The Future of Alaska Native Education

I found Berg’s article rather thought-provoking.   I’ve lived on Kodiak Island for almost 4 years now, was a substitute teacher and RN within the school district here for 3 of those years and have been impressed continually by the ways in which the Alaska native tribes in my area honor their cultures and traditions.   There are Alutiiq language classes offered at our high school.   The Su’naq regularly host community events which include everyone who cares to attend — and I find myself so entranced every time the tribal dancers from Su’naq present their cultural interpretations.   Nobody seems to be repressing anyone else’s culture here.   But it may not be this way in other Alaska locations.

I served 2 years in Northwest Arctic Borough, based in Kotzebue, and openly admit to being one of the “middle class” professionals to whom Berg derogatorily refers.   However, I was invited to come to Kotzebue and work with the Inupiat to build a culturally-relevant healthcare program.   I think it was in Kotzebue, however, that I first encountered discrimination.   It felt ugly.   I’d be in the checkout line at the AC and local Inupiat folks would spout racial epithets — not solely to me, but to any other non-natives who were present; it didn’t matter what you looked like — African Americans, Asian Americans, everyone who wasn’t Inupiat was verbally abused.   One evening, when hanging out with friends who’d grown up in Kotzebue, after having listened to about 40 min. of “white people” being degraded in myriad ways, I said to my friends, “Hey guys, I’m white.”   And they said, “Oh, we’re talking about all the other white **!%$#, not you!”   It made me feel sad.

Culture and heritage are beautiful things and should not be lost.   That being said, I’m a 2nd generation American on my paternal side, and a 1st generation on my mom’s.   I grew up in NYC, went through the public school system there.   When I was growing up we primarily spoke my family’s native language at home, and I learned English as well because the society in which my family lived spoke English.   If Mandarin were the predominant language I would have learned that instead.   I brought my culture with me to school and I learned about so many different cultures, traditions and faith ways from classmates and neighbors and friends . . . no one culture predominated another.   And my life has been ever the richer for this; I was taught to respect and value my own culture as well as other people’s rights to do the same for their culture and heritage.

I rather appreciated one of the comments on Berg’s article in particular: ” I think it is equally important to teach Alaskan kids the culture of SE Asia, of Germany, of Cameroon, Peru, Alabama, etc. Talk about Yupik and Tlingit as well. That is how we honor all cultures and end up with educated, balanced kids ready for the world.”

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