A newsletter of the Alaska Rural Systemic
Alaska Federation of Natives / University
of Alaska / National Science Foundation
Volume 7, Issue 3, Summer 2002
In This Issue:
Oral Traditional Knowledge: Does
It Belong in the Classroom?
by Esther A. Ilutsik, Ciulistet
local educators who are documenting the oral traditional knowledge
of our ancestors and developing methods and means of bringing this
information to our descendents through the public educational system,
we are faced with many decisions that drastically affect the validity
of this knowledge base that was once so fluid. Public schools represent
a system that is foreign to the methods and means of transmitting
this information in the past. We are constantly faced with decisions
that affect how this knowledge will be passed on to our future
Many of us local educators have been
through the Western educational system and have been taught the
pedagogy of that system. Many of us have taken this very method
of instruction and infused our local traditional knowledge as a
means of educating our own people about our traditional culture.
But we continue to ask ourselves, "Is this the proper way
to get our oral traditional knowledge passed on to our descendents?"
With questions like these always
at the forefront of our minds we continue to document and develop
materials for integration into the public educational system. With
the adoption of the Alaska Standards for Culturally-Responsive
Schools, we need to begin making critical decisions that will affect
the types of oral traditional knowledge that can be integrated
into the public school system and how this information will be
taught. As educators we are always looking at how other local cultural
groups are addressing these very difficult issues.
On March 26-28, 2002, I had an opportunity
to attend the Third Annual Native Hawaiian Education Association
Convention at the Leeward Community College in Hawaii and present
a workshop titled "Oral Traditional Knowledge: Does It Belong
In The Classroom?" The session began with a brief introduction
to Alaska with a special emphasis on the Yupik people of
Bristol Bay, followed by a brief presentation on how traditional
Yupik oral knowledge is documented and then presented within
the classroom. This was followed with Michelle Snyder (my daughter),
a ninth-grader from the Dillingham High School, presenting a paper
on "Cultural Education in the Classrooms". This set the
stage for those participating in the workshop session (see
Oral traditional knowledgewhat
is meant by that? Within the oral traditions knowledge was sacred.
This knowledge encompassed all aspects of life from birth to death,
including the natural world and environment. This knowledge in
the past was forever flowing to fit the needs of that age and time.
It was so fluid that it could be defined in regional and subregional
terms. As N. Scott Momaday put it:
Oral tradition stands in a different relationship
to language. Words are rare and therefore dear. They are jealously
preserved in the ear and in the mind. Words are spoken with great
care, and they are heard. They matter, and they must not be taken
for granted; they must be taken seriously and they must be remembered.
Thus in the oral tradition, language bears the burden of the
sacred, the burden of belief. In a written tradition, the place
of language is not so certain.
So the oral traditional knowledge
of our people was sacred knowledge that was not passed down freely.
It was passed down as the need arose with all the special circumstances
in life that was lived and continues to be lived. In the past,
the oral traditions of our people were not passed down to be documented
and questioned, but rather it was passed down as the need arose
and was practiced without question.
In this Western-influenced world
we are constantly asked to categorize, so that we cannot simply
say that the oral traditions encompassed LIFE, instead we need
to be specific about the areas. The oral traditional knowledge
that is collected and documented are the songs, dances, prayers,
rituals, stories, limericks, medicinal plants, ceremonies, music,
games, chants, relationship to animals, plants, water, fire and
all living things and virtually everything that affects all aspects
of the living. All this knowledge, so sacred to our ancestors existence,
is documented. Often, as local educators, we question within ourselves
whether this is the proper way of preserving our knowledge. But
we continue to document this knowledge and put it into the proper
category for future reference.
We document how traditional knowledge
was passed down and in some cases attempt to replicate those very
practices. We know that the oral traditions of our people were
passed down within everyday activities. For example, they were
passed down by engaging in a ceremony or participating in the evening
ritual of purifying the sod homes, or doing certain rituals before
the hunt or the gathering of wild edible plants. We know that many
times, if our people needed to be reprimanded for an action or
reminded of how one is to act, it was done through the oral stories
that were shared within the sod homes or at the mens house.
For there was a proper way of sharing this knowledge and passing
it down. This knowledge was not studied but LIVED.
We, as local educators, now take
this very sacred knowledge and attempt to bring it into the public
classroom using the Western methods that are the basis for the
educational system that is presented to us today. In some instances
we attempt to replicate certain practices by actually participating
within traditional cultural settings, but even these cultural camps
can be strongly influenced by Western teaching methodology.
These circles of questions bring
us again to the question, "Does oral traditional knowledge
belong in the classroom?" This is what many of our local educators
who are documenting the oral tradition of our people are asking
themselves. Are we doing the right thing by documenting this knowledge
and then making it available in written form to the general public
for their use and judgment? How do we go about making sure that
if this knowledge base is documented that it will be respected
and understood by those of another cultural group? Whose responsibility
is it to train our own local educators and those from another cultural
group? How do we measure success in the understanding of the local
We leave you all with many questions
that each regional group will have to ask of themselves. We did
not come up with answers, but these will have to come from within
ourselves through our own local people.
[For further guidance in addressing
these difficult questions, refer to the Guidelines for Respecting
Cultural Knowledge available through the Alaska Native Knowledge
Cultural Education in the Classrooms
by Michelle Snyder, March 21, 2002
As long as I can remember, back in
my elementary school years, my mother would come into my classroom
to teach about Yupik culture. This is important to me and
other Yupik children. It teaches us who our ancestors were
and who we are today.
Every year beginning at kindergarten
through the fifth grade, my mother has been teaching about our
culture in the classroom. Its hard for me to remember as
far back as kindergarten; mostly I remember learning Yupik
dances and stories. My first strong memory is when I was in the
second grade and we learned about the sonar legend board games;
we learned stories and morals while playing the board games. I
remember in later years learning dances, Yupik colors, story-knifing,
Yupik patterns and grass-mat weaving.
The dances that I remember learning
were the Porcupine Dance, the Agutak Dance and some others. We
even made up our own dance by learning the Yupik words for
the different months and forming it into what we called the "Calendar
Dance". All of these dances told stories. We also had to make
headdresses; we learned how to beat the drum and how to bounce
our knees in rhythm. We listened to our heartbeats and applied
that rhythm to the drum.
