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

Future King Island Speakers

Chapter 3

Cultural Values as Underlying Rules and Principles

King Island people follow their own cultural values and protocol by family relations. There is a complex set of relation names within the community. This way a child knows exactly where they belong. Children are taught who is who, though it may get confusing while growing up. How can there be multiple grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins upon cousins? Eventually the relations are figured out by the time a child becomes a teenager. The mainstay for the community was "partner cousins and teasing cousins". Cross cousins, who are children of brothers and sisters, are teasing cousins. They are allowed to tease each other only to make others laugh. The children of brothers and the children of sisters are partner cousins. They help each other in everything. Aunts and uncles have different names too. A father's brother is called by a different from a mother's brother. The same is true for aunts; a mother's sister is different from father's sister. Through these extended relations families raised their children as one big family!

The cultural values are integrated right into the lessons. When a mentor or a guide talks to a learner, these values are taught, depending on what is being learned. For example, we are told not to rush in making projects and when mistake are made, learn from them. Respect is very important, especially with elders and "learned individuals". The late elders of King Island, Ursula Ellanna and Margaret Seeganna often spoke of "learned individuals", which meant these were people were experts, whether it was sewing parkas or creating kayaks. Both Ursula and Margaret learned English at a Catholic orphanage at Pilgrim Hot Springs. They both married into the community and learned King Island Inupiaq as young women. They translated for the teachers and the priest when living on the island. Other English-speaking women were sisters of Ursula, Barbra Kokuluk and Theresa Mayac who also helped with translation when it was needed.

Inupiat children are disciplined by example and words of wisdom. I have copied the "Alaska Native Values for Curriculum" from the Alaska Native Knowledge Network website at:

• Show Respect to Others – Each Person Has a Special Gift
• Share what you have - Giving Makes You Richer
• Know Who You Are – You Are a Reflection on Your Family
• Accept What Life Brings - You Cannot Control Many Things
• Have Patience - Some Things Cannot Be Rushed
• Live Carefully – What You Do Will Come Back to You
• Take Care of Others - You Cannot Live without Them
• Honor Your Elders – They Show You the Way in Life
• Pray for Guidance - Many Things Are Not Known
• See Connections - All Things Are Related

These particular Native values show reciprocity in which our traditional culture is based on. Young people learn to reciprocate through sharing work, foods and helping each other out with various projects. The cultural values are the underlying veins behind the lessons.

Strengthening King Island Inupiaq Through Intergenerational Learning and Literacy

The "Ugiuvaŋmiuraaqtuaksrat" Lessons is a "doorway" to study the King Island Inupiaq language. From these lessons, a language learner can seek out fluent speakers and elders as mentors. As mentioned in a booklet called "Guidelines for Strengthening Indigenous Languages" published by the Alaska Native Knowledge Network, in section Three (3) for Aspiring Language Learners. Out of ten guidelines, these are pertinent for the lessons:

"Indigenous language learners must take an active role in learning their heritage language and assume responsibility for the use of that language as contributing members of the family and community in which they live. Language learners can strengthen their heritage language through the following actions:

  1. Seek out a fluent language speaker who is willing to serve as a mentor and make arrangements to work with that person on a continuing basis engaged in language-intensive activities".
  2. Whenever possible, spend time with an Elder speaking the heritage language and practicing proper protocol.
  3. Learn the origins and meanings of words and practices associated with the heritage language" (p. 8).

These actions for the language learners are important in maintaining our traditional language. Their whole Native identity depends on their active role as future fluent traditional speakers.

Educators can help with Inupiaq literacy by providing lessons to speakers and begin documenting their own family histories through writing and others means, such as using media and technology.

In the same booklet as above, there is a fifth guideline for Educators. Out of the ten guidelines, these actions speak to these "Ugiuvaŋmiuraaqtuaksrat" lessons:

"Educators are responsible for providing a supportive learning environment that reinforces the wishes of the parents and community for the language learning of the students in their care. Professional educators can help strengthen the heritage language through the following actions:

  1. Participate in local and regional immersion camps to learn the traditional and cultural ways their meanings in contemporary life.
  2. Create an immersion environment to provide a natural context for language teaching and learning.
  3. For heritage language speakers, acquire reading and writing (literacy) proficiency in the heritage language to serve as model and to be assist students in developing their own literacy skills" (p. 13).

