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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
Indigenous Knowledge Systems
Indigenous Education Worldwide

"Teaching Our Many Grandchildren"




uts'e' Kat'aen 

Keeping (Ourselves) Healthy


English/Language Arts

B. A student should be a competent and thoughtful reader, listener and viewer of literature, technical materials, and a variety of other information.

E. A student should understand and respect the perspectives of others in order to communicate effectively.


A. A student should understand scientific facts, concepts, principals and theories.

B. A student should possess and understand the skills of scientific inquiry.


A. A student should understand that history is a record of human experiences that links the past to the present and the future.

C. A student should develop the skills and processes of historical inquiry.

Skills For A Healthy Lifestyle

A. A student should be able to acquire a core knowledge related to well-being.

B. A student should be able to demonstrate responsibility for the student's well-being.

C. A student should understand how well-being is affected by relationships with others.

World Languages

B. A student should expand the student's knowledge of peoples and cultures through language study.


A. Culturally-knowledgeable students are well grounded in the cultural heritage and traditions of their community.

C. Culturally-knowledgeable students are able to actively participate in various cultural environments.

D. Culturally-knowledgeable students are able to engage effectively in learning activities that are based on traditional ways of knowing and learning.

E. Culturally-knowledgeable students demonstrate an awareness and appreciation of the relationships and processes of interaction of all elements in the world around them.

Amber Koso, Chistochina.
Amber Koso, Chistochina.



Students will:

  1. interact with Elders and knowledgeable community members to gain culturally relevant and current life skills for staying healthy.
  2. develop language skills.
  3. explore what health is and what it means to be healthy.
  4. explore community interactions and development of values through discussion.
  5. learn about the proper ways to prepare and use the steambath.
  6. learn how to gather and prepare local plants and food.




The communities of Chistochina and Mentasta are Ahtna Athabascan, or Dene people, rooted in thousands of years of tradition, family, and cooperation. For classroom discussion, we need to simplify the complex system of our culture and language in order to lay a foundation for discussion about life ways, values and community. We live by "Indian laws" that we are taught through practice and discipline as children. From these laws, and within the context of life, we draw values. From these values, we individually form our character. As mentioned in the previous chapter, each person has a different role in the communities. It is by the character of each person that they find or are given their roles. Wilson Justin said it in this way: " Life's first duty is to your heart. Be true to yourself. You can be true to yourself without being untrue to others." Respect for self, first and through this, respect for everything.

In order to begin the following lessons, invite members of the community into the classroom to discuss these lifeskills and to inspire the students to talk about what they know and value.

The following list of values was compiled by the focus groups of Mentasta and Chistochina. These values should help get the discussion started, but should not replace further discussion about Indian Laws, values, and character.

Food iconTeacher Note:

The knowledge of how some plants are used is sacred to many Alaska Native people and may not be readily available. It is important to work with the Tribal Council before approaching an Elder for this knowledge. The underlying principal of our belief system is "heal the person and never have to heal them again".

Encourage the students to use the language for the plants, the steambath, the rocks, values, etc. They can include the words in journals, posters, drawings and any other project they complete.

Diabetes is a disease that effects all ages. It occurs when the body is unable to metabolize all of the blood sugar from the carbohydrates in the foods that we eat. Diet and exercise play an important part in preventing diabetes. People with diabetes are not able to produce enough insulin and/or use insulin properly that their body does produce. Without proper insulin levels in the blood, high sugar levels become harmful to all tissues. This can lead to serious medical problems including kidney damage, amputations, and blindness. Diabetes is also closely linked to heart disease. High blood sugar can be lowered by diet and exercise, by a number of oral medications or by insulin injections. Obesity is a main factor that has been shown to cause diabetes.

Athabascan Values


  1. Grades K-4 Guide the students in a discussion about things that they do that make them feel good. What makes a healthy person? What makes you feel healthy? What do you eat that makes you feel healthy? For example: playing, sleeping, friendships, living in a good place, not being sick, family and loved ones, learning new things, music, dance, respect for people, land, water and animals.
  2. Grades 5-12 Lead a discussion exploring the ideas of everyday health and long-term health. What makes a healthy person? What makes you feel healthy? Include in the discussion elements of health including values and traditions, spirituality, land, water, food, a safe home, physical activity, an active mind, events in the community, good relationships, music, dance, singing, language, culture, respect, sleep, and illness.
  3. The following activities are broken into elements of healthy living. It is important to note that they are not independent of one another, but are very much interdependent in order to make up a healthy person. Students should explore how or why a healthy person has a balance of all of these elements.


Chester Pence and others watch as Ruby Sinyon and Molly Galbreath, butcher a moose.
Chester Pence and others watch as Ruby Sinyon and Molly Galbreath, butcher a moose.
Courtesy of Joan Herrmann

Gigi, ts'abaeli, c'et'aan' 
Berries, trees, plants:

A. Gather plants with an Elder or community member. Have the students prepare for this outing by brainstorming what they already know. What plants are they familiar with? What plants are used for various activities in the community? For example, blueberries are picked every fall and are stored for the winter. Spruce roots are used for making baskets and the logs are used for building homes and structures.