We learned about Yupik colors.
They are red, black and white and are all found on Yupik
clothing and artwork. The color red is to honor the mother. It
represents the mothers blood. It is found in many places
on the parka and other clothing and beading. White represents our
great Yupik warrior, Apanuugpuk. During one of the great
wars he was captured and force-fed caribou fat by his enemies.
He escaped and while he was running away he regurgitated the fat.
White can also represent snow. Black represents the unknown or
shamanism. It can also represent the black fly.
with a knife in the mudwere another thing that we learned.
We learned Yupik legends and how to tell them in the mud
with knives, as our people did for entertainment when there was
no television or computers. This included Yupik patterns,
pretend windows, pretend mountains and pretend boxes. There are
different patterns for each family. My Grandmothers pattern
was a salmonberry leaf, so I have now inherited that pattern.
The last year that my mother came
into my classroom was fifth grade. That year we learned about grass
mats. We learned to split grass into three parts and found out
that the middle part that we didnt use was referred to as
a male, the other two parts were referred to as the female. We
learned about different dyes, natural and store bought. We experimented
to see which one would have the most color and last the longest.
The natural dyes were berries and some other substances that I
Learning about all this as a girl
has helped me see who my ancestors were; I have learned about my
culture and my language. It has helped me form a positive image
about who I am and who my people are. It has made me proud that
I am a Yupik Eskimo. With this knowledge I dont feel
lost; I know who my ancestors were and that is so important to
me. My only regret is that I couldnt learn more about my
culture and my language but what I have I am grateful for; it helps
me form my own self-image and helps my self esteem. It has made
me who I am today.
In The Maelstrom of Confusion, a
by Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley
The spirit and pride of Native being
has been struggling in a maelstrom of confusion due to the many
people living with homeless minds, destitution, poverty, pestilence,
war and dereliction of being, even as we live in the wealthiest
nation in the world. You see, we have tried to comply with the
wishes and dreamworks of a narcissistic society, but we have not
been able to progress from the doldrums of uncertainty and hopelessness.
However, a few of our American Indian and Alaska Native people
have begun to see through the small channels in the blizzard and
once we are able to see more clearly again, we will have something
very important to share with the world.
We, as Native peoples, have always
known that genotypes of all living things have micro-consciousness
or micro-intelligence that enables them to communicate with one
another and to work together for the good of the whole. Let me
tell you why I think this is so. As a Yupiat, we have many rituals
and ceremonies, some of which require special masks. Some of the
masks are human masks. A few of these will have a third eye painted
on the forehead. This eye we call Ellam iina, the eye of the universe,
the eye of consciousness, the eye of awareness, thus intelligence.
This says to me that the Great Consciousness, God if you wish,
resides in my mind, and my consciousness is in the Great Consciousness.
It is there that we find our collective memories and the power
of our collective mindfulness. These essences of memory are imbued
into the creatures, plants and elements of nature to remind and
teach us how to be people that live lives that feel just right.
Nature is our textbook as a Native
people. In it we find wisdom to make a life and a living. In order
to have dialogue with it we must listen for the still small voice
within. To ensure growth of wisdom, we recognize that we need to
be with those that we consider wise, most often the Elders. We
know that we become that which we hold up and respect. How many
times have you heard this truth! You and I, as educators, seek
through dialogue with those we admire, through reading all sorts
of written media, through seeing videotaped media and through learning
to read and communicate directly with nature. The information we
gather requires that we sift through it to remove the chaff in
the form of misdirected, misinformed and useless information which
we or others may have interpreted wrongly. Knowledge is merely
information, but wisdom requires that we understand, become enlightened
or aware and, as we grow, live what we know! This is what we learn
from our wise Eldersthis is wisdom.
This wisdom cannot be separated from
the sacredour Native spirituality. Wisdom is embedded in
the sacred, thus we live it. Remember that wisdom also resides
in youlook for it. As a Native person, you need your Native
language to commune with nature and to describe it in its own terms.
A Native friend of mine from the village of Minto told me that
our Native languages are living languages and that if you dont
use it, you are giving yourself awayrelinquishing your identity.
As a Yupiaq man, I have to draw on my Yupiaq language and mindset
to feel the crispness of the snow, the balminess of a warm wind.
I have to draw on my language to fully experience the mountains,
the moon, the sun, the river, the spruce tree, the taste of Hudsons
Bay tea, the wolf, the eagle and the parameciumit is a living
language! All these experiences with the language, along with the
five senses and intuition, are necessary for my growth and my spirituality.
Barriers have to be removed for my
continued growth, otherwise staleness follows. This is another
reason why we must get the children out of the classrooms as much
as possible to be with and in nature. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: "Nature
becomes (to man) the measure of his attainments. So much of nature
as he is ignorant of, so much of his own mind does he not yet possess.
And, in fine, the ancient precept know thyself and
the modern precept, study nature become at last one
maxim." Get the children to see beauty in the flower, tree,
butterfly, grass, stream, fish and, yes, the slug. These living
things interact and cooperate. This process does not leave out
the rocks and other elements of Mother Earththey are all
an integral part it. Let them begin to understand that we are here
for a purpose, to contribute to the good of the tribe and be of
service to others. This involves goodness of self, morality, joy,
cooperation and happiness. We have Christ, Dalai Lama, Ghandi,
Chief Peter John, Lyons and others who have the selfless love which
is the stabilizer, the balancer of life. They are our role models.
Let the children think of all the
good traits and skills that they possess. Someone has called these
the "inner assets". They have talents and skills inherited
from their ancestors with the Great Mystery working the genotypes
to fit the place and conditions. This process needs our continued
meditation and prayers for the still, small voice to let us know
what else needs to be done. Ellanginginartuqutwe are becoming
The inner assets might include ability
to interact effectively with others, intuitive perception, athletic
skill, ability to observe and make sense of what is being seen,
ability for abstract thinking, dexterity combined with mind, leadership
skills, mindfulness of place, cooperation, showing love and humility
and all the many other positive traits that children may possess.
