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

I˝upiaq RavenIñupiat Ioitqusiat

A Special Publication of Alaska Newspapers Inc.

"Those things that make us who we are"

Portrait of a People - By the People
Originally a supplement to The Arctic Sounder

Afayuqaabiich Savaaksrafnich
Family Roles

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A family role is a responsibility given to each member of a family. These roles help the family in one way or another.

One important aspect of having family roles is showing children, so they will have the knowledge when they get older. Young children learn to do things by watching the older people in their family. Having positive roles will teach them positive ways to live. Important needs are not met when family roles are not carried out. We often see it in many of our communities. It shows through the children when they are not fed properly or clothed appropriately. Students of today need to take this into consideration to stop the neglect in the future.

Delores Tuckfield
12th Grade

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Eskimo dancing
Photo courtesy of Christine Ahlalook


SewingAana’s Camp
Alvin Morris
Grade 7

Aana camps a little ways down
Canvas Tent, cache and fish racks. Creek flows down to the river.
Kids can’t wait to go across to the sandbar

Seine for fish, Watch for bears!
Sea gulls cry and fly by racks.
Graylings eat the guts and heads.
Little kids skip rocks and listen to Aana’s stories.

Put more cotton wood on the smoke fire.
Keep the flies away from the drying fish.
Smoky clothes and smoky hair.
Little kids playing by the fire
Anna says “Be careful!”

HandsEileen Barr
8th grade

Aana always watches me,
tells me when I’m good.
She sews the mittens that I wear,
the cap upon my head.

Taata teaches me how to hunt,
and how to hook the fish.
He shot and skinned the fox for my cap
and gave it as a gift.

Auntie always listens
and makes the best soup
She shows me how to wash my clothes
and hang them on the line.

Uncles helps me when I need,
he tells me what to do
He shows me how to skin a caribou
and put the meat away

Kurtis Reed
7th grade

Uncles are the ones who
help when we’re in need.
To bring in wood,
when the wind blows cold.

They teach me how to
aim my gun and hunt the caribou. They help me learn to drive snogos
and go as fast as wind.

Uncles are the ones who
help me become a man.
When I need someone
I look around and see my uncles there.


Andrea Sheldon
10th grade
Papas hunt
Mamas cook
Taatas grunt
Aanas hook
Uncle reads
Children play
Auntie beads
End of Day.


Terzah Tippin
University of Alaska Anchorage

“ What would you like to be when you grow up?” he slowly asked the Eskimo boy. The boy looked at him and giggled, seeming not to understand the words. The bush pilot tried again to communicate his question. This time he used big expansive arm movements to help convey his meaning.

“ Grow up.” He stood up using his hands to express growth and pointed to the laughing boy. This time he saw a glimmer of recognition in the boy’s face.

“ Great whaling captain,” the boy responded as if he had been asked this question before, and the words had been rehearsed.

The pilot nodded. But, as he did, he wondered if “whaling captain” would exist as a livelihood when the boy grew up. He had seen many changes in other native villages over the last few years, and a inexplicable sadness touched him.

They sat together for awhile, looking out over the barren ice flow. Soon the sun began to turn into a glowing ember as it set on the curved horizon, orange at the middle, surrounded by a burning red. This seemed to be a signal to both of them to get up from the overturned boat they had been sitting on and head back toward the village.

While they walked, the boy began to sing a song in his native language. The pilot did not understand the words, but it seemed a plaintive song, perhaps a song of mourning or loss. Or maybe, he thought hopefully, it was a song of joy sung slowly and quietly.

As they arrived at the shack that was the boy’s home, the warmth of the room mingled with the smell of seal made this truly a haven against the cold and hunger lying just a few feet out the door.

The soft glow of oil lamps lighted the cooking area and table. A woman stood at a cutting board carving pieces of muktuk from a slab of whale. As she cut, the rocking motion of her arm was making full use of the ulu. She turned and laughed when she saw her son and the pilot.

“ Tuuvick” she said with a smile spreading over her moon-shaped face. Tuuvick ran over to his mother and words started to spill out of his mouth.

“ No, Tuuvick, use your English,” she said, nodding her head toward the pilot.

“ We were sitting and watching,” Tuuvick said slowly.

“ Watching for what?” asked his mother as she brought over food to set on the table.

“ For father to return,” he said anxiously, looking up at his mother.

She laughed and said, “You know, many more days before your father returns. He is on very important hunting trip.”

As Tuuvick and his mother talked, the pilot took off his parka and sat by the oil stove, warming his hands over the metal that encased the source of heat for this house. As he sat he noticed in the corner a small pile of furs in many different shades. The fur was used as a ruff around little carved Eskimo faces hanging on the wall.

The pilot stood up to examine the faces closer. It struck him how all the faces were smiling. He thought they looked like perfect replicas of the faces in the village. Even though he had just arrived the day before, all of the villagers he had come in contact with were warm and welcoming.

