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

Testimony

Submitted to the
Alaska Natives Commission
in connection with a hearing at

Fairbanks, Alaska
July 18, 1992

ALASKA NATIVES COMMISSION
JOINT FEDERAL-STATE COMMISSION
ON
POLICIES AND PROGRAMS AFFECTING ALASKA NATIVES
4000 Old Seward Highway, Suite 100
Anchorage, Alaska 99503

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Witness List | Exhibit List | PDF Version

 

Native Education Issues

 

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Native Education Panel, and we have several panelists. And if you'd give us your name, we'll get started, and welcome.

MS. JACKSON: My name is Angela Jackson from Gulkana. Good morning. I am very honored to speak to you on behalf of my people from the Ahtna Region. I was born and raised in Gulkana, Alaska. I attended Gulkana Elementary --

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Angela, I'm sorry. I don't mean to interrupt you, and it's rude, and I understand; but I've had people wave in the back that they can't hear. Maybe if you could switch to that mike, it might be helpful, and --

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: The other -- one microphone -- upper mike.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: I'm sorry, Angela. If you're more comfortable, start over if you'd like.

(TESTIMONY OF ANGELA JACKSON ATTACHED AS EXHIBIT #2)
(Applause)

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Next, we'd like to welcome Rose Isaac.

MS. ISAAC: Good morning. My name is Rose Isaac; I'm from Tanacross. I also would like to say that I am a member of the Interior Education Council has 13 members, six of them are from the Tanana Chiefs area, rather the whole Tanana Chiefs Region, six from the Policy Advisory Council from the University of Alaska Regional Centers on a statewide level. We also have one elder and one student.

I am honored to be here to give my testimony. Our ancestors, through us and through our children, have given us a tribal way of life, a tribal way of living, and a tribal way of thinking, which we must and we will continue to teach to all our children. As people from Western culture introduce to, or impose upon, Alaska’s tribal people a systems of their ways, Alaska Natives have had to learn the social, economic, political, and technical skills of the non-Native forum as well. Increasingly, competitive job markets; new and useful technologies; and the political, social, and spiritual challenges tribal people face today, require us to learn more skills for our survival than ever before.

Because of the sacred importance of our ancestry, and because of the circumstances of our history, each Native student must learn the lessons and skills of two worlds and two cultures; but are our educational systems teaching us what we need to know to survive as a tribal people in a multi-cultural society? Are our educational systems using appropriate methods of instruction, which are sensitive to how we learn; methods which allow each Native student to access their individual potential? And are our educational systems motivating Native students toward standards of excellence? Academic centers which produce Native graduates, whose skills allow them to compete on equal footing with their non-Native peers?

These are serious questions which call to task the institutions and individuals of the educational system, who hold substantial power; and through their actions, significantly influence the quality of education for Native students. School districts, school boards, the presidents of post-- secondary institutions, Board of Regents, and a State Legislature all make decisions which directly affect what our children will be taught, how they are taught, and what educational standards will be acceptable.

The Alaskan pre-conference participants of the White House Conference on Indian Education strongly voiced recommendations which recognize the fact that no singular institution or a singular individual can be expected to adequately provide the range to services needed to effectively educate and prepare Native students for the realities of today's society. Only through a close partnership between our educational institutions and Native parents, families, tribes, and Native organizations can the real educating our Native students be accomplished. The recommendations of the pre-conference participants called for the doors of our educational institutions to open widely and allow for Native participation at every level of the educational process.

Local school districts exercise substantial influence relative to move every aspect of our children's education. The number one priority relative to school district personnel issues continues to be the need to incorporate qualified Native people into the staff in the public school at every job level-In Alaska, the Governor's Commissions of Children and Youth in 1988 reported that, and I quote:

"Native children make up a significant proportion of many Native bodies throughout the state; but few, if any, Native teachers, counselors, or staff are hired to provide role and cultural models."

We need more Alaska Native and American Indian teachers. Many Natives do not possess the degrees or certification requirements that these positions require; but they offer the cultural understanding vital for Native young people to succeed in school, and for non-Natives to understand Native cultures.

In 1988, one of the most frequent recommendations heard by the Governor's Interim Commission on Children and Youth from Native youth was the need for more Native teachers, counselors, and other role models. There are many teachers who simply do not fit, are not committed to Native values, and through their own individual emphasis, knowingly or unknowingly, demean Native students.

