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Native Pathways to Education
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ALASKA NATIVE EDUCATION
1953 – 1973
A PROFESSIONAL MEMOIR

BY
TOM (THOMAS) R. HOPKINS
© 2008

INTRODUCTION

My (our) version of, “Alaska Native Education, 1953-1973” is a memoir based on experiences in two day schools (Barrow and Shungnak) from 1953 – 1956, five and a half years at the Mt. Edgecumbe High School, 1958 – 1963, as well as my experiences as an Education Specialist, and as Division Chief at the Washington level of the U. S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) from 1964 – 1979. *

We, my wife and I, have written, “Teaching in the Territorial Alaskan Bush Schools, 1953 – 1956,” (Hopkins and Hopkins, 2004) about our interesting, challenging and often humorous experiences. The “Bush Schools” recounts the varied experiences of two school teachers during Territorial days. We refer to it as our “Non-Education Experiences.” Sometimes educational and non-educational activities overlap. The gymnasium in the Barrow quonset hut was used by Vinita for her 6th grade extra- curricular activities, i.e., basketball (educational). Local young men also used the gymnasium, for recreation. On one occasion Vinita convinced the young men to leave with the help of a threatening baseball bat (non-educational!). Or, of what immediate concern could the legal principle of “contraband on the high seas,” have, to the inland village of Shungnak or to the “business” of the new Principal-Teacher; and yet this very principle was assumed to be definitely my business a few days after we occupied the school station. There are some education-related sections in the more personal writings, but these merely provide an occasional reminder that we were teachers in Arctic Alaska schools. This manuscript focuses on the education of “Alaska Natives” as I experienced it.

This discussion of the education of Native Alaskans will deal, in the main, with the BIA school experiences, day and boarding, teaching and administrative; I served at Mt. Edgecumbe boarding high school in an administrative capacity having taught there only very briefly. My tenure as an administrator in BIA’s Washington Office began in January, 1964 and continued through to July, 1979. From January 1964 through 1979, though geographically removed from Alaska, I continued to have official contacts and involvement with the Juneau Area Office. For example, I was a member of the team evaluating Mt. Edgecumbe and Wrangell boarding schools and initiating and conducting the “Alaska Native Needs Assessment in Education, Project ANNA.” I was also instrumental in initiating Bilingual Education in Alaska

The recounting of these memories will be chronological except for the brief beginning section on the early history of educating Alaskan Natives. When I reread my Masters Thesis titled, “Educational Provisions for the Alaska Natives Since 1867,” I realized that a brief section on the history of educating Natives would form a foundation for our later experiences. (Hopkins 1959).


* Collective pronouns refer to Tom R. Hopkins and Vinita F. Hopkins. We both taught in the Alaska bush. Otherwise, authorship is for Tom R. Hopkins.

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Last modified March 13, 2008