Not only must the children be guided to making a worthwhile living
but to making a life that feels good to them as well. This is done
through the mythology, stories, singing, dancing, drumming, place
names and all the other rituals and ceremonies that have been handed
down to us through many thousands of years. They must be guided
to living life to the fullesta good and responsible life
working to become the very best they possibly can while making
a contribution to their community. Children who want to live a
healthy and stable life will be contributors to a healthy, stable
and sustainable community.
These inner assets of children have
to be capitalized on for them to become the very best that they
are capable of. They can become the very best hunter, medical doctor,
electrician, artist, craftsperson or medicine person, but this
has to be infused with liberal amounts of love, humility, compassion
and open-mindedness. This means that love has balanced the outer
and inner ecologies of the young person. They work and experience
place for the good of the community. We have to know place in order
to know self, for place is our identity.
The last 500 years or so we have
seen a maelstrom of confusion, a perfect storm! It is destructive
because it is based on self-love, greed, hate and anger, which
are in direct conflict with what nature teaches us. We must avoid
personal narcissism just as we must avoid spiritual narcissism.
We have to work for a balance. Some American Indian people refer
to this as "Walking the Red Road", a very narrow path
which guides us on that thin line between good and evil. We are
gradually emerging from this maelstrom of confusion and getting
on a pathway that feels just right!
We, as teachers, are not just repositories
of knowledge, but serve as a role model and guide for the physical,
intellectual, emotional and spiritual development of these children,
our future. May the Ellam Yua, the Spirit of the Universe, give
us guidance and direction in this most important role.
Native Languages in Alaska, Part
by Ruthie Sampson
This the second part of a keynote
address to the 2002 Bilingual Multicultural Equity and Education
Conference. The first part of the address can be found in the
previous issue of Sharing Our Pathways (Volume 7 Issue
Language of the Heart
I read a wonderful article by Marilyn
Wilhelm about heart language and how the ancient languages spoke
from the heart as God created us. I began to think of our Iñupiaq
language. I thought of the word meaning "to think": Isuma- or isruma-. Isu- or isru- is
the end of something. -ma is "my" and I think
then the literal meaning is "my end". This could mean
that everything about us reaches our mind, which is like our end.
It is our source of thought. Then I thought of the word for eye
which is iri. To exist is it-. When you add -ri,
its a post-base that could mean something like "the
means, the cause of", so everything we see, we behold and
in our mind, it exists when we see it. Nakuagi- means "to
like" or "to love". Nakuu- is "good" and
when you nakuagi- something, you think that person or thing
is good. Its like saying, "I think good of you." Isnt
that wonderful? See what beautiful languages we are struggling
Not only our we trying to save our
languages, but also our history. I have been so fortunate to have
translated many narrations from our Elders. There are so many wonderful
concepts and world views that they knew and that are being lost
as each precious one dies, slowly, one by one. I remember one particular
story that I like to share about an Elder named Susie Stocking
from Kobuk. She recounted how they used to gather willow bark to
make into net twine and how they would walk barefoot among the
thorns in the heat of early summer, among mosquitoes and gather
the bark. They would pile it so high around their necks that you
couldnt see the person anymore. Then when they brought it
down to the birch canoe, they had to keep the bark covered and
moist the whole way through. All through the process, they had
to keep the bark moist or else it would become brittle, dry and
break off into little pieces. The remarkable statement that I remember
from her narration is that she said in all the hard work they did,
they just simply viewed their lives as being normalthey didnt
know that they were working so hard. Stories like these must be
documented and handed down from generation to generation because
that is our rightful heritage.
It is not too late. If we are to
empower our communities, we must validate the pain that our Elders
experienced and help them walk through that process into healing
and forgiveness and a new resolve to speak the language and pass
on the knowledge. God made us with forgiving hearts and we can
help each other heal. So, that is one plan to get our parents to
participate in the programs.
What about the schools and the education
system? What can they do?
The AFN report on "The Status
of Alaska Natives: A Call for Action" wrote on education: "In
the words of the most thorough study to date of the federal and
state school systems operated in Alaska from 1867 to 1970: policy
makers over the years have vacillated between attempted assimilation
of the Native population into white society and protection of their
Our history tells us this (from www.alaskool.org):
In 1886 the policy was that in all schools conducted
by missionary organizations, it is required that all instructions
shall be given in the English language.
In 1887, it said that the instruction of the
Indians in the vernacular is not only of no use to them, but
is detrimental to the cause of their education and civilization,
and no school will be permitted on the reservation in which
the English language is not exclusively taught. "It is
also believed that teaching an Indian youth in his own barbarous
dialect is a positive detriment to him."
In 1990, an article appeared in Education Week,
that stated that federal officials were assessing the potential
impact of a new law that encouraged the use of Native American
languages in schools run by the BIA and in public schools enrolling
Indians or other Native groups. Spokesman for the Interior
and Education departments had said that the statement of federal
policy contained in a bill approved by the congress without
public hearings and signed into law by President Bush might
well result in an invigoration of Native language instruction.
But they also said that the intent of the new Native American
Languages Act could prove costly and difficult to realize because
of the vast number of Native languages and the paucity of Native
speakers who have been trained as teachers. The article quoted
John W. Tippeconnic III, who headed the Education Departments
office of Indian Education as saying, "On the one hand,
it promotes the languages, which is positive, but it does create
burdens for the schools." The article further said that
the law includes no penalties for noncompliance. But some officials
had suggested then that it could provide legal ammunition for
parents seeking Native language instruction, particularly in
BIA schools and public schools with high concentrations of
Native American students.
The measure declares that the policy of the United
States (this is in 1990!) is "to preserve, protect and
promote the rights and freedom of Native Americans to use,
practice and develop Native American languages." This
act became public law 101-477 on October 30, 1990. The law
states that the status of the cultures and languages of Native
Americans is unique and the United States has the responsibility
to act together with Native Americans to ensure the survival
of these unique cultures and languages.
I remember being so excited when
I read this bill. I thought there was going to be funding like
Title VII that went with it. When I brought it to the attention
of an administrator in Kotzebue, he looked at me and said, "Ruth,
all this does is reverse the policy of 1887 which stated that Indian
languages will not be taught." He thought it was long over
due, or maybe too late. In addition, there was no extra funding
attached. All it basically did was say, "Oh, by the way, its
okay to teach a Native language in the school now."