“ Kasak, who made these faces?” he asked as he turned to walk over to the table and help himself to some of the food.

“ My aunt made most of them and she taught me, so now I make them too,” Kasak answered. “They aren’t much, but the last pilot that was here to drop off supplies paid us one dollar apiece for them.”

“ I would like to buy as many of these as you have. And I will give you two dollars apiece for them.”

Laughing, Kasak replied, “One dollar seems more than enough. They are made from old scraps that have no other use.”

With a wave of her hand, she motioned Tuuvick and the pilot to sit at the table and eat. Some of the food was familiar to the pilot as he was the one that brought it to the village. There before them were canned peaches--a delicacy in the far north, pilot bread--Kakurrak, and, of course, cans of Pepsi.

They finished their meal and Kasak began to ask questions. Did the pilot know any of their families’ relatives that had moved from the village to what they considered the big city --Fairbanks? He said yes, he had met some of her family at potlucks held at the church. This was not the complete truth and Kasak seemed to sense that.

“ I hear stories of drinking and reports that one of our cousins is in jail?” she asked.

For the first time, the pilot noticed a frown on Kasak’s face.

In the five years the pilot had been in Alaska, he had watched many natives move from the villages to Fairbanks. Some did well. Others had a difficult time adjusting to the white man’s way of doing things. The drinking problems had given the natives a bad reputation in Fairbanks. But he didn’t want to shame Kasak with the details of her family members drinking and getting into fights.

“ Yes, there is some drinking going on downtown, but for the most part everybody gets on pretty well,” he tried to explain. “It’s just that there is not much to do during the winter months and sometimes people just go stir crazy.”

He tried to keep a light conversational tone to his voice. However, he knew the problem went deeper than just a few people occasionally drinking.

Again, Kasak frowned at these words. The winters had always been long. This was a time to visit and tell stories while drinking tea, a time to sew and repair parkas and mukluks.

“ Don’t they have any work to do in Fairbanks?” Kasak asked as she stood up to clear the table.

“ There is work, but most of it requires training,” explained the pilot. “Some of the villagers are working as construction workers, but during the winter there is no building going on.”

At that moment they heard the dogs outside barking and the door burst open. There stood a group of smiling and laughing women and children. Most of the men were out on the hunt and the women of the village had heard that Kasak was entertaining the pilot.

While the pilot taxied down the frozen runway, he thought of the last words he had with Kasak this morning on the tarmac before takeoff.

“ Take these , for no money,” Kasak said, as she handed him a bag filled with the Eskimo faces he had so admired. He started to protest, but she waved his words away. “Give some of them to our family in Fairbanks. Tell them they are from our village,” she added.

“ I’ll do that,” he said as he took the bag, and looked at Kasak.

“ I know.” She held his eyes for a moment, then walked away to join the others who had gathered around to see the pilot go.

As he climbed toward the Arctic sun, he looked down to see the villagers gathered around waving good-bye. Many colors of parkas with laughing faces turned up to the sky stood by the runway. Disappearing into the dawn, he looked beside him at the bag of smiling faces that were his friends.End Article

Small Sketch

Jan Westlake
7th grade

Fathers show us how to hold our gun
when we are just young boys.
How to hold the ax to cut
the wood we use.

His hands so strong
sets a trap to catch a wolverine.
Our little hands are shown the way
by dad’s touch.

Family Roles
Photo courtesy of Christine Aklalook

Bert Flood Jr.
7th grade

Mother cooks the soup so warm and delicious.
Dad saws the wood that heats the house.
Auntie helps clean the house no dirty houses.
I fish for the long
winter season.

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Family Roles
Micheline Baldwin
8th grade

Family Roles is an important value for the Inupiaq people. Starting with the grandmothers, she looks after the extended family. She needs to know where everyone is and make sure they are alright.

The grandmothers, also known as “Aana,” usually go out to visit their friends or just stays in and sews or knits.

Grandfathers, “Taata,” are also very important. They give advice on survival for hunting and camping trips.

Mothers have a lot of work to do. They have to process meat, dry fish, tan skins and wash the clothes and dishes. But the mother’s most important role is to be responsible for their children, both physically and emotionally. They usually sew to relax when they are done with their daily work.

Fathers have a lot to do. They do the hunting, gather wood and mostly outside activities. They also have to give advice on hunting and safety tips to the boys.

The daughters to a lot of work around the house. They clean and help their mothers and grandmothers with their chores, like hanging fish and more. The boys help their fathers by doing subsistence hunting and fishing. They also chop the wood and bring it in the house.

The Aunts usually help around the house and make caps and other clothing. The uncles help the other men in the family by hunting and other outside jobs.

Nowawdays, the roles of the Inupiaq people are not always practiced. Because of this, there have been a lot of suicides and drug and alcohol abuse. That is why it is important to pass on the Inupiaq values, so they will help people know what their responsibilities are.End Article


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Last modified October 19, 2006