Though most people believe Inupiaq literacy in not important, I strongly believe that letter "c" is very important. It is a way to help not only to perpetuate the language but for people to see it in print. Print creates a powerful image in the minds of curious learners. It creates a statement of identity. In this day and age of technology, it is not hard to develop materials for teaching and learning through various forms of media.

The Hoopa Valley Tribe's language program in California shows how writing can be used for teaching a language effectively. They call it "The Language Proficiency Method". Their belief is that "Writing offers a sequence for presenting new language material, moving from easier to harder forms, and can also be the basis for communication. When writing is included in the program, the teacher can move from speaking to reading and writing, reinforcing concepts with writing" (Bennet et al, 1999, p. 3).

I have taught Inupiaq words using the Language Experience cards to students and adult learners. Language Experience is teaching reading through dictating a child's language. I showed the students the writing system at the beginning of the year and reviewed the letters throughout the year. Every word we learned was written on a word card. The cards were hung up on the classroom walls where all the words became visible for students to repeat, as they got ready to leave for the day.

King Island Inupiaq is an oral and aural language. When Father LaFortune was the priest on the island, he translated the Bible to Inupiaq at the catechism classes. He developed his own writing system from both English and French. He also translated the Catholic songs of the time. He translated many songs from French to Inupiaq. (We still sing them today!)

My personal experience with writing Inupiaq was always wondering how it would look if there were letters for it. While I was in high school, I attended a program called "Upward Bound" at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. It is a program for rural students who have potential to make it in college. One of my classes was Inupiaq language taught by a young woman named Nita Towarak (Sheldon, maiden name). Even though I already spoke Inupiaq I signed up for the class, hoping to finally learn how to write my Native language. Nita introduced herself in Inupiaq and wrote it! She taught us the alphabet and the song that was developed. I had finally begun to learn how to write our guttural sounds, which I often wondered as a child how to write them because those sounds do not exist in English.

Learning Inupiaq Language – a framework

The most ideal situation I can think of right now is returning to King Island to relearn our Inupiaq dialect for a majority of the summer. After spending six days there the summer of 2005, I finally realized that our dialect is from the island. There are words that are used which don't make sense on the mainland (a flat area).

A few years back, at a drug and alcohol abuse conference in Nome, I was listening to a keynote speaker, Dr. Oscar Kawagley over the radio station KNOM. Dr. Kawagley said in his speech that our Native languages come from the land. Our words come the description of the land. Our words for animals come from the noise they make. His speech was so true as I listened to our Elders on King Island. This was the first time I have ever been on the island with Elders who were raised there.

It is one thing to hear and read about a place but it became real when I actually went there. In all my growing up and adult years I have listened to stories about King Island from the people who lived there. It was very special to experience the place with my two elder sisters and others who grew up there. A lifetime of listening and learning Inupiaq came home to me at King Island.

Since I was born and raised in Nome, this learning framework can be adapted elsewhere. After all, my ancestors brought their rich heritage, and language to mainland and passed it on to their children.


These goals are built upon each other, starting with number one.

  1. Inupiuraaġnamik ilitilugit tuiġat.
    "Let people learn the Inupiaq language".
  2. Ili'yangaruat Inupiaqtanik ilituligit.
    "Teach anyone who wants to learn the Inupiaq ways ".
  3. Inupiaqtanik sawaaganik ilitilugit Inupiaqtun qaġnutiluit.
    " Let them learn Inupiaq skills in the language" - e.g. hunting, food preparation, picking, food storage, respect of our land, geography and place names, tanning and preparing skins to sew, sewing skins for boats and kayaks, carving, etc".
    (Science area)
  4. Sutliġaa taiyuzit ilitilugit
    "Have them learn all sorts of things e.g. cultural knowledge, baby language, expressions, memorize words and songs both traditional and contemporary, etc".
    (Humanities area)





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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 April 14, 2009