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From THEATA: Tlingit, Haida, Eskimo, Athabascan, Tsimshian, Aleut, Volume 12, by Alaska Native students attending the University of Alaska – Fairbanks. Copyright @ 1987 Student Orientation Services, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Alaska. Reprinted by permission of Charlotte Basham, Associate Professor, UAF. 

"High School Graduates" by Aggie Frankson
"The Big Change" by Mae Pitka
"Rural Student Services" by Tim Holmberg
"NANA Dorms" by Magdeline Booth
"Daily Schedules" by Mae Pitka
"Traditional Storytelling" by Charlene Fisher
"Healing" by Phyllis Norton


Aggie Frankson

Most parents think that higher education isn't important for their children just because they have already graduated from high school. They seem to feel that it's much better for them to find a job in their village instead of going to a community college or a university where they can develop their scholastic knowledge. But most students who are getting a higher education feel that it is important. The reason is because they can get higher paying jobs and have a wider variety of job opportunities. Also, they are better able to help their community instead of getting themselves into trouble.

Many high school students become bored when they graduate. This usually leads them into taking drugs and alcohol. Because of that they become upset in everything they do which makes it hard for them to control their drinking habits. Drugs and alcohol make them feel helpless and lead them into serious problems with Village Public Safety Officers and even mental institutions. Many parents do not realize that taking drugs and alcohol slows down their children's motivation to get more education or find a better paying job.

Most rural high school graduates depend on their parents or other sources of income. They do not realize that an education or training is important.

Most graduates will loose their skills they worked on since they were in grade school. College or further training allows them to continue their education and accomplish their goals.

So parents, it is never too late for you to ask your sons or daughters to continue their education so they can support their own lives.



Mae Pitka

Coming to college from a rural community requires a very hard adjustment. Students feel the change and experience homesickness very frequently. Students feel a great wave of culture shock. It is a challenge to survive the difficult academic load and pressure from our peers to use drugs and alcohol. The largest problem I faced was the freedom to do as I please, to go to classes or not and to be all on my own. The decisions that I make are all my own. No one is here to look after me or to tell me how to behave. For some students that can be a great danger and for others it can be a wonderful freedom.

Homesickness first settled in when I came to the university and realized college was not what I expected it to be. I felt as if I did not belong in this environment, nothing that I had done at school prepared me for this part of my life. All I wanted to do was go home where it was safe and no demands made on me. I felt that life was so unfair but I did not want to go home and show everyone that I could not do it. I had to stay here for as long as I was capable of doing so. I missed my family and friends very much. Was it only two weeks ago that I thought I could survive here and make something out of myself? No, I thought, but sure enough I was here and home was there. I did not want to see anyone and I was lonely. As much as I tried to convince myself that I would be better off home, I knew I had to stay and stick it out. The break when I would be able to go home seemed like light years away. "Am I awake?" I asked myself. "Yes," the pain in my cheek told me from the many pinches I gave it. I was here in college and expected to succeed; what choice did I have?

The challenge was out there ready for me to take on. I had to find it for myself if I was prepared for college, or if it was just one of my many dreams for the future. I had to take classes where there were about one hundred people attending each class. That was hard because I came from a school where the total high school population was twelve and I had two teachers. I tried to talk in class but every time I did I felt like sinking under my seat and dissolving into the air. "What am I doing here?" I thought. I looked at the professors and I thought, "Only the smartest human being will be able to understand what you are trying to get across. Who am I to deserve such great skill and knowledge that you possess?" I thought while glancing at them. How will I take notes, who will I talk to about my problems, and to talk to the professor I need to make an appointment? It was too much for me to handle, I had to calm down and try to get a grip on myself before I fell apart. Taking a deep breath I went to my room.

Looking at my room and knowing that me and three other strangers will be living under the same roof scared me. What if they are mean and don't like freshmen? Will they be able to stand to see me twenty-four hours a day? What will they say about my personal belongings? What are my responsibilities towards them? How will we share and keep clean this whole area? The closet looked like anything could fit there. I never had one before. The dresser looked okay, but to be all mine? That was too much to ask for. I had so much room to store my belongings that I felt guilty for not putting something in each space. What am I going to tell my roommate if she asks me questions that I don't have answers for? I did not like staying with my sister at my little room, but now that seemed the best possibility I ever had. Living at home in my parents' three bedroom house and bunking with my sister was the only home I had ever known. I did not need any space to park myself. I was always used to living in a crowded room with a sister who went through all my belongings, just to annoy me. Suddenly I was in a room with girls my age and I did not trust myself to act like an adult now. That was my most insecure moment.

