The article by Paul Berg was really interesting but I think that it focused more on non-native employment and control of Alaska Native communities rather than Alaska Native education. I understand what Berg meant about how the new placed-based education blends the Western and Native educational traditions. I see that today in the village school where I grew up. My daughter is in Kindergarten and she is taking both Yup’ik and English reading and writing classes. She is also taking a science class in Yup’ik that focuses on the plants and animals in our region.
In our community some of our culture is lost. I think it’s important to understand that in my region (Southwest Alaska) the first non-Natives were missionaries and that religion is a huge part of Alaska Native communities.
When the missionaries came into our village (Kwigillingok) and other communities, they preached about how traditional Yup’ik dancing was against one of the ten commandments. The missionaries viewed these traditional Yup’ik dances as a form of worshiping animals and other earthly things. During these dances elders would tell the younger generation about Qanruyuutet (our teachings/beliefs) and Yuuyaraq (ways of living) that were told by their older generations. I think that a lot of culture was lost during that era. As a result, Yup’ik dancing is not part of our community today. Elders still talk to the younger generation, but it is only on rare occasions when the school holds cultural week.
In our region, a lot of students in the 1960’s and 70’s only finished school up to the 8th grade or they had to leave their villages in order to complete high school. They were told that only English was allowed on school grounds. This also has had a huge impact on our culture.
In order to take back control of our own educational “destiny” I think that we need more native students to go to college, stick through it, and graduate to become teachers and administrators. Native students would benefit their communities because they know the culture, the history, and the problems that their community faces. In contrast, I also think that non-Native teachers bring a lot of new material to the schools.
The new curriculum at my hometown school is a starting point for the preservation of our native heritage. I think that despite some of our culture loss, we will strive to keep our language and culture strong. In order for placed-based education to be more effective I think that a lot of changes need to be made. The teachers need to be able to speak the native language and understand the culture. We do not need to have all the teachers and service providers be native.
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