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Native Pathways to Education
Alaska Native Cultural Resources
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Lessons & Units

A database of lessons and units searchable by content and cultural standards, cultural region and grade level. More units will be available soon. You can use Acrobat Reader to look at the PDF version of the Cover Sheet for the Units and Self-Assessment for Cultural Standards in Practice.


by Jonas Ramoth and Sidney Stephens



In the winter in Selawik, if it's clear and cold, -20° or -30°F, maybe there are a few clouds but its nice and calm. The wind isn't supposed to blow now. If the wind starts to blow when its not supposed to, people gathered maybe in the store will say –ooo, cold”. In Iñupiaq they say qiunaurauqtuq which means he's beckoning the storm. You know it will be stormyăblowing, drifting snow. It makes you decide to stay home. Animals will stay home too. This is very reliable.
Jonas Ramoth, Iñupiaq Elder


After almost 3 days of talk-meeting in Kotzebue, when half the group of educators had left to catch planes or ease weary backsides, Iñupiaq Elder Jonas Ramoth got up to speak. With incredibly fresh kindness and consummate humility, he said that it is not always easy for Elders to speak to groups; "our lives are just our lives, nothing special to talk about, we just live like we do." He also said it was hard to speak up when there are others who know more, but when only he is there to speak, he tries. Jonas then referred to all of the hunting elders as biologists and spoke of their vast knowledge about the land, animals, plants and weather gained from close observation and time on the land. He also talked about "shaman stories that children love and are fantastic and fun to tell, but make you feel like a liar. We know what we know, but we can't explain it. That's where we clash with empirical knowledge."

No one spoke in response. They just sat smiling, perhaps thinking as I was that with utmost simplicity and calm, Jonas had just captured the essence of our days of discussion about merging Native knowledge and science in ways that keep each perspective whole and work for kids and communities. Without either of us realizing it, so began our collaboration.

Later that year our paths again crossed during a 2-week summer course for teachers held in Fairbanks. Jonas was the Elder member of a teaching team from Kotzebue and was there to help his team create a science/math unit based on traditional Iñupiaq knowledge. Jonas quickly became the "course" elder, generously sharing his knowledge and stories not only with his team, but also with the whole class, which luckily included me. I took notes whenever he spoke and was continuously amazed by his simple eloquence and the ease and patience with which he answered our often pointed and most characteristically naluagmiu questions. This held equally true when I visited him in December of that year, to clarify my understanding of dominant weather patterns in his home village of Selawik, as a basis for developing this weather unit. (Notes from this meeting, as well as a little more information about Jonas are in Appendix A.)

At this point, I wish I could say that Jonas and I continued to work closely together to develop lessons for students based on his knowledge, but that is not what happened. Jonas is a traditional teacher who, in addition to raising his grandchildren and holding a full time job with the National Park Service, is very active on the local and regional Elders councils and spends much of his time working with children in schools and during the summer. He is not a curriculum developer and shies away from any pretense in this regard.

So, having equipped me as best he could with a literal understanding of Selawik weather patterns, Jonas allowed me to roll on with development of the following unit at my discretion. He responded to questions and read whatever I sent him for comment, but this unit is truly not a representation of the way he would teach students about the weather. Instead, it's a distillation and a reconfiguration of his knowledge as an Iñupiaq Elder and mine as a science educator. As such, it represents a first vision of what I might hope to do were I a village teacher and lucky enough to be able to work with Jonas on a regular basis. Hopefully readers will find some part of it applicable to their own situations, and hopefully too, readers will be able to smooth off rough edges and fill in gaps to better represent an approach to teaching and learning about the weather that is tailor-made for their community.


Sidney Stephens


Unit Overview/Outline

Understanding and predicting winds and weather from either traditional or western perspectives is a very complicated process, involving multiple variables, patterns and relationships, and taking years of experience and study to master. This unit attempts to set students on the road to weather competency by: (1) grounding them in the practice of locally significant weather observation; (2) exploring the physical phenomena that drive winds; and (3) connecting local investigations to global weather studies.*


Section I - Observing Locally

Section II - Understanding Wind

Section III - Connecting Globally

Appendix A - Selawik Weather Information from Jonas Ramoth

Appendix B - Assessment

Appendix C - Weather Resource List

Appendix D - Interdisciplinary Integration



naluagmiu - Iñupiaq term nor non-Native, literally meaning "bleached sealskin"

* This unit deals exclusively with winds and not with other crucial aspects of weather (such as the water cycle) because winds are the most significant weather sign discussed by Jonas Ramoth for Selawik


Whouy Sze Kuinalth
"Teaching Our Many Grandchildren"
Tauhna Cauyalitahtug
(To Make a Drum)
Math Story Problems
St. Lawrence Island Rain Parka Winds and Weather Willow
Driftwood Snowshoes Moose
Plants of the Tundra Animal Classification for Yup'ik Region Rabbit Snaring
The Right Tool for the Job
Fishing Tools and Technology
Blackfish Family Tree
Medicinal Plants of the Kodiak Alutiiq Archipelago Beaver in Interior Alaska Digging and Preparing Spruce Roots
Moose in Interior Alaska Birds Around the Village Dog Salmon


Handbook for Culturally Responsive Science Curriculum by Sidney Stephens
Excerpt: "The information and insights contained in this document will be of interest to anyone involved in bringing local knowledge to bear in school curriculum. Drawing upon the efforts of many people over a period of several years, Sidney Stephens has managed to distill and synthesize the critical ingredients for making the teaching of science relevant and meaningful in culturally adaptable ways."



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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
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Last modified July 1, 2008