Classes held at home were all planned out for me. Here I had a choice of what to take and I was allowed to decide my major, all on my own. What a change from the old routine. I was expecting to let go of past experiences, but never in my mind to the extreme that I decide and people accept my decision. I would even have free time during the day while the classes that I did not take were going on. It felt so good not to be in every class but it made me feel guilty just passing a class and not attending it. The times that I played hooky in high school came back to me very clearly and did I ever feel guilty. Was this feeling every going to go away? I was in school for only a day and I decided that I needed a break.

Drugs and alcohol swarm all over the place and even if you are a minor, people do not care. They figure since you are old enough to go to college, then that settles it. I admit that was not a good experience for me. People at home never forced you to party and if you did it was considered unusual if you got high or drunk. People talked about the event for a long time and constantly reminded you of the fool you had been. Here in college you are not looked down on and they still consider you their friend. If you don't party people call you a nerd or accuse you of trying to be a better person than everyone else. That kind of guilt trip really shakes me up. The one thing I learned was when you get into trouble, then no one wants anything to do with you. After all you did to try to please them it turns out you can only be happy if you please yourself and no one else. Getting high and not getting caught is just not worth it; you only make yourself feel bad and that study time is lost by hangovers and self-hate. Peoples' experiences with substances are varied; some people find it a good escape or reward after a hard week.

After living in a small village and knowing everyone, coming to college where everyone is a stranger and the atmosphere is not so friendly is a hard adjustment to make. People at home, every if you cannot stand them, you have to deal with them and plaster on a smile or acknowledge their presence. Here you can keep quiet and no one will notice you or what you are doing. You are just part of the crowd of people trying to get a degree. If you are sad or mad people will just leave you alone. In the village whatever mood you are in, people notice and talk to you about your problems or share your happiness. Either way is good; sometimes you want to be left alone and other times, well, you want to let someone pity you and offer words of encouragement.

Friends are all over the place, you just have to look in the right places. For instance, living in the dorm I found lots of friends just by hanging in the hallways. People stop to talk and introduce their friends; that way you get to know everyone real fast. Seeing the same people everyday helps too. That guy who looks mean enough to knock you down turns out to be not so bad after all and you start to relax. Also the resident advisors and the room advisors on the different floors help a great deal. Whenever you have a problem they are there for you to lean on. That makes life much more bearable and you get to know the friendliest people that way. Molly, Gary, Ronna and Jocylyn are the best I have ever known. Special thanks to them for all they put up with me and the help they gave me during my struggle with my freshman year. I could have never made it without them. That's something else you get too, special bonds with certain people.

Rural Student Services are also a great help if you are a Native coming to college. People like Sue McHenry, my advisor and out-of-town mom, Kay, Kris Ann, Annette, Roland, Andy, Pat, Lee Nichols, Jack, Birdie, Freda, Jim, Clara, Linda and all the students make it a great place to relax and catch up on activities that happen at home. Students get advisors there, coffee, access to the computers, couches to read or do homework on, tutors to help with subjects that you are having trouble with and just a place where you can meet a lot of great people. They also have special potlatches there, which is nice and they do wonders to help cure your homesickness for good food.

Coming to college is a worthwhile experience. You can look on the memories satisfied that what you did will help you in the future. Homesickness is worth going through. You will be able to do things easier, knowing that you have your problems with being away from home in control. College gives you an idea of your responsible self and you are able to grow on your own. It is an experience that will help you mature and get to know yourself.



Tim Holmberg

At the University of Alaska, Fairbanks on the 5th floor of the Gruening building is Rural Student Services (R.S.S.) R.S.S. was created for Native students of Alaska. Different cultures from all over Alaska come here for higher education and if they have a problem they can come to R.S.S. for help. The cultures that come here are the Inupiaq of the north, the Central Yup'ik of the west, the Aleuts of the Aleutian chain, the Alutiq of the south, the Athabascan of the interior and the Tlingits, Haida, and Tsimshians of the southeastern region. The Natives from rural areas may need help to blend in with college life. Almost all Natives come from small villages and some find it hard to adapt to many people and may be too shy to ask for help. R.S.S. also invites high school groups to visit the campus and participate in a campus tour and class visits.

I decided to attend college during my senior year at high school. I decided on the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, because I had friends that were attending and they all said it was fun and worth going. It also had a huge range of degrees I could choose from. I didn't know that U.A.F. had Rural Student Services. My counselor talked with the Administrative Assistant, Birdie Hendrickson at R.S.S., and she sent me an admission form, a financial aid form, a housing form and a pamphlet about university life. When I arrived at the Fairbanks airport there was someone to pick me up.

