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Yup'ik RavenOur Language Our Souls:

The Yup'ik bilingual curriculum of the
Lower Kuskokwim School District: A continuing success story.

Edited by Delena Norris-Tull, University of Alaska Fairbanks,
School of Education, Fairbanks, Alaska
copyright 1999

Chapter 8
Yup'ik Language and Culture:
A Description of the 5th - 12th Yup'ik Curriculum and its Revision
By Rosalie Lincoln
Toksook Bay, Alaska
Copyright 1998


The Lower Kuskokwim School District (LKSD) has a mission of integrating the Yup'ik and Western ways of teaching its students their cultural heritage and has tried various ways to fulfill it. One such way is through Yup'ik First Language (YFL) programs. These are divided between K-3rd grade which is taught virtually all in Yup'ik, and 4th-12th grades which are taught in Yup'ik for one hour each day, while the rest of instruction is in English. There was a need to come up with an appropriate plan of teaching our language and culture. Then there came an idea of including our Elders in the planning of developing the new curriculum.

Since I've been taught in the Western way of learning in schools and raised in my cultural way, I'm caught in between two ideas as a Yup'ik teacher. I use a little bit of my cultural ways of teaching (and mostly) the Western way of teaching by following school policies. I grew up watching the school dominate over "the cultures of the pupils" (Posner, p.119).

In our cultural way of teaching, we teach our children in an integrated way and without allocated times of day for separate subjects. By contrast, Western teaching follows a curriculum found in school textbooks which is broken down by subject area, and most teaching is done out of textbooks. Traditionally, Yup'iks were expected to observe, listen and, then, do. Our Elders, in their learning years, were taught to become good observers and listeners. As good observers, they were to watch carefully what was being demonstrated. As good listeners, they were to pay attention with their mouths closed, listening respectfully, and to hear the whole message without any interruption. Hands-on activities apply their knowledge in real life situations. This idea of a Yup'ik way of teaching will truly be an appropriate teaching approach for Yup'ik language and culture. Therefore, Elders have become the most valuable part of the developmental process of our Yup'ik curriculum.

The first draft of the 4th to 12th Yup'ik Maintenance Program was started in the 1996 LKSD Summer Institute. The persons who were involved from the beginning were LKSD's Yup'ik teachers. The organization that made this possible was the LKSD's Curriculum/Bilingual Department. During the institute, the Elders were guests and were valuable sources of knowledge for our thematic units. Within the four short weeks of the first summer institute, the group was able to develop the scope and sequence for fourteen thematic units, vocabulary pages and two-week lessons under each thematic unit. Time ran out before any further revision was made and other components such as assessments could be added.

The missing aspects of the first draft are understandable due to the shortness of time. First of all, the curriculum did not have a mission statement of its own. Although LKSD does have a district-wide mission statement (96-97 report), the 4th-12th curriculum group never got the chance to finish a written statement of mission goals and objectives. Although the goals were not written down, the team of Yup'ik teachers and the Elders in the institute knew, in their hearts and minds, the importance of our language and traditional cultures. Other unfinished elements of the new curriculum were evaluations of some of the lessons taught. Assessing the students' learning in some of the unit lessons was not an easy task to do because of the total difference of Western ways of teaching versus Yup'ik ways of teaching. The 4th grade curriculum was eliminated from the development of Yup'ik Maintenance curriculum in 1997 because the 4th, 5th, and 6th grades were too large for most of the teachers to write for in one summer institute. Although it was still incomplete, the curriculum was carried out the following academic year. In order to maintain our identity, it was important not to delay the implementation of the new curriculum.

Although the first draft was expected to be implemented right away in the following school year at each site, some of the sites did not exactly follow all of the thematic units due to: 1) regional differences in accordance to the seasonal activities, 2) religious beliefs (i.e. Yup'ik dancing could not be practiced in some villages) and 3) some sites had to follow their bilingual plan of service goals and objectives, which did not take into account the new thematic units.