Most teachers alienate themselves from the village and Native community and do little more than collect a sizable income. This is not acceptable, it is not cost-effective, and it is not education, and it has a devastating affect on our Native children.

All incoming district personnel should be carefully screened, and only the best should be recruited to serve in our school. School districts should utilize local Native advisory boards to determine what special qualities in teachers, superintendents, principals, and staff are valued by parents and students.

Recruitment efforts should extend nationally to hire educationally -- institutions which have a focus on cross-cultural training of educators. Local Native advisory boards should be actively involved in each viewing and selection of the district staff that will teach our children.

The pre-conference participant recommend that all districts re-exam curricula to promote and incorporate relevancy for Alaska Native students. Basic academic skills must be presented within the environmental and cultural realities of the student. Materials and text must reflect the realities of the Native student's life around him or her. The school environment must reflect and validate the importance of the Native cultures to motivate students to learn. What is learned must have a high correlation to practical application of the community and world in which they -- we live.

Likewise, school districts are asked by the pre-conference participants to seriously consider the immediate and expanded inclusion of Native elders as invaluable resource persons and partners in the development of curriculum materials for Native students, and their active involvement in implementing the appropriate aspects of the curriculum in a classroom, along with school teachers. Many of our elders will no longer be with us after the next 25 years. When they leave, a large portion of our language and cultures will leave with them. Elders have always played a central roll in educating Native children. What they know, and what they have to teach, belongs in our children's classrooms.

Another recommendation strongly made was that the school districts support the mandate for Native studies and Native languages to be taught right in our schools. It is imperative that all schools in Alaska integrate Native values, skills development, and languages in all subject areas taught. Cultural values and ideas, as well as a need (indiscernible) of thoughts expressing our languages cannot be reserved for isolated special presentation, or as an add-on class. They must be integrated into the curriculum of every course -- math, reading, writing, history, geography, science -- every text course; and they must be taught at all pre-schools, elementary, and secondary levels, using developmentally appropriate practices.

Our teachers and our schools must be geared towards and focus their attention and efforts on our (indiscernible) students. Schools must incorporate mechanisms and provide appropriate staffing to focus their efforts throughout the school day on the needs of our (indiscernible) population of students. Schools must-no longer re-victimize our Native students, whose home situations are less than functional, by presenting them with inappropriate curriculums and environments that do not acknowledge their special learning needs or respect-their Native values, and expect them to learn. Many of our Native children (indiscernible) come to the classroom from dysfunctional environments, with intense psychological impact, which many times must be addressed, in order that learning can take place. School districts must develop close partnership with state and tribal agencies, which must provide health and social services, along with tribal courts, which exercise their jurisdiction on child welfare matters under the Indian Child Welfare Act.

Our state educational system must be fundamentally restructured to ensure that all students can meet higher standards. Our schools must on results, not just on procedures. There must be powerful incentives for teacher performance and improvement, and real consequences for persistent teacher failure. Gifted, creative, and sensitive teachers must be recruited; and more teachers who reflect our cultural richness must be trained and utilized. Our parents need to have access to training, which allows them to become active partners with the teachers and our schools. For many Native parents who were separated from their families to attend BIA schools, or for the parents of our children today who grew up in dysfunctional families themselves, this access to training is imperative, if they are to fulfill their role in the educational partnership. Teachers and school district staff must work in close partnership with state and trial social service agencies to assist parents to become effective partners their children's education.

School districts should seriously consider utilizing partners from the social service agencies to teach parenting skills as part of their health curriculum, so we can prepare our Native students -- our future parents. The schools must, keep their doors open for public access by expanding community school services for parents to use math and reading labs. Schools must change negative attitudes towards parents about not being involved in the education of their children We need to educate parents about rights and responsibilities, and establish policies locally, so parents can feel and are active partners in education. School boards must set aside their political agendas, must educate themselves to the dynamics of youth address, and must have the courage to accept and support the fundamental changes in our schools that are desperately needed, for student address could come to our classrooms with a need to learn.

To prepare school boards for this complex task, funding must be made available by Department of Education for school board training appropriate for Native villages and urban areas. School board members should be a role model for students by being alcohol and drug free, because students and parents need to see school board members, teachers, administrators, counselors, and any other staff as positive role models.

