concern for them. Perhaps offer to meet with them for tea before they meet with the students. Find out if they wish to have transportation arranged in order to come to a session with the students. They may also need transportation arranged to participate in the concluding community celebration. If you plan to invite several Elders, explore the possibility of welcoming them as a group and showing them the North Slope video, “Arctic Harvest” (28 minutes). This well-produced video shows Elders on the North Slope collecting, describing, and using their plants. (see Resources Appendix)

Be clear about what help you want.

One possible way to approach Elders and other experts initially is to explain that the students and teachers need some information so that they do not accidentally gather in the wrong place or touch or gather the wrong plants.

Explain that students and the teacher need to understand:

  • when to gather;
  • how to gather;
  • what plant survival foods are important in this place;
  • what plants to avoid; and
  • where to gather and what places to avoid.

Take some time to prepare your students.

1. Work with students to develop awareness about courteous and appropriate behavior when they are with class visitors such as Elders. You may wish to construct a role-playing session with one student portraying the Elder and others being the class. What rules of behavior should they observe when they are with an Elder or other experts? These are a few suggestions. Can your class think of others?

  • Don’t talk when the Elder or expert is talking.
  • If you see the Elders doing something, offer to help them.
  • Don’t interrupt.

As Barbara Svarny Carlson reminds us:

“While it is especially important for the class to behave with courtesy for Elder visits, it is also ‘the right way to live as a human being,’ and should extend to other class visitors. As Unangan Elders pointed out, good manners count. Culturally this was especially important to us because we lived in close quarters and when we had to be indoors together, you did not want to get on someone’s nerves and force them to go out in the weather to get away from you. It was a good idea to keep matters civil and to not talk too much so it would bother people (noise pollution).”

2. Brainstorm to develop appropriate interview protocol with your students. There are several resources on the Web that can help. For example, Robby Littlefield’s “Elders in the Classroom,” page 15, Handbook for Culturally Responsive Science Curriculum, located on the Alaska Native Knowledge Network site at http://www.ankn.uaf.edu/UNITS/index.html has a good description of the interview process. See additional suggestions in “Process of Interviewing” at http://www.ankn.uaf.edu/interview.html.

Karen Yeager from King Cove recommends:

  • When interviewing Elders, adhere to the protocol from your local Native Education Association.
  • Record bibliographic information at the time of the interview.
  • Make sure to arrange transportation for your guests as needed. Provide comfortable surroundings and a beverage to soothe the speaker’s throat.
  • If the Elder agrees, have video and audio recording equipment available. You should ask the Elder to sign a release form. (see Appendix for sample form) Practice using the equipment before interviews to insure that you have batteries, cords, film, lighting, etc. Record sound bites for later use.
  • If you will record, make sure the location of that activity will be quiet enough to produce a good enough quality recording for the uses you plan.

The instructor, Elders, and the local Native Education Association must first approve any information published on the World Wide Web or in other forms. This is particularly important if it appears that the specific information to be published has never before been made available to the general public.





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