In any event, in 1991, Senator Murkowski
introduced the Alaska Native Languages Preservation and Enhancement
Act. It was meant to preserve and enhance the ability of Alaska
Natives to speak and understand their Native languages.
Today, under the Administration for
Native Americans, there is limited funding for people to apply
for grants to administer language programs, but they have to be
applied for by the Native corporations or IRA offices, though they
can do a joint project with the school. The problem is that there
is very limited funding in this and it is competitive nationwide
amongst Indian tribes. Several years ago, they started out with
something like one to two millions dollars available on a competitive
basis among all the Indian tribes in the nation. We applaud Senator
Murkowski and his staff for this legislation.
In July 2000, Senator Lincoln worked
with the Alaska legislators to pass SB 103 "Native Language
Education Act." This requires Native language curriculum advisory
boards for each school in the district in which a majority of the
students are Alaska Natives. If the board recommends the establishment
of a Native language education curriculum for a school, the regular
school board will initiate and conduct a Native language education
curriculum within grades K-12 in that school. We thank Senator
Lincoln for her hard work to have this bill passed, but there is
no additional funding attached.
In the meantime, What has happened
with the state bilingual regulations? All this time, the whole
intent of the bilingual education is to improve the English language
of the student, always talking about exiting them out of the program
as soon as possible.
Now the regulations say you can have
a two-way immersion program but 50% of your students who come in
have to speak the Native language. So only if the parents teach
them and they enter the school that way can you get an immersion
program funded. Otherwise, if they come to school speaking English,
even if it is village English, then they just have the English
programs available as an option.
So we need to get our programs identified
as Native language programs by the village advisory board, but
there is no special funding attached and if the school board decided
not to have it, then thats it again.
As Native people who believe in bilingual
education, we must work together for funds to be allocated for
the "Native language education act" to be implemented.
So how does all this relate to our
students who must live in this modern world and not lose their
Native identity? If we believe our theme that bilingual education
and cross-cultural education are tools for community empowerment
and academic success let us remember the following recommendations.
The 1990 AFN report on the "Status
of Alaska Natives: A Call for Action" wrote on education:
Children are the most important segment of any
community, for each communitys future lies in its children.
To assure that future, the children must be given, through
education, the skills that will enable them to succeed in life
and the understanding that will continue the communitys
values. For Alaska Native children, this means that they must
receive an integrated education that encompasses two sets of
skills and two sets of values.
The first set of skills is that it is necessary
for the children to succeed in traditional Native life ways.
The second set of skills is that it is necessary for the children
to succeed in Western society. The childrens education
must also integrate Native and Western values so that they
are empowered in both cultures. The skills and values are inseparable,
for mastery of one cannot be obtained without mastery of the
This ideal of an integrated education has not
been achieved, or even accepted, in the past. Alaska Native
children enter an education system developed by Western culture.
In past years the system had eradication of Native culture
as one of its objectives. Even after this misguided goal was
abandoned, the system still proved unable to meet its own fundamental
objective: education of Native children in the skills and values
necessary to succeed in Western society.
Those are the words conveyed by past
Elder Chester Seveck, who advised us to take the good parts of
the Iñupiaq culture and the good parts of the Western culture
and blend them together for an integrated education. So how does
bilingual education help us toward community empowerment? What
is community empowerment? Let us take a moment now and visualize
an empowered community with students learning to cope and succeed
in the 21st century.
To me, an empowered community in
the villages of Alaska means a community where children are well
taken care of and they get enough sleep, enough food and their
clothes are clean. They eat well and go to school on time and are
hardly ever absent. Their parents take time to plan activities
for them and train them to develop habits that result in good character
traits. For example, they take them on long hikes on the tundra
so that they can learn the value of hard work. They take them fishing
so they can learn patience. They feed them wholesome foods, including
Native foods so that they can be healthy and strong and realize
what good health is. They speak their Native language to them and
tell them stories and their peoples history. If they dont
know this, they take them to someone who can. They limit watching
TV and playing electronic games. They monitor how the computer
is used by the children. They provide time for them to do their
homework and teach them to pray. They cook food and have the children
bring some food to a needy person or an Elder. When they hunt and
gather, they also have the children bring the food to share with
others. They make sure that they know who their relatives are.
Although they enjoy snow machining, skiing and other outdoor sports;
they also make sure that their children can build an outdoor fire
and survive if they had to live off the land in an emergency. In
all of this, they speak respectfully to others, especially Elders.
They show that helping Elders is necessary and important. If they
have the opportunity, they allow their children to learn about
the world outside and travel with them. They speak respectfully
of teachers and other people in the community who work to help
everyone else. An empowered community is where the children graduate
from high school and go on for more training or school and still
feel comfortable to come back to the village and work in jobs that
pay well so that they can enjoy all the outdoor activities that
our back doors in Alaska can provide. An empowered community has
school systems that work to accommodate the needs of their students,
including the provision of the childs language and culture
being integrated into the curriculum.
That is my idea of how the lives
of our children could be improved in an empowered community. Let
us begin to visualize this empowered community and share the vision
with our children. And in the words of John Pingayak of Chevak: "Our
ancestral ways are always best for our future. Never forget them
and learn them well . . . "
AISES State Science Fair
Students brought science projects
from every corner of the state to the annual ANSES State Science
Fair at Camp Carlquist outside of Anchorage on Feb 4-7. Most projects
had already been judged in regional fairs and represented the best
of the best.
Juneau, Circle, Arctic Village, St.
Paul on the Pribiloff Islands, Port Lions on Kodiak Island, Kiana,
Selawik and Nulato all competed in the third annual ANSES Science
Fair. Twenty projects, some individual, some team, some experiments,
others demonstrations went head to head, judged by two teams of
Western scientists and two teams of Native Elders. It was fairly
easy for the Western scientists to agree on the scoring, and it
was also easy for the Native Elders, as they both had different
scoring rubrics, but when they met to agree on the Best of Show,
there were no projects in common. The dialog and interaction between
them was intense and rich. As one teacher said, "I wish I
could have been a fly on the wall to listen in." Only the
personal nature of the discussion keeps this interaction from being
the teaching event of the year.