The University of Alaska system plays a major role in the education of Alaska Native children. The UA system educates our teachers and provides educational systems with research on Alaska-related issues. Alaska Native students seeking higher-education degrees attend the UA system.

For these reasons, conference participants discussed the following needs and recommendations: retention of med (ph.) students in the AU system must be a priority. It is only by completing graduation requirements that many of our young people will be able to return to their Native communities to fill positions requiring higher degrees. Plans must continue to increase counseling services and academic support services for Native students in the UA system-Support for mentorship programs involving Native leaders in the private sector was also expressed. Relevant university programs, which focus on strengthening Native cultures; for example, Native languages and history courses are needed, as well as courses to help teachers work effectively with Native children relative to social issues, such as child abuse, neglect, and suicide prevention. The universities need courses that prepare teachers for multi-cultural Alaska Native learning styles, and cross-cultural communication. Graduate research programs need to focus on issues which will benefit Native people. The conference participants also suggested the creation of tribal colleges within the state of Alaska.

The UA system must have high standards and expectations for Native students and must emphasize quality academic preparation.

Native students must be encouraged to reach high goals; that is, to become lawyers, statesmen, authors, professors, anything; and receive instruction and academic counseling that prepares them for graduate and post-graduate candidacy. The Board of Regents and president of the university system should work in close partnership with regional profit and nonprofit Native organizations to assure that their institution will provide relevant training and student support services for Alaska's future Native leaders.

I realize I'm going overtime.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: May -- if you would, Rose, I'd appreciate it if you might summarize, and then we'd like to hear from Reva as well. Thank you.

MS. ISAAC: Okay. I'll summarize the rest.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Please.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: We will receive your paper, however, if you wish, gladly; because I think you have some very good stuff in there that we want to have in full.

MS. ISAAC: Finally, the Statelegislature has an all-encompassing responsibility to ensure that any services that they propose, and any statutes they development, will coordinate with, and provide effective linkage to, the state' s educational institutions. All State programs and services must be part of the education partnership: health and social services, public safety programs, economic development projects, and State policies which encourage tribal empowerment and local control all increase the feeling of ownership and participation, which is needed to develop effective partnerships.

These legislators need to hear and respond to the needs of Native people. They must hold accessible hearings on issues that affect Native people in rural areas, so legislators will be educated about rural issues. When appointing individuals to conventions and boards, they must appoint Native people to speak for themselves and for our own needs. Adequate funding for school districts must be provided to ensure quality education is provided in every part of the state. The State Legislature should mandate Native studies and Native languages in our schools. Recently, Representative Georgianna Lincoln had introduced House Bill 352, which, unfortunately, died in the Senate Finance Committee. Hopefully, she or another legislator will reintroduce a similar bill.

Our language needs to be caught in our schools. (Speaking in Native language.) Tell me, exactly what did I tell you? What did I say? You don't know. I have to sit here and give my testimony to you in your language. Why should I do that? Why does any of us have to do that? Why did I have to come clear to Fairbanks to testify? Why didn't you come to my hometown? Why didn't you come to Tok? Why don't you go to Glennallen? Pick a regional central location and go there. Don't give me this excuse of no funding. You were appointed there to listen to me, and my people, and our needs. I challenge you to go out there to the villages. We are very, very much alive; and by God, we are interested in what is happening.

I will not finish the rest of my -- I do have some questions for you. What -- who appointed you, and after you hear our testimony, where are you going to go with it? Are you going to put it in the big book? What did you do with the book?

UNIDENTIFIED SPEAKER: Oh, it's over there.

MS. ISAAC: The Governor had formed a task force committee, and they came up with this big, gigantic book. I'm not sure -- other than people are reading it, and looking at their research -- I'm not sure what's going to happen now. What are we going to do about the educational system that is existing in Alaska today? There is such a high dropout rate. There's such a high suicide rate, especially in our villages. What can we do to put a stop to this? Where are we going to go from here? Are you just going to listen to me, my testimony and other people, write your little whatever, and then what? What's going to happen five years from now? Ten years from now? In 1989, according to this research we have, had such a low, low scores in our schools. The people in those areas, the regional board, need to open their eyes and wake up to the fact of what is happening to our children in our schools. Don't look at the schools. Don't look at the teachers -- I mean, don't look at the students and say:

"The student can't learn."