I had a place to stay, a meal ticket, books and my tuition paid for. I was not used to so many people. I didn't know anyone here. I said to myself, "What will I do if I need help with one of my classes? Who would I turn to if I had a personal problem? Who would help me find a field to get into? What kind of classes should I take?"

I then went into Rural Student Services, to the secretary Kris Ann Mountain and she introduced me to Jack Singer. He was to be my advisor. There he explained about making academic decisions and the requirements; he recommended courses and answered my questions about classes.

The room was full of excitement. Students were working on forms for classes and books. I noticed that all of the students were Native. I felt at home; people were smiling and friendly. I met a lot of friends there. Jack and I talked and reviewed my high school transcript and A.C.T. scores to tell what kind of classes I should take. Course selection is based on my A.C.T. scores, on my interests, and on university requirements.

As I made decisions I was feeling more at home. The Rural Student Services provide personal counseling by the advisors or referral to the Health and Counseling Center Staff. I had someone to go to if I had personal problems.

One of my first surprises was the number of cultures around me. I come from Kalskag on the Kuskokwim River with a population of three hundred. I went to a high school with fifty students. I knew everyone and they knew me. We were all good friends and most were related. Here at the university I had to get to meet people. I had to get used to many students in classes. I had to learn how to take notes for class lectures. I also had to get used to the schedule of classes and the responsibility of doing homework and managing spare time. The advisors at Rural Student Services helped me get through it. Jack was there when I needed help with any problems.

Then as school went on I had trouble with some classes. I needed help and I told my advisor. He got me a tutor to help me with the class. The tutoring was provided by Alaska Native Programs, and is available to students in all subject areas and levels. So now I had someone to help me with problems in the classes I was taking.

I then found out the Rural Student Services had peer counseling that was provided by the R.S.S. student counselors to help other students with questions and problems. I was glad to hear that because I knew there would be a time when I would have a problem that I could not talk with an adult about and there would a student who would know what I was going through.

As the weeks went by I felt at home at R.S.S. There I could study and visit friends. They also have microcomputers to write essays, term papers, or just letters. They have a t.v. and show educational shows about alcohol and drug abuse, and smoking. They also have potlatches so you can eat Native food and get together. Also on Mondays and Thursdays they have study nights for Native students.

Rural Student Services sends out thousands of letters to high schools all over Alaska to try to get Native students to attend college. New students every year come to U.A.F. and I know that Rural Student Services will help them just like they have me.



Magdeline Booth

The NANA dorms located on upper campus are three separate buildings, two of which house college freshmen from the NANA region and the other is for the head resident or housing parents. The dorms were formed in 1983 to help NANA shareholders during their first year at U.A.F. Freshmen who live there are in a family atmosphere which lessens the chances of them returning home due to homesickness.

Both the boys' and girls' dorms are similar. There are four bedrooms, one used for a resident advisor. There's a furnished living room, a kitchen equipped with a sink, cabinets, microwave, refrigerator, table and chairs. Each house also has two baths, a washer and dryer. The H.R. house has three bedrooms, two baths, a kitchen with everything including a cooking stove, and also a furnished living room.

The R.A. is usually a shareholder of NANA and a student with a junior/senior standing. They help students with homework and personal problems and also encourage and motivate them to do their homework. The H.R.'s are a married couple also from the NANA region who are there for the same purpose, and to also see that the R.A.'s are doing their jobs correctly. They also drive students to do shopping and to go on short trips and picnics with the van.

Each semester the NANA Corporation provides a certain amount of money to be used to get cleaning supplies, food for picnics, refreshments for activities to rent a video machine and tapes.

As a current resident of the NANA girl's dorm I think it's a good place to stay for first-year students who are shareholders of the corporation. Living there has really helped me cope with college life and being away from home for a long period for the very first time. It is also a good place to meet people who are from back home. There's lots of privacy if you need it and you don't have to wait long to use the phone, washer and dryer.




Mae Pitka


At the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, class schedules vary. A student may take as many classes as he or she wants as long as the times do not interfere with each other. A full-time student's minimum number of credits is twelve hours (four classes) to qualify for living in the dorm and getting a meal ticket. Credits range from five to one hour depending on how many hours per week the class meets. Three hours for three credits is the most common.

