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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

Iñuuniaquatiuni Ikayuutijiq
Responsibility to Tribe

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SlippersThe Arctic Venturer:
Preserving the Inupiaq Values

Sherry Ballot
of Buckland
Mt. Edgecumbe High School

Young Percy, at the age of eight, was watching his father drive the boat, looking up at him with great admiration, because his father asked him to hunt Beluga with him for the first time. As they were driving down the Buckland River and headed for Elephant Point, which is in the Kotzebue Sound, Percy was amazed and excited.

He grew more impatient and it seemed like forever to get to the camp. Finally, as they reached the camp it began to get dark. So they settled in. But Percy was still impatient. He kept begging, “Papa, can we go now?”

His father told him, “Son, we must wait for the tide to go down a little if we want to get a catch. You rest now so you can stay awake when we are hunting because it’s going to be a long ride.”

“ Okay,” he replied. As the night went on, Percy woke up still eager to go on. A few hours later, the waters were ready to ride and his father prepared.

Percy jumped in the moving boat and was ready for an adventure he would never forget. He looked out of the boat, searching for any site of a beluga. Meanwhile, he heard his father shouting at him to look north. There, half a mile away, he saw a white beluga. Above were seagulls flying in circles. The boat raced towards the whale. Then they noticed there were three more belugas.

In order to catch as many as they could, they needed a plan. One after the other, they threw their harpoons at the target. Each of the mammals got hit. It was a great day for the hunters!

As they brought home their trophy, Percy felt courageous. He looked again at his father with pride and said to himself, “Someday, I’ll be like my father.”

And, from then on, Percy Ballot has been a great hunter in our community. From his early childhood, through his adulthood, hunting has always been a driving force in his life, one that he plans to teach the younger generation.

Throughout his life, Ballot devoted himself to everything. He committed his time and effort to gaining an education at Mt. Edgecumbe High School. Although he was a quiet student, he strove to make honor roll. He built his strength as well as his knowledge by participating in basketball.

However, dedicating his love toward his family bonded them together. Hunting with his father brought them closer to each other. Camping alone with his wife, June, gave them an opportunity to freshen their relationship. Being far away from his daughter, who attends Mt. Edgecumbe High School, gave him an open friendship with her, and their love grew stronger.

Today, he gives up his spare time to work for worthy causes. He is on the Regional Federal Subsistence Board and the Northwest Arctic Borough School Board. He is a local school board member. He was president of the Indian Rural Affairs office in his village. He stuck with his goals and accomplished them with self-respect.

Learning the basics of hunting during childhood had an incredible impact on Percy’s life. Knowledge is the power in a successful hunt. Being cautious in certain areas, having the survival skills and preventing accidents makes the hunt more effective.

The Inupiaq Values influenced young Ballot. Respect for nature is vital because he needed to learn how to respect the land and animals before he was able to hunt. In order to be allowed to hunt, he had to work hard. Sharing the carcass of the beluga, caribou and other game with the Elders is another value. While he was young, hunting taught him responsibility

Guiding the younger generation to learn the traditional ways of hunting made Ballot a stalwart teacher. Through his insistence, he begins teaching his sons when they are seven. He taught Bruce, the oldest, and he taught Richard, who is nine years old. Ballot teaches them the values first, then he shows them the basics of hunting.

The students he teaches are always eager to be there when he tells them to meet him at a certain place. They listen and pay attention to every instruction. They become anxious when getting ready to hunt. His own knowledge increases as well as the pupils while he is teaching them.

Ballot believes that hunting affects the past, present and future. He wants to preserve the Native values by giving the young ones knowledge. His plan is to keep them out of drugs and into cultural activities. Through the education of the young, Percy has become a valued resource. Ballot understands the values and importance of hunting while growing up. He is determined to keep this tradition in use throughout his life.End Article

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Preserving the Inupiaq Values
Photo courtesy of Hannah Loon/NANA

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Responsibility to Tribe
Photo courtesy of Noorvik High School

Responsibility to Tribe: Education
Berda Wilson
Chukchi News and Information Service

I consider education a precious gift, especially in rural Alaska, where formal education historically required exceptional efforts to obtain and where distance learning at Alaska’s rural university campuses have allowed me to become an “educated woman” even at my age.