The first year program was evaluated in the following summer's institute by 4th - 12th grade Yup'ik certified teachers, teacher aides and associate teachers. Elders were also included because of their effectiveness in the previous year. Much of the evaluation was on the vocabulary sections and the topics under the units. Sharing took place to discuss why some activities succeeded while others failed.

One obstacle that was successfully overcome in regards to the Ceremonies and Celebrations unit was the revival of Yup'ik dances in a few of the villages. The teachers relied on other village Elders to accomplish this. These Elders were invited to come and teach Yup'ik dances and songs. Other obstacles that were overcome were the lessons unknown by the Yup'ik teachers themselves. Elders were the resource people whenever the lessons needed them. The elder's knowledge became one of the most valuable foundations in this program.

On the other hand, there are still some obstacles yet to be overcome. For one, Yup'ik dancing is still not allowed in some villages. This causes teachers to avoid the thematic unit, Ceremonies and Celebrations (1996 First Draft). Units which require trips and camping outside of the villages is still a problem because of the liability issue, though camps are one of the most valuable places for teaching in our culture. Another problem we face these days is a lack of genuine materials. Most Yup'ik instructional materials cannot be purchased ˆ they must be made by hand. This makes the teaching of cultural skills difficult and time consuming. The lack of adequate materials makes lessons less meaningful. Lack of money is one of the reasons why certain materials are hard to get; another reason is the inconvenience of acquiring natural materials (fur and skins, for example) and the time it takes to collect and create materials for the hands-on lessons.

While implementing the draft curriculum, there were some observable successes in the program. I have had students come to me and express their desire to keep on doing the activity they learned in class in their daily lives. Another student came to me and told me that she would like to write a book about her heritage. Others have expressed their interest in learning more about our way of life and how our ancestors lived before.

I'm going to share some of the problems I encountered in my site. First of all, my most uncomfortable situation was not having a central place for cultural learning. As a Yup'ik language and culture teacher, I have been going to different classrooms throughout the day, or to the students' regular classrooms. Going from one place to another becomes a hassle and I sometimes end up losing some of my materials. Another problem was the time allocated in the life skills activities. When students begin project-centered lessons, hour-long periods are not enough. Also, the resource people don't like the time limits when we have to teach something that has value for Yup'ik culture. In relation to the life skills lessons, materials become hard to get due to the limited Johnson O'Malley program (JOM) budget and the incapability of processing our own materials in school (lack of space). At the end of this year, I was confused when our secretary asked if the Yup'ik Language grades and the Yup'ik Life Skills grades could be combined as one in the students' permanent records. It turns out that our secretary was trying to solve the problem of fitting in the various courses by combining the Yup'ik courses' grades as one full credit. But the solution was to decide on a single course title, which must be approved by the LKSD Curriculum Coordinating Committee.

The second year evaluation conducted in 1998 Summer Institute is still in progress when this article was written. Again the Bilingual/Curriculum Department is making this possible by having another summer institute. The persons who were involved in the first curricular revision are once again involved in this ongoing process of curricular development. We now have changed the title, "Yup'ik Maintenance Program" to "Yup'ik Language and Culture." According to Duane Magoon the previous title reflected an emphasis on simply maintaining the use of the language. The new title will integrate both concepts through the thematic units. We also rearranged the thematic units by moving them around so that each unit flows right next to its related area (e.g. "Getting Materials Ready" with "Clothing"). We combined the units "Celebrations with Masks" and "Ceremonies" because they are really one unit. We added new thematic units such as "Nuna" (Land), "Ella" (Above the Earth's Surface), "Qanruyutet" (Values and Beliefs), "Univkaq" (History), and "Temeta Aklui" (Anatomy).

