by Marlene Jackson
Im from the village of Kiana, about thirty miles above the Arctic Circle, along the Kobuk River in the northwestern part of Alaska. Kiana is about 160 miles by air from Kotzebue, the biggest town in our region, which is the Northwest Alaska Native Association region. The population in Kiana varies from 275 to 300.
Kiana is located in a very beautiful spot. The topography of the country includes tundra, rolling hills, spruce and birch forests, mountains surrounding Kiana, swamps, creeks, and three river tributaries, the Squirrel, Little Channel and the Kobuk River or Big Channel. The air is fresh and clean. During the summer, every morning you can hear the birds singing.
Most of the people living in Kiana are Eskimo. We have a few white people living there. The schoolteachers and the two store managers are white. The people of Kiana are very nice. Oh, we have some people that are ornery, but theyre nice. If they see someone that needs help, they help them.
In Kiana, ever since I was a child, things have been changing gradually. These changes have changed the way of living at home, making life much easier to live now than it was before. I guess most of the people are happy because of this change.
The types of homes the people live in are modern. The people build their homes of plywood, using metal sheets for roofing. The people used to live in log cabins. They used to go out and get the logs to build the house, and it takes a long time for that. For the modern homes, they just buy plywood from the store, and it doesnt take that long to build a house.
For fuel for the house we used to burn wood and still do, but some people have oil stoves. I guess its easier for them to have oil instead of getting wood. For the wood wed have to go out of town and cut the tree down, take the limbs off and take the logs home. For the oil, we only have to go to the store to buy it.
When I was younger, wed go about five miles out of town, and get wood with a dog team. We dont anymore. The people use snow-machines. Ever since the snow-machine came to Kiana, life has been much easier. We travel much faster, but we spend money on it. For instance, we have to buy gas and parts for the machine if its broken down. With a dog team, we dont have too many worries, just keep the dogs well fed and exercise them. But the dog team is slow.
To earn a living some people work at the schools. The jobs are janitorial work, cook and teachers aide. Some people go out of town to work on the pipeline, and we have two health aides and one going into practice to be a health aide. The older people unable to work are on welfare.
Before I went to grade school, I used to speak Eskimo to my grandparents, but when I started going to school, I started to speak English, and I forgot about the Eskimo Language. So now I hardly speak Eskimo. The older generation at home speaks Eskimo fluently, but the younger generation hardly ever do. If we dont know how to speak it, our kids wont know how. The language might slowly fade. I guess I should have kept on learning how to speak it even when I went to school, but right now theyre teaching it to the high school students at home. The high school has an Eskimo lady who teaches it. Before she started teaching she had to go to a bilingual workshop.
Ever since I can remember, students had to go out of town to finish high school, like to Mt. Edgecumbe or Chemawa High School. Mt. Edgecumbe is located in the southeastern part of Alaska and Chemawa is in Oregon. But now weve got a high school, and the students can stay home and finish there. I think it would be a good experience to leave home and live among other people, rather than staying home and living with your parents all the time. At the end it would be much easier to leave home and live on your own, instead of depending on your parents or whoever is home. Staying home you would have to live with your parents, and if youre going away from home it would be harder to leave home. Youd be homesick and youd want to go home.
We now have running water, sewer and electricity. The Public Health Service put up the water pipes and sewers about three or four years ago. The electricity is operated by Alaska Village Electricity Cooperative. During the winter, before the water pipes and sewer were put up, we used to go down to the frozen river and cut a hole in the ice until we reached the water for our drinking water. We had to pack it up the hill with two buckets, or with a big bucket on a snow-machine. We used to get big chunks of ice too for our drinking water. It used to be hard work for us, but now were are taking it easy, with the water and sewer put in. We have our disadvantages too. When the water and sewer pipes freeze up, they burst, and we go back to packing water. We have to pay the bills for both water and sewer and electricity, which the people didnt have to do when I was younger. For water and sewer we pay twenty-two dollars a month, and for electricity we pay from twenty to one hundred dollars a month.
Most of the people do a lot of hunting. For food they hunt caribou, moose and bear. Other fur bearing animals are also hunted for food and clothing. For instance, we use the caribou skin for mukluks, the muskrat skin for jackets and parkies. The wolf skin we use for mukluks or ruffs for the jacket and parkie, the wolf head we use for mittens. The bearskin we use for a rug. The people also do a lot of fishing. They catch salmon, white fish, trout, smelt, sheefish, pike, grayling, big nosed white-fish and mud-shark. The people either use a seine or an ordinary net. They make their nets or purchase them from the stores. The fish is cut and dried on fish racks, canned or put in the freezer. They still do all this like in the old times.