Best of Show winners were: Devils
Club Salve by Kami Wright and Amanda Padron of Juneau. Their
tests indicated that the traditional salve made from Devils
Club is more effective than modern medications on skin conditions
Scott Asplund and Ronald Mayo of
Circle discovered that natural furs are much more efficient insulators
than artificial furs in their project, Fake vs. Real Fur.
John Melovidov and Maria Philemonoff
of St. Paul on the Pribiloff Islands tested the fur of stellar
sea lions vs. seal and discovered that the seal fur is a much better
insulator. Their project was called Otariidae Warmth.
Ely Cyrus of Kiana did extensive
research among Iñupiaq Elders in his project on Weather
Other projects in the state fair
Osmosis and Why Salmon Turn Color in Fresh Water, by
John Carroll from Circle.
Reflexes by Alicia John from Circle
Surface Tension (Why Slough Bugs Walk on Water) by
Justin Mayo and Tyler Ely.
Magnetic North, improvising a compass in
the woods by Billy John.
Blubber vs. Feathers, comparing insulating
qualities by Rachel Searls and Airana McDonough of Juneau.
Antibacterial Properties of Sphagnum Moss, by
Rena Dalman, Courtney Wendel, Myshelle Pope and Brandon Roulet
Helping Hands, Traditional Iñupiaq Massage
for Health Problems, by Earl Ramoth and Lindi Skin of Selawik.
Stinkweed/Wormwood, Health Properties, by
Ester Dexter and Kathleen Skin of Selawik.
Parts of a Net by Austin Gerhardt-Cyrus
Traditional vs. Modern Diapers by Lexy Staheli.
Caribou and Moose, Traditional Uses, by
Fish Trap Construction, by Shayla Carney,
Albert Gilbert, Belynda Gilbert and Jessica Tritt of Arctic Village.
Traditional Uses of Spruce Pitch by Summer
Stickman from Nulato.
Deadfall vs. Box trap by Greg Lukin of Port
Plants with Vitamin C by Anna Nelson of
Traditional Barabara vs. Modern Housing: Heat
loss, by Sophia Zaharof, Brandon Rukovishnikoff of St.
Junkyard Wars of Science Fairs
Adrenaline ran high on the first
day of gathering materials for the Junkyard Wars, which made its
debut at this years ANSES Science Fair. Fashioned after the popular
TV show, teams of four students had from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. to plan,
research, experiment and prepare a poster board to compete at 7
p.m. No one knew what the project would be until the clock started
ticking. When they learned that they had to do an experiment with
a traditional drum from their region, teams feverishly planned
as chaperones drove to the various locations in the Eagle River/Anchorage
area. Map skills were developed as students learned to navigate
in this strange landscape. Some teams experimented with types of
materials for the drum head, others with frame size, others with
head tension, others with combinations of all three as well as
different drumming sticks. Display boards were not perfect and
reports were highlighted photocopy pages from different libraries,
but judges were amazed at the depth of scientific knowledge students
were able to assemble in the short time allowed. All team members
had to participate in the demonstration and most groups had a song
and native dance for the judges to accompany the newly constructed
drums. The students from Port Lions won first place and Arctic
While the projects for the State
Fair were high quality with the top four going to AISES Nationals
in Albuquerque, the Junkyard Fair provoked an intense level of
creativity and excitement. Both fairs worked together to send students
to the airport with a sense of accomplishment that is impossible
Region: SEATC & SEANEA
by Ted A. Wright
Becoming Native to a Place
The mission of the Southeast Alaska
Tribal College (SEATC) and the Southeast Alaska Native Educators
(SEANEA) is to open our ancestors box of wisdom, knowledge, respect,
patience and understanding. The box of knowledge is a Tlingit metaphor
that reinforces the need to pass on to our children the wisdom
and strength of our culture through education. Among the goals
of SEANEA are to put in place programs and resources to inspire
and assist educators in all districts of the region to use Southeast
Native culture in their classrooms and schools and also to realize
that the community and surrounding area are their best resources
for effective learning.
These are worthy and fitting goals.
Among the clans and tribal communities of Southeast Alaska, education
has traditionally been built upon an intimate knowledge of diverse
people in relation to culturally and historically unique places.
The tribal college in Southeast Alaska will soon develop certificate
and degree programs founded on principles of place-based education,
inspired by and modeled after traditional Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian
ways of knowing. For this reason, the programs of SEATC will be
designed around a deep understanding of place. In this way, students
who matriculate at the tribal college and take science, technology,
engineering and math (STEM) courses will become more aware of their
place in traditional and modern societies. As their knowledge of
the area in which they live grows along with their understanding
of the world outside, students will gain personal wisdom and live
with increasing respect, patience and understanding.
In a like manner, the Southeast Alaska
Native Educators Association will work with districts to help teachers
develop a pedagogy of place and infuse their curriculum with local
and tribal wisdom. As funding and connections between districts
and teachers grow, the standards we use to measure student progress
will blend academic and cultural priorities, methods, and resources.
The Southeast Alaska Tribal College
and the Southeast Alaska Native Educators Association have developed
two core curricular programs to date:
I Am Salmon
A multilingual, cultural and national
curriculum project with participants in Japan, Russia, Alaska,
Yukon, British Columbia and Washington, designed to develop a sense
of place (in ones watershed) and a sense of self (in the
circle of life) and an understanding of how they are connected.
I Am Salmon teams are developing curricula and other resources
including Tlingit cultural atlases, electronic Tlingit language
and salmon part drills and Tlingit plant and salmon units. At the
higher education level, SEATC will use project curriculum to reorient
their classes toward a Native and Tlingit perspective and to train
faculty in the development of courses more in line with the mission
and worldview that will inform all the colleges programs.
GIS Cultural Place Names Mapping
Recognizing the importance of documenting
traditional ways of knowing based on an intimate relationship of
Native people to their homelands, the Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative
has sponsored cultural mapping projects in each region of Alaska.
In the Southeast region, digital atlases with Tlingit place names
and numerous culturally-relevant links have been developed with
several communities still in the process of establishing their
maps. Once completed, educators will have a geographic, cultural
framework for building curriculum and guiding instructional practice.