The student can learn. I know that. So what is happening here? Whose fault is it? I'm willing to sit here and point my finger, not only to the teachers, but to the regional boards as well. The regional boards did not put themselves there. They were elected there. So are the advisor school boards.

In Tanacross, I sat on that advisor's school board. And there again, our IOWA basic test scores were low. I said:

"Okay, we’re going to do something about this. Goal number one, there's going to be changes made in the school. Maybe it will not be happy change for some people, but it's going to be made."

The next thing that our advisors' school board did was mess with Village Council and request of their help. If a student was missing school for so many days, we want to know why; and if it's beyond our hands, then we refer it back to the tribal council, and requested that they meet and talk with the parent. The test results is going up a little bit. It'll take time for us to see a satisfactory change. But this are the stuff that we need to do. The things that we are there for as advisor school boards, as a regional school board member, as parents, as a community person, clear up to the level of the University of Alaska Board of Regents. We need to open our eyes and look at what is happening. Why is our students failing? Is this a student? No, I don't think it's a student. Any child can learn if there's a right, motivated person there; a right teacher; a teacher who cares. And you don't have that. We'll still be where we are today 20 years from now, and everybody's talking about the year 2,000:

"We need to have our language taught in the schools by the year 2,000."

Forget the year 2,000. What about right now? Why not this year? Why not this September? You need to listen to the people. I didn't come up here, talking about Rose Isaac, and what I think I see is wrong, and what I think I want to see changed. I've talked to 50, 75 people by telephone, in person, before I came here today. I'm talking for all of them, and my people are saying, requesting, demanding that our language be taught in our schools. And don't give me the story about:

"Oh, people from Tanana speak a different dialect from people in Northway, or Tetlin, or Tanacross."

I know that. But we also have our own individual speakers. Each and every one of our own villages have some person in that village can speak that language fluently. So that is another excuse I will not listen to. Another thing I will not listen to is lack of funding.

I realize I've went quite a bit over my time, and I appreciate it; but I will leave you with one final challenge. I'd like to extend an invitation to you to visit the villages, pick a central location; come to Tok. I can make arrangements for people as far away as Copper River to come. Or, if you choose, Glennallen. I'm sure people from my area will go to Glennallen. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Thank you, Rose.
(Applause)

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: We next would like to hear from Reva Shircel, who is with the Tanana Chiefs Education Department. Reva, and we welcome you as well.

MS. SHIRCEL: Thank you. I appreciate -- is it on? Is this a good.

UNIDENTIFIED VOICE: That one's on. If you want to (indiscernible).

MS. SHIRCEL: I appreciate the opportunity to be here this morning -- or this afternoon, with the members of the Alaska Natives Commission at your Fairbanks hearings. I would like to take the opportunity to share with you just a few of our concerns about some of the issues we face here within the Interior of Alaska. I think you will find that some of our concerns about education may be similar to the concerns of other tribes and other places within Alaska and throughout the country.

It is time for us who are involved in the educational system in Alaska to change the system and to make it relevant for Alaska Native students. Alaska Natives and Native American people have always focused on living in harmony and finding bounds within their environment. In many ways, we have been masters at adaptation. The Alaska Native people have been adapting to the Western European education system for a long time now. As a people, where has this system gotten us? The Alaska suicide rate is twice the average; and, among Natives, it is twice that. Among Native males aged 20 to 24, it is 13 times that. Two-thirds of Native suicides involve alcohol. Many Native families are dysfunctional because of racism, alcohol, and drug abuse, incarceration, and conflicts between traditional cultures and new ways.

It is estimated that the university loses 60 percent of the Native students between the freshman and sophomore year. They are poorly prepared academically. Our high school dropout rates, especially in the urban areas, sometimes reaches above the 60 percent level. According to the hearings of the White House Conference on Indian Education, Indian National at Risk, and the Quality Education for Minorities Project, hearings that TCC has testified at in the past, education has been described as being a bittersweet experience for Natives and American Indians. It is helpful to deal with the new times, but it also drives a wedge between the traditional and the new. The Alaska Natives have had to live in two worlds, two cultures. When this educational system was introduced to us years ago, our students subsequently had to also learn to live in two cultures, two ways of life. New ideas, new technologies, a faster way of life of the one culture have conflicted with the values and traditions of the Native culture. We have tried our best to adapt in our individual ways, the best of each culture. In spite of the fact that many of today's Alaska Natives must adapt their skills to the demands of the job market, we recognize that we must also have a solid knowledge of our language and culture, in order to survive as a proud people.