B. Which plants were used for staying healthy? Berries provide an important source of vitamins and minerals (especially vitamin c). Other plants are used for sanitizing wounds, drawing out infection and treating burns. Have the students record what they learned from talking to and walking with an Elder in a journal entry, story, plant press or picture diagram. Have the students make thank-you cards for their Elders using pressed plants or hand-drawn plant pictures including information they learned.

C. What plants were used to help keep people healthy in the past? Add the answers to the calendar the class created in the previous chapter.


Rigorous Activity:

A. Ask the students to make a list of all the physical activities they do every day. What did their Elders do when they were growing up? Have them list what the Elders tell them. Guide the students to design a relay race of activities Elders did daily (in different seasons) when they were the age of the students. Why was it important to stay active? Why is it important to stay active? How does it help you feel good about yourself (mentally, physically and emotionally)?

B. Guide the students to brainstorm healthy activities and events that they could be part of in their community. Is there an activity that they would like to make into a community event?


K'aa Al ten Niits' iilean
Gathering Our Food:

A. How do values effect your actions while hunting and harvesting food? Are there certain ethics that you need to abide by? Why are these important? What does it mean to "give respect" to the land, water and food?

B. How do you learn about the values used during harvesting food? How might they help you stay healthy?

C. What do the Elders mean when they say to keep quiet when hunting? Why is it important to show respect for our food?



A. What is the meaning of "steambath"? How is it prepared and how does it keep a person healthy?

B. Interview an Elder or community member about preparing a steambath. How is it prepared?

C. Take a field trip to a steambath to have students learn about building the fire, choosing the rocks and setting up the structure. Which plants are used? How are they harvested and prepared? How do they help a person to stay healthy?

Molly Galbreath teaches how to set snares.
Courtesy of Joan Herrmann
Molly Galbreath teaches how to set snares.


Alaska Native Knowledge Network
Subsistence board game and curriculum
Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative

South Central Foundation

Alaska Native Health Board

Association of American Indian Physicians


Mathews,Donna. Unangam Hitnisanginl Unangam Hitnisangisl Aleut A Region-Based Plant Curriculum for Grades 4-6. Pilot Edition. Alaska Native Knowledge Network

Institute of Social and Economic Research

University of Alaska Anchorage, 3211
Providence Drive, Anchorage, AK 99508

Kawagley, A. Oscar 1995. A Yupiaq Worldview A Pathway To Ecology and Spirit. Prospect Heights, Illinois:Waveland Press


Kari, James. 1990. Ahtna Athabaskan Dictionary Alaska Native Language Center University of Alaska Fairbanks, Alaska. Ahtna, Inc. Glennallen, AK.

Christine Bernsten gathers steambath rocks near Nabesna.
Christine Bernsten gathers steambath rocks near Nabesna.
Courtesy of Joan Herrmann


Marilynn Beeter and Lena Charley.
Marilynn Beeter and Lena Charley.
©Bill Hess


Review local traditional values by interviewing Tribal members about the following concepts:

A. Discuss the meaning of responsibility to self and to others. How do these responsibilities change as you get older?

B. Discuss the meaning of respect for land,water, food, animals, people and self.

C. Grades 5-12 Discuss traditional spirituality. How does spirituality affect the community value system? Have the students heard a story that helps them/helped them to understand their cultural spirituality?


Ts'ax (illness, sick)
Illnesses of Today

A. Research some of the ways people are sick today. Discuss what might make people sick. What can they do to stay healthy?

B. Have the students talk to a health aide or local health practitioner about some of the current illnesses and diseases that affect people in your community. Some of these may include cancer, diabetes, drug abuse and heart disease. What are some of the possible causes of these diseases? What are some of the solutions and treatments to them? (Habits, values, traditions, diet, education, etc.) How can the students help the community prevent these diseases?


Discussion Ideas:

  1. What are your community's values as they pertain to a healthy lifestyle? How do these help our health? Have the students write or voice important community values.
  2. Have some traditional health practices changed? If so, how has some knowledge about plant uses been lost? Could your community rely on local plants for their health needs? What are the present illnesses that may not be able to be treated with plants?
  3. How might our values and traditions help us make healthy choices?
  4. What are the affects of watching videos and TV? What are the affects of not spending time outside? What are the affects of not spending time with our families, aunts, uncles and grandparents? Ask the students to discuss this question with their families.


MSTC Mission Statement



In A Sacred Manner, by Wilson Justin

Learn & Serve Focus Groups

People icon



Interview of Elders

Clans of Chistochina & Mentasta

Why Are We Here?

Who We Are

Land icon


Our Way of Life

Mapping the Village

What A Waste

Raw Materials

Our Natural Resources


Water icon


Water, Water

Our Watershed

Food icon


Where Does Our Food Come From?

Gathering, Traditions and Nutrition of our Food

Keeping Ourselves Healthy

A Student Led Health Fair

Assessment & Performance Evaluation


Learn & Serve Program

Sources, Resources

Thank You


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Alaska Native Knowledge Network
University of Alaska Fairbanks
PO Box 756730
Fairbanks  AK 99775-6730
Phone (907) 474.1902
Fax (907) 474.1957
Questions or comments?
Last modified August 17, 2006