We are also writing the learning objectives by grade levels. But the daily lessons are not written into the curriculum because each regional area will have to teach the lessons by fitting the lessons into the local context. These changes we are making this year by looking at the frameworks of Akula School in Kasigluk, and the Inuuqatigiit's curriculum of the Northwest Territory in Canada. We are very excited to adopt the "Y/Cuuyaraq" poster (Yup'ik/Cup'ik educational philosophy statement), that was presented by Cecilia Martz, as our Mission Statement. The Elders (Lupie, Andrew, and Paul) fully agreed with the sayings in that poster and strongly advised us to use it. Therefore, we will encourage sites to recite this as our Yup'ik pledge. During the time of our summer institute this year we've had three Elders with us for an entire two weeks and they have helped us to make these changes. One thing we failed to complete or to even begin is the assessment of each unit. But, the Yup'ik teachers will keep in touch throughout the upcoming year. Lessons and assessments we create will be shared at our next summer institute.

The participants of all the Summer Institutes know and understand the importance of our Yup'ik Language and Culture curriculum. They know the benefits of the programs are many, and that's why they keep coming back to participate and to develop more materials, trying to make our Yup'ik curriculum better each year. The Yup'ik programs help the students to realize who they are and the value of the culture they have had passed on to them. The curriculum has a strong impact not only on the students, but also on the school system and the community in which they live. The school is helping maintain the community's language and culture. Living in the Western way of life and the Yup'ik way of life is a reality we all face right now, and it's a blessing when a student comes to a Yup'ik teacher or anyone and expresses their appreciation for learning something about their tradition.

If we ever discontinue our Yup'ik curriculum every part of our identity will gradually fall apart, if not quickly, in this changing world we live in. Already, other cultures in Alaska have lost much of their language and culture. Even here in our district, we have students coming into kindergarten speaking mostly English although their parents are fluent Yup'ik speakers.



Posner, George J. (1995). Analyzing the Curriculum, 2nd. Ed. New York: McGraw Hill, Inc.

Inuuqatigiit, The Curriculum from the Inuit Perspective. Northwest Territories Education.

Waite, Willard. (1996-1997). Celebrating Our Kids, 1996-97 LKSD Annual Report Card. Bethel: LKSD Print Shop.

Lupie, Nick, Frank Andrew, and Julia Paul. Interviewed June 8-12, 1998. Bethel: 1998 Summer Institute.

Yup'ik Thematic Units/ 4-12 Yup'ik Maintenance. (1998). Bethel: LKSD Print Shop.


Table of Contents

  • Introduction to the Kuskokwim Delta - Delena Norris-Tull
  • Introduction to the Yup'ik Language and Culture Programs of the Lower Kuskokwim School District - Delena Norris-Tull & Beverly Williams
  • Chapter 1: The Yup'ik First Language Program: Lower Kuskokwim School District - Mary Lou Beaver & Evon Azean, Sr.
  • Chapter 2: The Balanced Literacy Program in Yup'ik - Pamela Yancey & Sophie Shield
  • Chapter 3: Creating Yup'ik Books, Translating, & Orthography - Pamela Yancey & Sophie Shield
  • Chapter 4: Ayaprun Immersion School - Loddie Ayaprun Jones
  • Chapter 5: Analysis of the Yup'ik Immersion Program In Bethel - Agatha Panigkaq John-Shields
  • Chapter 6: Yup'ik Language and Culture: A Description and Analytical View of the 4-6 Yup'ik Thematic Unit - Dora E. Strunk
  • Chapter 7: K-3 Thematic Units and the Alaska Cultural Standards - Nita Yurrliq Rearden
  • Chapter 8: Yup'ik Language and Culture: A Description of the 5th-12th Yup'ik Curriculum and its Revision - Rosalie Lincoln
  • Chapter 9: Yup'ik Discipline Practices Inerquutet and Alerquutet To Implement Into Yup'ik Schools - Theresa Arevgaq John
  • Chapter 10: Recommendations for Yup'ik Curriculum at Lower Kuskokwim School District - Sally Casey

email the editor, D. Norris-Tull


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Last modified August 18, 2006