In the interest of time, and since Rose did such an outstanding job of testifying on behalf of the type of curriculum that we need, the course development, and the staff orientation, I will overlook my portions of my report on that.

The bottom line on education is: Do Alaska schools prepare Native students for life? And, again, according to the 1988 report of the Governor' s Commission on Children and Youth, preparing youth for life is everyone's business; but schools have a special role. A Native elder observed hat the best survival kit a person has is their mind. All community resources help create this survival kit, especially the schools. Young people's health and ability to stay healthy affect how well they learn in and out of school. As young people grow, the degree to which they have mastered life skills, such as knowing how to make friends and resist peer pressure, the difference between normal blues and serious depression, ways of being naturally high, or how to resolve conflicts with parents and others can determine whether they become casualties or take advantage of their opportunities. Educating the whole child means that life skills are as basic as language, as math. Parenting skill classes are now taught in some of Alaska's 55 school districts, and curriculum that integrates skills for living within a critical thinking approach is not available anywhere. Yet it is clear that the ability to make good life decisions and future plans, resist peer pressure, learn new skills for adapting to changing job markets, and understand the demand and qualities of successful parenting are among the most important new basics in our children's education. They are the basics of the future, no less important than the traditional three Rs. As Native people, we need to stem the tide of the overwhelming statistics. Teachers and counseling staff, working in conjunction with elders and other local natural helping networks, are needed to both assist students and their parents, and to teach the children in their classrooms the skills necessary to break the multi-generational effects of many of the problems which, in the end, will affect the students’ abilities to learn.

In closing, let me leave you with one thought. I do not believe that there is a single Native student in any school in this state who has failed or is failing. They're our children; they are in our care. For many reasons, the educational system in Alaska is failing. It is failing in its responsibilities to teach and educate. It is our responsibility as parents, as educators, and as community members to work together to make the changes necessary to educate and prepare our children for life and for the future of Alaska. Here in Alaska, as elsewhere throughout the country, we must take the responsibility for the welfare of our children. We must work together to change the educational system.

To focus on the statement that Alaska Native or American Indian children are failing is once again victimizing our children who may already be the victims of an inadequate and insensitive educational system. Our children aren't failing. It is our schools that are failing; and it is us as parents, educators, community members, and Native leaders who mast make the changes for an education system that would be relevant today for our children who will be the leaders of tomorrow. Thank you very much for listening.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Thank you, ladies.
(Applause)

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Let me just say I think that was very insightful. It's some very serious and challenging questions; some very welcome thoughts on what needs to be done. I'll reserve my questions. Beverly, is the chairman of the Educational Panel; and I think what both Ed and I should do is defer to her, 'cause she is the individual Commission member who is going to be chairing the Education Panel, so ....

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Before you ask any questions, I want to just find out is there anybody else in the audience who wanted to be heard on this Education Panel before we go on?

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: [Poldine Carlo] in the back.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Should we --

MS. [CARLO]: I am [Poldine Carlo]. I went to school --

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: [Poldine], you're welcome to have a seat here if you'd like.

MS. [CARLO]: That's okay. I went to school -- (interrupted to move to a microphone.) My name is [Poldine Carlo]. I was born and raised at Nulato; that's on the Yukon River. I went to school at a Catholic school; and talking about Indian language, I always hear people saying:

"I got beat up,"
or
"I got slapped, because I spoke my language in school,"

and the BIA and the missionaries are always feeling blamed for that. I was not once slapped in school; but I can remember out when I was going to school, because when you go to school, you are going to school to learn English, arithmetic, your writing, and reading. Therefore, you are not expected to talk your Indian language while you are going to school, because you already know your language. When I got married, I had eight children. I can speak my language real well. never taught my kids my language. I don't know why that was. I never gave it a thought. It would have been terrible if my grandmother was living, because my grandmother couldn't speak English, and my kids couldn't speak the Native language. There would have been no communication, but I'm not blaming this on anyone but myself. It is my responsibility to see to it that my kids speak my language. I don't expect anyone to teach my kids the Indian language. It is up to the parents to see to it that their kids, if they can speak the language, to teach their kids. I have a friend here in town that had about 16 children. All her kids speak her language. Even her little three-year-old grandchildren could speak to her, so that proves that you don't have to turn to anyone to teach your kids your language. It's your own fault if your kids don't speak your language. That's all I have to say. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Thank you very much, [Poldine].
(Applause)

MR. MADROS: Good afternoon, panel. My name is Patrick Madros. I serve on the Yukon/Taku School District Regional Board.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Spell your last name for me, will you please?