Im glad of all these changes at home, because it has made life easier to live. Im sure the people in Kiana are happy with the change too.
by Helen Kinegak
In the past, Eskimo children were taught how to work at an early age, starting from five to ten years of age. At that age the children helped their parents with little tasks around the house like packing water from the river, helping the father or oldest son feed the dogs, or watching the father make tools for hunting or furniture for the house, or watching the mother sew clothes for the family, watching how she cooks, or take care of the younger children.
From the age of eleven through fourteen or fifteen, the girl or boy was taught by the mother, father, grandfather, grandmother, uncle or aunt. The girl was taught by the women how to cut out patterns, how to sew, how to prepare meals, cook, and take care of the children, so she would be able to take care of her family when she married and raised a family.
The girl was taught how to cook by first watching another woman cook; after watching a couple of times, she was then asked to do the routine herself and if she made a mistake she was then corrected right away. This routine also went for any housework she had to learn until she knew what she was doing and did it well. For example, if a girl wanted to make agutaq (Eskimo Ice Cream), shed carefully watch her mom get the items together shed need to make the agutaq, then see what she puts in. After a couple of times, it would be the girls turn to make one herself, letting the lady who is teaching her watch. All the housework chores were taught in the home of the lady teaching the girl.
The girls were also taught outdoor chores like gathering long grasses for bed mats, how to cut fish, hang and dry them, smoking them afterwards, or how to cut the first seal and to distribute it to the other villagers because the boys first catch means he is becoming a man. All these outdoor chores were done outside the home of the woman who is teaching the girl.
A boy was taught how to build boats, furniture for the house and tools for hunting by watching the instructor a couple of times before he could do it himself. If he made a mistake, he was corrected right away and asked to do it again until he learned. Most of the building was taught and done in the home of the man teaching the boy. For example, if a boy wanted to learn how to make snowshoes, hed watch his father a couple of times until he could try himself. Hed carefully watch his father gather up items to make the snowshoes. Hed watch what he did first, second, third - and last. Then, after a couple of times watching, it would be the boys turn to make a pair, letting his father watch for mistakes.
The boy was also taught how to hunt, fish, trap and how to survive in the wilderness. All these skills were taught outdoors.
The Eskimo children today have to go through twelve to sixteen years of school before they can have a steady job to support themselves or their family.
The children today start school when theyre five years of age. Then they go from grade to grade until they graduate from high school and to get a better job, so they can raise a family, they can go on to college which takes four more years of schooling.
Teachers from all over the country apply in Alaska to teach and if they get picked by the school board, theyre placed in certain areas in Alaska to teach.
In every small village the children start school from kindergarten and graduate in eighth grade to go into high school. In bigger towns or cities the children attend school in the same town or city and, if they want to go on to college, theyll have to go to a larger city, or if theres a community college in their area they could attend that.
During grade school, the children are taught math, sociology, English, physical fitness and writing so when they reach high school they can take courses which interest them and know that they want to do for a living to support themselves or their family. For example, if a girl doesnt want to go on to further education but wants to become a secretary, she can take secretarial work in high school and, after graduating, she can get a secretarial job.
The children are taught by teachers until they know how to solve a problem and know the answer. If the child doesnt catch on right away the first year of school, he is placed again in the same grade until he is able to go on to a higher grade. For instance, if a child has very bad grades, has a lot of absence and has tardy marks, he is then placed in the same grade the following year.
The advantage of the past education was that the family members stayed together and helped each other through good and bad times and had their own way of teaching their children that would go on forever. They also didnt have to pay to go through school and to pay teachers and supplies. The bad part of the past education was they had to go through a very hard time of trying to support a family during starvation times, no matter what they had to do to keep their family going.
The advantage of the present education is that you dont have to work as hard as before. You can go to places for education youve never been before and get to meet a lot of people from all over the state. The bad part of the present education is that you have to leave your home and family for further education; you slowly lose your old way of living and your Native tongue.
by George Amarok
When the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act was passed on December 18, 1971, we lost a major portion of the 290 million acres we own by aboriginal right and in return, we received title to 40 million acres of land and $962.5 million, payable in installments. As a result of the passage of the settlement, twelve regional corporations and more than 200 village corporations were created among which land and money were divided according to the population of the region and village, with each of the 76,000 Alaskan Natives receiving 10 shares in his or her corporation. Recently, a thirteenth corporation was formed by Alaskan Natives outside the state, who did not have the option of taking the land, but did receive a portion of the money.
