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



Since the beginning of human existence on our world indigenous people have lived with the seasons and demonstrated an awareness of the necessity for balance and harmony in nature. According to Kawagley (1995), "Attitude was thought to be as important as action, therefore one was to be careful in thought and action so as not to injure another's mind or offend the spirits of the animals and surrounding environment". Fienup-Riordan (1990), Freeman & Carbyn (1988), and Locust (1988) reported that Native myths, rituals, and ceremonies have always been consistent with their relationship to each other and to their environment (cited in Kawagley, 1995). And so it is that many of the games played by Native people tell stories of their struggle to succeed and survive in the environment in which they live.

For thousands of years the Native elders have shared with their families and communities a rich oral history of experiences in a harsh environment. They taught their children that everything is interconnected in nature. Merculieff (1990) stated that "each affects the other, and it is this intimate knowledge of their environment that has allowed these people to survive for hundreds of generations. Their world is interdependent of man, animal, plants, water, and earth - a total picture". It is seen as a circle. Games of agility, strength, balance, endurance, and dexterity, helped Native people to be better able to cope with their environment, whether the purpose is for subsistence, or just passing time during the long Arctic winters.

Harvey (1991), Yupiktak Bista (1974), and Yarber & Madison (1986) discussed the fact that Native people have for countless generations fished, hunted, and survived in various parts of Alaska. Native people were able to live a subsistence life style because they had knowledge about the environment in which they lived. They then passed this information on to each successive generation. The Native people could identify and name plants, insects, animals, and other elements of their environment. They took a moral obligation to learn, understand, pay attention, and respond. Learning was a part of living. It occurred in the home, village, and new environments. Learning was the responsibility of every family member. Each individual contributed to the process of learning in one way or another. Learning was not forced, it just happened naturally.

Qualities important to Athabaskan native people were honesty, truthfulness, physical strength, the ability to listen and observe as a way to understand, a willingness to learn, and helpfulness towards others (Yarber & Madison, 1986). Kawagley (1995) stated that the sharing of food, thought, and service, helped Yupiaq people to develop and maintain strong family ties. Sewing, preserving foods, cooperation, and working together are important skills Native people also possessed. The children were provided an opportunity to learn how to hunt, fish, build dwellings and sleds, sew clothing, and many other skills in order to survive.

Peter John, an Athabaskan elder living in Minto, Alaska, is referenced in his biography as stating that "he learned best how to do things by watching other people" (Yarber & Madison, 1986). His quote in that writing is as follows: "You got to try to make things. If you can't do it on your own, you just have to see how the other people are doing it. By looking and listening. It's the way we understand". He made his snowshoes, sled, poling boat, and canoe. Trapping was a part of his life style. Rotation of his traplines was important so the animals were not hunted to extinction. His children learned trapping and hunting by working with him.

The younger generation of Native people may be lacking in the knowledge of those who lived in times past, and they may not fully appreciate the difficulty of trying to survive, like their elders. When viewed in terms of America's current social-technological-environmental path, creating opportunities for Native people to learn about their culture and history becomes increasingly difficult. However, as a society, it is the writer's opinion that we have an ethical and moral obligation to assist Native people in this endeavor. One way of creating an opportunity for contemporary Native people to learn more of their culture and history is through support and active participation in the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics (WEIO), Arctic Winter Games (AWG), and the Native Youth Olympics (NYO). It is for the purpose of providing updated and current information to Native people, educators, and other interested parties, regarding WEIO, AWG, and NYO activities, that this paper is being written.





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Alaska Native Knowledge Network
University of Alaska Fairbanks
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Fairbanks  AK 99775-6730
Phone (907) 474.1902
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Last modified August 14, 2006