MR. MADROS: M-A-D-R-O-S.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Thank you, sir.

MR. MADROS: I’ll be testifying twice today. This is my -- you asked for an open invitation to education, and I feel I've been on the board nine years, and I'm well versed in this field, and if I just sit there and not say something, I think that it would be not right for me to say something. First of all, you got to realize the value of the education has to be taught in the home. The value of education has to be a value this is taught in the home; and I repeat that because we so busily beat up on the regional school boards; we beat up on everybody else that's involved with education; but if the values that make things happen are not being taught from the parents; and if you look at what's happening with the Native language, for instance, I always say it has to be taught in the home.

And you ask yourself where all these regional school members come from. They're elected to that position by the people that are in the community. They're not, people that come from all over, or different people that are involved with -- coming in from the -- appointed by the Governor, or whatever. They're elected on the communities that serve on these boards; and if you look at where education has come from in the last 20 years when (indiscernible) incorporated, you only had about, five people who had a college degree. I was a young man then. I had to go to the college -- I mean, go to the dictionary to find out what a corporate shareholder was. I didn't know what a shareholder was. But our education system has taken, in the last 30 years, to take 500 years to catch up to where we're going. And right now I know of over a hundred people that have degrees right now that -- whereas, their grandparents or their parents don' t have college degrees. In education, in mining, and social services, the LPs that are co -- registered nurses, I mean, that are coming out. We have a lot of people that are succeeding. You're not hearing about these people. We're hearing about the one or the few that fall through the cracks; and when you turn a society over in a 30-year -- in one lifespan, you're going to have people that fall through the cracks.

And economically, we were used to a subsistence lifestyle; and economically, all of a sudden we're in a cash-flow entity. I remember the days when there was only one barge in the spring, one barge in the fall, and maybe one plane in a month that came to Kaltag. I remember when the first generator in 1955 was pulled up the banks in Kaltag, and that was the first electricity we ever had. The only outside communication we had with society at that time was the State radio that worked on 3201 or 3211.

We've come to now where my kids expect running water and sewer in the house, have a television there, have a telephone. To them, that's things that were there when they were born, so that's not a privilege like I look at it. To them, that's necessary. In order to keep these things, we got to have an economy that's going to sustain it. We don't have the economy out there, because the State agencies we fight with: Department of Fish, and all the other ones.

So, when you sit down there and you start beating up on Department -- on education, it's not only responsibility on the educational board, it's the responsibility of the parents. The bottom line of the failing of the education system is on the parents because we let it happen. And until we realize that that' s where all our failure is, from values of the home, and values as parents to teach education, we're never going to change our society.

But at the same time, too, we have to look at the positives that have happened in 30 years. Where have we come from? We have people that are running organizations, such as Mr. Thomas; and all the other people that have the knowledge to do it, where 30 years.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Thank you, Mr. Madros.
(Applause)

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Beverly?

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Beverly, you have any questions of the panel members?

COMMISSIONER MASEK: Yes, I do have some questions. First, I'd like to address this question to Angela Jackson regarding your education and your abilit -- you stressed the fact that you needed more Native teachers, and that you had a hard time with the diversity with the non-Native and the Native; and I'd like to know, how would it be better if you were to have Native teachers, and maybe what would you like to do to change that? How would it affect you now if you were able to be educated with a Native teacher and to have, in other words, what I'm trying to direct a question at is you had a problem working and going to school with the non-Native kids, and you didn't feel well at it. What can be done to make those changes?

MS. JACKSON: I would feel more comfortable if there were more Athabascan taught. Just like beading classes and things like that in elementary school. And when you have a Native teacher, when you're learning from a Native teacher, it seemed like to me you could relate more; and plus you look at them as a role model, and you want to be that way, and you want to graduate, and you want to go to college. I think it's important that we have Native teachers in our schools. I've only seen -- right now we only have one Native teacher in our whole school district; and I keep hearing that all the time. We don't have anybody in our whole school district. We had one Native person on our school board; and out of those two, that was all the Native people in our whole school district. I think it would be good to have more Native people in our school district, so we could look at them as role models.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Can I jump in here with a quick question?