The importance of these atlases lies
in the process it takes to complete them. Educators work with Elders
and local culture-bearers using technology to document the importance
of specific places through stories, songs and art passed down through
generations. Though some of the knowledge contained in these maps
has to be protected from the general public, the majority of information
provides an invaluable framework for college faculty to immerse
students in local culture as they put Western knowledge into Alaska
Native perspective. The SEATC/SEANEA partners will expand the use
of Geographic Information Systems, cultural mapping technology
and web-based course development to enhance science, technology,
engineering, math, social studies and other offerings.
Planned Academic Programs
Grade 11-14, Alaska Native School-Within-a-School,
in cooperation with Southeast school districts, Alaska Department
of Education and the University of Alaska Southeast. This would
include development of a GED program as well as an expanded
Early Scholars program. The school-within-a-school would provide
a seamless transition to college.
Development of a Tlingit language teacher certificate
program in cooperation with the University of Alaska Southeast,
Alaska Native Language Center (UAF), Sealaska Heritage Institute
and Southeast tribal ANA grantee partners.
Work with the University of Alaska to offer Alaska
Native and Rural Development and Cross-Cultural Studies degree
programs through the tribal college. This would entail a concurrent
effort to have UAF/UAS or some other institution to agree to
formally sponsor SEATC as a candidate for accreditation.
Join with the Preparing Indigenous Teachers for
Alaska Schools (PITAS) program and the School of Education
at the University of Alaska Southeast to recruit and train
teachers in traditional place-based pedagogy and practice.
Develop a Native theatre/storytelling program
in partnership with Ilisagvik College, Perseverance Theatre
and the University of Alaska Southeast. The partnership will
build upon existing, successful, programs such as Beyond Heritage
(Perseverance Theatre), the Barrow Theatre Ensemble and the
Associate Degree Program Partnership with UAS and Perseverance
Partnerships for Today and Tomorrow
University of Alaska Sheldon Jackson
Southeast Alaska School Districts
When considering the resources it
takes to develop unique programs such as those described here,
SEATC and SEANEA leaders acknowledge the importance of training,
technology and strong partnerships between multiple educational
institutions and tribal communities. For this reason, the focus
will remain on nurturing partnerships that will stand the test
of time. In this way, our institutions as well as our students
will become native to this place.
for Culturally-Responsive School Boards
A new set of guidelines has been
developed addressing the role of school boards in providing a culturally-responsive
education for the students under their care. The guidelines are
available now on the ANKN website or in booklet form this summer.
For information, contact the ANKN office at 474-1902.
by Tacuk and Yurrliq (aka Cecilia
Martz and Nita Rearden)
Back in February, during the NEC/BMEEC
conferences, a group of statewide Elders taught many lessons. In
indigenous cultures everything is intertwined, connected, whole.
So in their presentations the Elders intertwined the different
subjects that Western education separates out in school: math,
science, social studies, geography, language arts, parenting skills,
child development, medicine, vocational training, etc. Their short
presentations also provided solutions to the problems, solutions
that are just being "re-discovered" today. The Elders
already knew these educational processes because they grew up with
them: mentorship, project-oriented and hands-on experiences, repetitive
teaching, learning with the seasons, community involvement, immersion
and cooperative learning.
Here are a few excerpts from what
they presented. Most of them made their presentations in their
own languages, so someone had to interpret for them.
Ayaginareq John Phillip, 77, Kangirneq
When my mother would put my footgear on in the
morning, she would advise me on how to behave during the day.
The most important advice was always to love other people.
We went to the Qasgiq to listen and learn from
the Elders who were constantly teaching.
Dont live your life without a guide/mentor
because you wont live right.
Be watchful and always be aware. Be aware of
everything around you and never forget them. Listen to oral
My father taught me about our environment. I
had to use all my senses to learn what I was being taught.
I bring my grandchildren and great-grandchildren
out and teach them.
Cungauyaraq Annie Blue, 85, Tuyuryaq
Apurin used to assemble us to teach. He would
advise us never to forget what we heard/learned. If a person
departed while being taught, he/she is shortening his/her life.
They are like spoiled fish.
A married man should live without internal anger,
even when his children go astray.
Our teachings are the truth.
Follow our way of life and love each other.
Kaayistaan Marie Olsen, 77, Juneau
It is difficult to raise children who follow
another way of life.
Fishermen are scientists. They learned all about
fish. They can even identify their type by how they jump out
of the water. They know where animals are.
All should take care of themselves and appreciate
Igvaq Pauline Hunt, 73, Qerrullik
Even though people do not know their ancestors,
they follow in their footsteps.
Our learning environment is our wilderness. Camping
is learning through the seasons. Even though you dont
attend Western school, we educate you. My mother taught me
what a woman has to know and my father taught me what a man
has to know.
Paniguaq Peter Jacob, 79, Cukvagtuli
Educators, teachers, administration . . . when
they have inservice training, they should include the Elders.
That way they learn to support and help each other.
Qaggun Mary Lou Leavitt, 81, Barrow
Speak only in our languages. Speak to grandchildren
in our languages because their abilities decrease as they grow
older. Our grandchildren and great grandchildren can learn
to be truly bilingual. Pass on the language.
It is very hard to watch our young people live
the way they live these days.
Lubova Lucille Davis, 78, Kodiak
Things have changed. The young people today ask
for payment. It is very difficult to practice reciprocal learning.
Always give a child a chance. They can be so
proud of their accomplishment no matter how small. Children
learn from their parents. Listen to each other.
Keixwnei Nora Dauenhauer, 74, Juneau
Everyone guided the children, not only the parents.
Everyone raised the children.
All the women used to know how to make baskets.
The men were super carvers. We can teach our children.
There are 20 languages in Alaska. When they go
it will be a terrific loss. We cant go home, like the
Europeans, to learn our languages. We are home.
Neegoots Robert Charlie, 70+, Minto
I am the founder and director for the Old Minto
cultural camp. We teach cultural heritage and continue to pass
on our traditional knowledge.
These are just a few excerpts from the Elders
wisdom which should be listened to and acted upon daily. They
follow the culturally-responsive standards while teaching.