In 1944, when I was 4, my family and I were living in the village of Nuuk, a very small fish camp about 20 miles east of Nome. That year, my dad decided that my older sister and two older brothers would attend school in Nome. I wasn’t old enough to enroll.

Unfortunately, a devastating diphtheria epidemic erupted throughout Nome in 1944, and three of us children contracted this dreaded disease.

My father felt most anxious to leave Nome for the safety of his own children. Finally well enough to travel and considering ourselves fortunate to be alive, we all moved back to Nuuk for the winter.

Three years passed before the family again moved to Nome for school, where my brother and I started first grade together. Glen was 9, I was 7. In those days, many students attended school irregularly, especially if, like our family, they lived off the land with a subsistence way of life.

My siblings and I started school at least six weeks late each fall. We also left six weeks early each spring, if we managed to attend at all. Our family’s main livelihood was fishing. Survival meant working constantly not only to keep our stomachs full, but to stay warm, because wood was our fuel for both heating and cooking.

Life was hard. I dreamed of a college education, even as I struggled to keep up in elementary school in Nome, despite sporadic attendance. Thankfully, our dad taught us at home whenever we could not afford to move to Nome to attend school.

Unfortunately, I was just starting my senior year in 1957 at Nome High School when my college dream vanished with my dad’s death. An old man at age 72, Dad died of a stroke complicated by pneumonia. My father had worked long and hard during his later years of life to raise his young family as a single parent, even when we children did not fully appreciate it.

Scholarships and other financial support for potential college students like me hardly existed in the 1950s, especially not for Native women living in rural Alaska. No one had ever heard of “audioconference” or “distance learning” classes. Rural Alaskans had to be able to move to Fairbanks, Sitka or even the Lower 48 to attend college. Very few, including me, could afford such expense.

“ Life was hard. I dreamed of a college education, even as I struggled to keep up in elementary school in Nome . . . “

In the 1950s and 1960s, a woman in rural Alaska, particularly a Native woman, was expected to marry, raise a family and depend on her husband. Since educational opportunities beyond high school were virtually nonexistent, I took the “easy” way out. I married young, even graduating from high school as a married woman.

I worked for many years as a homemaker, raising a family of four boys and one girl, all the while keeping my dream of attending college alive. When Northwest Community College opened its doors in Nome in the early 1970s, I eagerly began taking classes. Unfortunately, I did not enjoy the support in my previous marriage that I have today with my present husband to attend the local college regularly. As a result, not until the early 1980s, after I remarried, did I begin to vigorously pursue college classes again. By 1986, I had earned a Certificate in Business from Northwest Community College, then continued on for an associate’s degree.

I inched along toward my two year degree while I juggled a full-time job, family responsibilities, classes, homework and housework. In January 1989, I became very ill with an allergic reaction that caused my liver to stop functioning for several days. My education dream again faded as I struggled at first against death, then to regain my health.

As I grew stronger, I thought of college again. I asked myself, “Why am I doing this? Couldn’t I be doing something else that a perhaps would make me happier, even just momentarily, than to attend such grueling college classes?” As I thought about it more, the answer was revealed to me: I desperately wanted a college degree. Sheer persistence kept me going until May 1990, when at age 50, I graduated with an Associate of Applied Science degree with a major in business.

My wonderful husband Steven has proudly attended my graduation ceremonies. Without his untiring support, I would have failed and probably dropped out. This man has cooked, cleaned house and performed any other chore, no matter how menial, to help me achieve my goal.

I plowed right on toward a bachelor’s degree in Rural Development. I cannot let my dream die. I want the personal satisfaction of earning a bachelor’s degree. If I can keep up the pace, I will graduate at the end of Spring semester 1996, at age 56, along with my 26-year-old daughter, Melissa, also a candidate for the same degree. My dream will be realized.

I hope that by fulfilling it that others will be motivated to continue with their educational goals in rural Alaska. I feel that education is the answer for Alaska Natives to meet the challenge of living in two worlds. It is also my sincere hope that I have served as a role model for my daughter, who will serve as a role model in education for other Native women, young and old.End Article


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Last modified October 19, 2006