COMMISSIONER MASEK: Yes, you may.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Have you experienced a problem that those people from your area who are able to break through the system and get a higher education, won't come back and teach there? They go into the cities, and they go Outside? Can you -- if we can teach, if we can educate and foster the careers of Native people to become teachers, will they go back to the villages and teach there? And, if not, is there something we can do to encourage them to do it?

MS. JACKSON: Well, myself, I'm going toward a business degree, and I really want to help my people; and I'm coming back to them, because that's the way I feel about it. And I think if the Native leaders in our community spoke to the kids going to school and telling them that we need them to come back, maybe they will. But I know that I am, because I want to.

COMMISSIONER MASEK: Well, I guess I should say in this respect then, with your -- what you told us today is that you had a problem, you felt uncomfortable working with the non-Natives, or being with the non-Native; and I feel, through my own experience, that I think you have to take the challenge and try to work at certain goals; and especially if you're going to be wanting to go back and help, that all the experience you get will be really good for you, and so that's all the questions I have for you.

MS. JACKSON: Thank you.

COMMISSIONER MASEK: And, Rose, I have a question for you. You were speaking a lot about the Native values; and I'd like to know exactly what Native values you want to emphasize on in the education part of the schools, and how will it help?

MS. ISAAC: What do you mean, the Native values --

COMMISSIONER MASEK: Yes.

MS. ISAAC: -- in the educational system?

COMMISSIONER MASEK: Yes, in the educational system, and how will it help the Native students to --

MS. ISAAC: I think most of our Native people, just like the question you asked Angela over here, I dealt with that when I first went to Tok's high school. The feeling of not being accepted, and knowing that in the Native value, we accept all individuals, regardless of who or what they are, and gives each and every one of us -- we have our own self-esteem. If you don't have self-esteem, then ou will not succeed or accomplish anything you set out to do. You must have self-esteem. One of the most valuable values that I've learned about my culture is self-esteem, self-worth. Are we losing that today? Sometimes I wonder if that is why there is such a high rate of suicide, because we really need to have self-esteem. Self-esteem, I have no way of explaining what self-esteem is in my language. However, it's there. We respect each other. We don't ever look down on anyone, whether because they're poor, or for whatever reason. We respect everyone. We were taught to respect everyone. And I think if we put that into our school system -- I'm not sure how that can be done, because, there again, it must come from the home. Your parents are -- you are what you are because of how you were taught. What did your parents beach you? And if you're if the parents could just teach everyone to respect everyone, I don't think we'd even have prejudice in our schools. Does that answer your question?

COMMISSIONER MASEK: Yes, it does, thank you. And I have a question for you, Reva. I'd like to know what dc you want to find in the balance and the system? You were talking about finding ways to -- what your concerns were in regards to balancing the system. What kind of ideas, or what type of topics did you want to address to this Commission?

MS. SHIRCEL: Well, I think right now we have a lot of the young people in a great deal of quandary right now; and there's a lot of them are totally out of balance. We have been living with the knowledge that some of our kids have started drinking at the age of eight; and by the time they're 16 and 17, they're just totally, totally out of whack. And I've taken care of a couple of young people like that, so I'm real familiar with kids that are just totally out of balance; and it's a painful thing for me to observe. And I see that, or hear stories on a daily basis on kids who are wanting something more than they're getting right now.

And it's a hope that I have that the kids will start to be able to learn academics subjects; learn their English, their math, so that they're masters at it, and that there would be somebody there to counsel them if they have personal problems; that there would be someone available to tudor them in order that they would become more adept at learning their academic subjects; and there should be someone there to tell them exactly where they came from, what their history is, and someone to talk to them, so that -- on a daily basis -- about their future goals.

I think, when you have a person that finds the value within themselves, that person has to be pretty knowledgeable about things that they have to be knowledgeable about. In this case, school work. For example, if you graduate from high school, you should have earned that diploma; and as far as them finding out what their roots are, they should be taught their language; they should be given their cultural aspects of their life. It's their right. And I think that they would probably feel a lot more in balance if all these things came together; and if we all made a coordinated effort to ensure that happens for every child.