Region: ARCTIC Immersion
by B. Yaayuk Alvanna-Stimpfle
Last year in April, I had an opportunity
to apply for the ARCTIC (Alaska Reform in the Classroom through
Technology Integration and Collaboration) program through the Nome
school district. I was one of two teachers who were invited to
go to Juneau for one month.
Twenty teachers from throughout Alaska
were immersed in the use of technology in the classroom. The ARCTIC
project I produced is on a "Weather Forecasting Unit".
The project teaches upper elementary students how to predict weather
in various ways. They learn to compare weather forecasting using
traditional Iñupiaq ways and modern equipment used by the
I chose this theme since it has made
a positive impact both with students and parents. In the past,
students were assigned to observe the moon and stars as homework.
Parents were involved by helping their child. Both were involved
in the learning process.
The web site I developed for my students
shares how the Iñupiat have learned to predict weather by
observing the moon, stars, sun, wind and clouds. The web site includes
Iñupiaq terms the students will be studying. While the students
are studying and observing these items, they form a data chart
comparing their findings. The web site address can be found at
www.nomeschools.com. From there, go to Nome Elementary School,
then to Fifth Grade and finally go to Mrs. Alvanna-Stimpfles
teacher page. There you will find the Traditional Weather Prediction
Region: Mask Carving
by Sven Haakanson, Jr.
carving of masks for dances and storytelling nearly disappeared
entirely from practice in the Kodiak Island region. However, this
has changed. Over the past ten years, Alutiiq people have rediscovered,
relearned and are now recreating traditional masks to be used in
dances, given as gifts and to be sold. This spring, the Alutiiq
Museum, thanks to support from the Rockefeller Foundations
Partnership Affirming Community Transformation (PACT) grant and
a partnership with the Kodiak Island Borough School District, is
bringing a traveling mask exhibit and carving workshop to villages
on Kodiak. We will spend an entire week working with students and
adults, showing them how to care for and use carving tools and
how to carve traditional Alutiiq masks. Our goal with this program
is not to just exhibit masks, which were historically taken away
as curiosity pieces, but to inspire individuals into once again
taking up this practice and revitalizing the art of mask making.
We have received wonderful comments
from the students. One young lady from the remote village of Akhiok,
wrote: "This will be good for the future because what we paint
on the mask will tell the next generation what we did. Its
like telling a story in a book but its on a mask. We want
this mask carving to go on. It should never get lost. We are the
responsible ones to keep this fun tradition going." Mary L.
Simeonoff, 12th grade.
Her written words signify more of
an effect then we ever expected to achieve.
In traditional Alutiiq dancing, Dustin
Berestoff wore a mask to portray the boogie man in "Unuku,
unuku", "Tonight, tonight, I will bring a little tea
with me, my love and dont you think I am a boogie man."
As we have relearned more about our
heritage we have begun a new era for our youth in promoting pride,
cultural knowledge and respect for our ancestors. If you would
like to learn more about our programs or have questions, please
check our web site: www.alutiiqmuseum.com, or contact us at 907-486-7004.
Region: Tribute to the Minto Elders
This is the third part of a tribute
to recognize the Minto Elders for their valuable contributions
to the Cross-cultural Camp in Old Minto each year and for sharing
their culture with all of us. Descriptions are from interviews
with Elders, compilation of descriptions written by Minto students
for the Denakkanaaga Elder-Youth Conference 2001, the Minto Cultural
Atlas and from other sources. Photos are from the Cultural Heritage
and Education Institute archives, unless otherwise marked.
Berkman Silas was born December
23, 1923 at Old Minto. His education went to the third
grade. He says that school was held in a log cabin and
there wasnt enough room so he left. When he first
began working he worked for one dollar a day. He worked
for the Nenana Railroad for a month then began working
on the steamer Nenana on the Yukon River. He worked there
every summer. Berkman believes that the land is the most
important thing today.
Sarah Silas was born December
28, 1924 at Old Minto. She has grown up and lived in Minto
for most of her life. When she was five years old her parents
moved to the Yukon River area and they lived in Rampart
and Stevens Village for about six years. During that time
there were no schools, but then one was built in Stevens
Village and she began her education there. Sarah is active
in all community events and served as the health aide for
sixteen years. Sarah married Berkman Silas in 1944; together
they had 12 children, six girls and six boys. Sarah remembers
the Old Minto village as working together a lot, everything
was volunteer work, nobody was paid wages. "Most of
the time we celebrated Thanksgiving, Christmas and the
dog races in March. March 17th was a big holiday, thats
when the dog race would happen. That was our entertainment
Robert Charlie was born May
25, 1927 in Montana Creek Camp (a muskrat camp). He is
the youngest boy of the eleven children of Moses and Bessie
Charlie. Robert lived in Old Minto and attended school
up until about the sixth grade. When he was 15, he started
helping his dad with a wood contract he had for the Alaska
Railroad. When he was 17 (during WWII), he started working
summers on the Riverboat Nenana. At 29, he decided to leave
Minto and learn how to survive on his own. He went to Tanacross
for ten years, got married, had a daughter there and worked
for the Post Office. In 1964 he moved to Fairbanks and
attended a two-year training program on Eielson Air Force
Base as a waste and water treatment operator. The 1967
flood occurred during his time at Eielson and he was awarded
a medal for working every day during the flood. He relocated
to Ft. Wainwrights water treatment operations until
1973 when he went to work for the pipeline as a waste/water
treatment plant operator in Prudhoe Bay and Valdez. In
1980 he worked for the Seth-De-Ya-Ah Minto Village Corporation;
in 1984 he worked with Tanana Chiefs Conference as a realty
technician. During this time, he served as a board member
of Seth-De-Ya-Ah and started the idea of including Old
Minto under a non-profit organization. The Cultural Heritage
and Education Institute (CHEI) was founded in 1984 and
the Old Minto camps began in 1988. Robert is a musician,
he likes to present and be part of the changes that are
taking place among the Alaska Natives, whether educational
or economic. Robert says, "It is important for future
leaders of Native Alaskan people to start thinking about
doing what is best for themselves as well as their neighbors.
Stay clean and sober and always be mindful of other people.
Always respect and honor the Elders because they were our
teachers and trainers on how to be Alaskan Native people."