The passage of the Land Claims bill changes a lot of Natives way of life; now with the twelve new Regional Corporations, we the Alaskan Natives must go to college or be trained to manage our corporations. This means that we young Natives must learn about budgets, accountancy periods, bookkeeping, and how to negotiate with other businesses and corporations.
I talked to two young Natives about the change that has affected their lives in some way. The first comments are given by a young Yupik Eskimo from a small village on the Kuskokwim River, attending his second year at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. His is planning to major in Accounting.
"The passage of the Land Claims bill has a lot of effect on Natives from where Im from. In a sense that as young people we are more or less directing our studies and training towards helping our corporations. Where Ive grown up hunting and fishing like the rest of my friends, this I think is going to change. Matter of fact, it already has. People who have depended on subsistence already have to buy a license to kill a moose, while ten years ago, they didnt need one."
"The passage of the Land Claims bill has changed a lot of peoples way of living," according to an Inupiaq Eskimo from the Seward Peninsula, who is attending his first year here and is planning to major in Business Administration. "A lot of Natives, who before the Land Claims had no real experience in operating a business or corporation, now are taking office jobs and at the same time trying to learn all the techniques of operating a corporation."
In 1971 the number of Native students attending college funded by the Bureau of Indian Affairs was 276. Now, the number of students attending college through BIA is 1,212. This is quite an increase. According to Toni Jones, head of the Student Orientation Services, "In terms of decrease and increase in enrollment, the difference is not that pronounced. The number of students staying in college and continuing their education has dramatically increased. The passage of the Land Claims Act and the emergence of Native corporations has served as a careers goal for students who are also share holders, hence the high interest."
If the new corporations are to be successful in the world of the business, the young Natives must further their education in college and training to help make the corporations a success.
by Agnes Smith
There are twenty Alaskan Native languages in Alaska. The two language families are Eskimo-Aleut and Athabascan-Eyak; each of the two language families has different languages. For example, Eskimo has Sugpiaq, Central Yupik, Siberian Yupik and Inupiaq. People in southwestern Alaska speak Yupik and the people in northwestern part of the map of Alaska speak Inupiaq.
Language is an important part of each culture. Each native language has its own original beauty in its vocabulary and grammar. Over thousands of years the languages have been passed on to each generation. However, some Alaskan Native cultures have almost lost their entire language. For example, the Eyaks have lost their entire language except for three people. The Eyak region is located at the mouth of the Copper River. There are twenty left of the Eyak people and only three have kept their language.
None of the Native languages were written until the Russians came. But it was well spoken by all Natives. The Russians taught the Aleuts their alphabet. More people of different races came to Alaska and the Native languages were forbidden to be spoken by Native students attending school taught by white people. But in 1972, a bill concerning Bilingual Education was passed by the legislature so that the Alaskan Native languages could be taught in public schools in rural Alaska to preserve the culture and language.
The Alaska Native Language Center of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks was set up to help Alaskan Native people to preserve their languages. The purpose of the center is to study all Alaskan Native languages, to make a permanent record and to produce books for people who will train Alaskan Native speakers to teach their language and to write it. Funding comes from the state legislature in Juneau, supplemented by federal grants.
Native languages taught in the Alaska Native Language Center are grouped into Beginning, Intermediate and Advanced. For example, in Beginning Inupiaq, the teacher analyzes the Inupiaq grammar. Intermediate is in between and advance Inupiaq is teaching others to write the language.
Dr. Krauss, who has been in Alaska for sixteen years, is now administrating the Alaska Native Language Center. He works with the languages and has done much research especially with Athabascan and Eyak. Meanwhile, he is teaching most Native languages in the state of Alaska and is responsible for a lot of people who are teaching the language.
One of the people who works there is Emily Wilson from Barrow. She teaches the Inupiaq language and Larry Kaplan teaches the grammar. Emily plans to get her degree in elementary education and in Inupiaq. Larry Kaplan, Emily Wilson, Leona Okakok and Edith Tegoseak are making a new Inupiaq dictionary and it will be helpful to the North Slope area when it is done. Emily said time is limited and when she has any extra time she works at transcribing. She said a lot of volunteers transcribe stories from tapes sent from villages.
The purpose of the Alaska Native Language Center is to do a research to preserve the Native languages of Alaska. According to Dr. Krauss, Alaska Natives will lose their culture and identity if they lose their languages.