COMMISSIONER MASEK: Okay. Thank you, Reva. I'd like to make one closing comment in regard to Pat and Pauline's statement about the education should begin at home; and I think this is a really a number-one factor in starting the child off is at home and should begin at an early age, and teach them responsibility somehow. And this is one of the most important things, that it starts out, it's a beginning, and it has to go in the right direction.

This is my closing comment, and I sure appreciate hearing that. Thank you.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Let me also just make an observation. I think that education, of course, is probably the cornerstone, without a doubt, of society; and particularly in our state, a young state, emerging state. We see, from listening to the panelists in their years of experience in this, I've gleaned several things. Number one, it's very obvious we need more Native teachers. In some sectors of the state, I think we’re making some improvement. Maybe not enough, but there is some improvements being made. Young Native students are graduating, and when given the opportunity, are returning to their school districts to become role models and teachers, and helping the economy. The problem I think we've had in the past is we've tried to recruit teachers from the Lower 48, and then aculturate (ph.) them to what it means to live in a village, and sometimes we're successful, and sometimes we're not so successful, 'cause it is a marked transition from Chicago to Tuntutuliak; and if that teacher is comfortable and happy there, you may have a decent result, until they decide to go back to where they're more accustomed. So getting Native teachers, or local teachers, I think is a very appropriate goal.

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: I was thinking, Morrie, in ways perhaps of creating additional incentives. There will be people like Angela who are idealistic and will do this out of their own desire; but there are economic incentives. You can, for instance, give people student loans with a commitment that part of it' or all of it, will be forgiven if they go back to their home base, instead of going someplace else. So I was thinking in terms of those kind of recommendations, because it seems quite clear from what we've heard here that there's two underlying themes.

One, Native students feel like they're a excluded minority in our school systems, because their culture is being ignored; their language is not being taught, and even discouraged; and I agree that you have to teach it in the home, but you can’t have a confrontation between the home and the school. If you speak in your own Native language at home, you should be able to use it in the school; because, otherwise, the children are going to have a conflict. They're going to say:

"Well, why -- what is it -- what's wrong with my Native language which I hear at home, if I'm not allowed, or not encouraged to use it in the school?"

I think that both have to concentrate on that. And that's important.

And more Native teachers and counselors are needed. And there has to be -- obviously, in these rural school districts, the monetary situation is such that there isn't always enough money to go around, and so you have to create incentives to people to go back there. In addition to their original idealism, which may be there in many cases, it also must be made attractive to them economically to do that. And one of the way to do it is to maybe underwrite all or part of their education in turn for their commitment to go back.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: Just a final observation, when we talk about education, we need to also focus on our urban communities, because we have many Native students. Some say Anchorage and Fairbanks are our largest Native villages, and we see, as Reva pointed out, some very alarming statistics. Well over 50 to 60 percent of the students in these public institutions in the public area -- in the larger urban areas are dropping out of school. That's just unacceptable, and cannot be tolerated as public policy; and we need to look through and figure out what the causes are -- and I'm sure there are many -- but that we just cannot accept those numbers; and any society can't accept that great of dropout of students from their institutions.

And then, finally, I do serve on the Board of Regents. We've put a lot of time into trying to get more students -- Native students -- collectively through the system. Sometimes we stumble. Sometimes we're our own worst enemies; and, many times, we are successful. So, I wanted to comment that there is a great push, I think, by many that are trying to increase those numbers and increase those statistics; but we have a long way to go.

It's now 1:08, and it's supposed to be --

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: 12 o'clock (laughing).

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: -- 11:40. What I think we'll do, if it's okay with the Commission is maybe take a 15-minute at-ease; and I feel like Marie Antoinette, in that old classic --

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: Let them eat cake?

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: -- we're going to sneak away and eat cake, and the poor audience is going to sit here and say:

"All you plutocrats are eating while we're starving. "

But Ed can share his sandwich, and --

COMMISSIONER BOYKO: I'll share my sandwich with anyone who wants.

COMMISSIONER THOMPSON: We all will. (Off record at 1:08 p.m.)


This document was ocr scanned. We have made every attempt to keep the online document the same as the original, including the recorder's original misspellings or typos. Out of respect for an Elder, I did correct the spelling of Poldine Carlo.

 

 
 

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Last modified May 11, 2011