Titus was born March 21, 1938 in Fairbanks to Matthew and
Dorothy Titus. Growing up in the Minto Flats, each April
they would go to Muskrat Camp to hunt rats for food,
clothing and money. When they went back to the village
they would get ready to leave for fish camp and they would
stay there from June to August. They would dry fish for
the winter and when they got back to the village they would
sell some. Then they would go moose hunting to provide
the family with meat for the winter. When they shot a moose
they would dry it and ration it over the winter with all
kinds of berries. They would then move back to the village
in the month of October. From November to January he would
go trapping and from February to March they would snare
and trap beaver. Virgil was educated in Old Minto. His
employment history includes working as a plumber and carpenter
all over the state of Alaska. Virgils hobbies include
hunting and listening and playing music. This past fall,
the participants in the Cultural Atlas field trip stayed
at Virgils fall camp at Washington Creek.
Vernell R. Titus
Vernell R. Titus was born
on February 1, 1941, somewhere in the Minto Flats to Peter
Jimmie and Ena Jimmie. Vernell went to school until the
tenth grade. Vernells family used to move to spring
camp in April or May and in June, they would move back
to Minto and get ready for fish camp. Her mother used to
make birchbark baskets for tourists and this is how Vernell
learned to make baskets. In July they would make dry fish
for the winter and would sell some of it to the store for
groceries. In the fall everyone would go out hunting for
moose. Vernell married Virgil Titus and together they had
seven children and have raised several grandchildren. After
Vernell married, each November she and Virgil would start
going out hunting for muskrat, mink and beaver. In the
fall, they would go out berry picking and save them for
winter. Vernell has worked in Valdez, Fairbanks and Minto
as a housekeeper, cooks helper and a kitchen helper. Vernell
is known for making excellent fry bread over a campfire.
Luke Titus was born in July
1941 in the Tanana Hospital to Elsie and Robert Titus.
He grew up in Old Minto and went to school there until
he was 12. He went to the Wrangell Institute and then attended
high school at Mt. Edgecombe. He was influenced by the
Athabascan fiddling he heard growing up and he likes dancing.
He says "fiddle music stuck to me." He remembers
that in Old Minto, people cared for each other. The children
were given chores to take care of people, particularly
the Elders, like cutting wood or carrying water. They would
be paid with a piece of pilot bread. He has worked on the
Alaska Railroad, firefighting and for BLM doing land surveys
for Native allotments. He attended seminary in Arizona
and was ordained in the Episcopalian Church in 1970. In
Arizona, he met and married his wife Alice, a Navajo. They
have five children and four grandchildren. He has always
believed it is important to integrate Native culture in
the church with dancing and singing since it is a healthy
thing to do. Luke is a certified counselor and he was active
in the start up of the Old Minto Recovery Camp. He supports
the Culture Camp in Old Minto and thinks it is good so
people in education can learn about the Athabascans. He
is currently the chair of the Yukon-Koyukuk School District
Board. He likes to help young people learn about their
culture and background, especially those who may have lost
their family. He finds that young people are always interested
in finding out who they are and where they come from.
Thirteenth Inuit Studies Conference
The Department of Alaska Native and
Rural Development (DANRD) at UAF will be the primary host of the
13th Inuit Studies Conference to be held at the University of Alaska
Anchorage on August 1-3, 2002. DANRD is working in collaboration
with UAA in organizing the event. The central theme of the conference
will be Voices from Indigenous Communities: Research, Reality & Reconciliation.
For several generations Inuit communities
have been the subjects of scientific research from virtually every
scientific discipline. In most cases this research was designed
and carried out by non-indigenous researchers without any meaningful
input from indigenous peoples. Often, the indigenous people being
researched had no idea what the objectives of the research were
and what benefits, if any, the research could bring to the community.
In many instances the hard feelings brought on by this practice
caused a stifling of important and legitimate research because
indigenous peoples were no longer willing to accept projects that
they had no ownership in. In recent years more attention has been
placed on research ethics with a particular emphasis on the concept
of informed consent. Collaborative research projects involving
indigenous peoples and Western scientists are now increasing in
number. There is still much to learn, however, and the 13th Inuit
Studies Conference will focus on successes in research involving
indigenous people and provide opportunities for scientists and
indigenous peoples to discuss these important issues. Papers and
presentations that include both scientific researchers and indigenous
people are particularly encouraged.
Indigenous researchers and others
who have successful examples of collaborative research models are
particularly encouraged to submit session proposals or paper abstracts.
Among the suggested sessions and topics are Western science and
indigenous researchers, research ethics, community-based research,
rights to technology, use of traditional knowledge in research,
youth and Elders, traditional healing in Inuit communities, strategies
for Inuit language preservation, self-determination and self-governance
and development of healthy communities.
The deadline for paper abstracts
and session proposals is March 31, 2002. Contact Gordon L. Pullar
at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Alaska RSI Contacts
University of Alaska Fairbanks
PO Box 756730
Fairbanks, AK 99775-6730
(907) 474-1902 phone
(907) 474-5208 fax
University of Alaska Fairbanks
PO Box 756730
Fairbanks, AK 99775-6730
(907) 474-5403 phone
(907) 474-5208 fax
Frank W. Hill
Alaska Federation of Natives
1577 C Street, Suite 300
Anchorage, AK 99501
(907) 263-9876 phone
(907) 263-9869 fax
Kodiak Island Borough School District
722 Mill Bay Road
Kodiak, Alaska 99615
Tanana Chiefs Conference, Inc.
Interior Athabascan Tribal College
122 First Ave, Suite 600
Fairbanks, AK 99701
PO Box 1796
Nome, AK 99762
8128 Pinewood Drive
Juneau, Alaska 99801
PO Box 219
Bethel, AK 99559
is a publication of the Alaska Rural Systemic
Initiative, funded by the National Science Foundation Division
of Educational Systemic Reform in agreement with the Alaska
Federation of Natives and the University of Alaska.
We welcome your comments and suggestions and encourage
you to submit them to:
The Alaska Native Knowledge Network
Old University Park School, Room 158
University of Alaska Fairbanks
P.O. Box 756730
Fairbanks, AK 99775-6730
(907) 474-1902 phone
(907) 474-1957 fax
Newsletter Editor: Dixie
Layout & Design: Paula
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