Classes held on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday last an hour with a ten minute break in between to give a student time to get to the next class. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, lectures last an hour and a half and also have a ten minute break in between. Students may take classes in both of these two slots. For instance, you can have all your classes in one of the two slots (Tuesday and Thursday, or Monday, Wednesday, and Friday), or you can divide your classes to fit into both.

The time when you are not in class is all yours. You can do anything you want for no one tells you what to do and you are your own boss. Students use the free time to do homework in the library, visit friends, eat in one of the two cafeterias, do laundry, check mail, go downtown by bus, and go out to exercise in the gym. Keeping yourself busy is not very hard and you still have time to do other things.

On a typical Monday I get up at 8 a.m., go to Psychology 101 at 9:10 a.m., eat breakfast at 10:20, check mail at 10:45 a.m. and do math homework until my next class starts at 1:50 p.m. After this the rest of the day is all mine to do homework and prepare for the next day's assignments.

Tuesdays and Thursdays are totally different for me. I get up at 8:30 a.m. and go to Aikido at 9:40, eat lunch at 11:15 a.m. then at 2 p.m. go to my speed reading class, and at 3:40 p.m. go to my last class which is writing. Then the rest of the day is all mine. I usually do my math problems and read psychology.

Weekends are a different story. I do some homework, usually not enough, and read books that are not related to the classroom. I go out to watch movies and do some shopping, listen to music twenty-four hours a day and sleep in, late. Recuperation is a major experience I give myself the luxury of having. I also call home and see what is happening there. My mom tells me how things are going and tells my friends how I am doing and that I said to write to me.

Daily schedules tell you what to do and are very important for keeping track of things. They help you get homework done and remind you of the important events you have to attend. Planning your time each day is a very essential part of going to college if you want to keep above things. It helps you to organize your time so you succeed in your classes.

I f you had classes only on the days that require one hour of classes, then you have the next day free. You can spend that day preparing for the classes. Or you can spend your time in the library doing research work or get an odd job that is flexible enough to fit into your schedule.

A person with classes only on Tuesday and Thursday has the advantage of going to classes for two days only, but will have to be in class all day and have a long day filled with lectures or labs. Think about going to class all day, each class one and a half hours long, and just sitting there without any long breaks in between. I would think hard about choosing that schedule. It is a hard way to do it, but some people can. The only thing that might stop you will be lack of time management. Being a productive person can help a great deal and the professors will definitely notice your efforts.

When I attended the University of Alaska for the first time, I was shocked by the amount of time that I had to myself. No one was there to tell me I had to take that or this. The only bad thing was that I had so many choices that it was hard to decide what to major in. So the best advice I can give you is to take a bunch of introduction courses and see what your interests really are. That way you will be able to push your course selection towards your interests which saves you from wasting time on classes that do not interest you. When planning to attend college you should try to have some idea of what you want to major in. A major is a field that you are interested in. It gives you a degree to work towards so you will be able to graduate much sooner. Taking introduction courses is fun, but you have to remember that you should be working toward a major.

Planning your time wisely can help you to become a better student and gives you more time to grow in other ways. You can go places for entertainment and not worry about falling behind. Your friends will like you better if you are serious about school and you might be able to help them with their homework. That way everyone is happy and you feel more comfortable in college. It is a great feeling to know that you are doing well in something and that you are learning at the same time. At the end of the term when your grades come in you are proud to show your parents how well you did and at the same time it gives you satisfaction to know you did it all by yourself.

Going to college is a scary experience, but once you know how to manage your time it makes life a lot more fun. I encourage you all out there to come to college. It makes life have more purpose and feel more fulfilling. Also you get to meet a lot more people of all sorts. The main trick is managing your time and the environment around you and have a good time in college.



Charlene Fisher

From the time I was a young girl I have always had memories of my grandmother telling countless fascinating stories of the past. It has not been until recently that I have recognized the importance of this custom of storytelling. My grandmother is a tradition-bearer of many valuable resources but I am only going to concentrate on the significance of storytelling. My grandmother and all other elders like her are fountains of information that is relevant to us all as an aboriginal society which we as a younger generation must soak up and again pass on.

By the time I reached grade school I had already learned how my village, Beaver, was founded and many great stories of the founder, Frank Yasuda. I also knew of the medicine men of our area and their ways of practice. In addition to knowing about the stories and legends I knew of the social roles of certain people in the village society.

Storytelling in our Native culture is not done to fit the needs of people. It doesn't change and grow with time. Native storytelling is handed down from one person to the next, verbatim. The stories don't change with the fancy of the storyteller like fairy tales do.

Storytelling is unique to many cultures but in the Native culture of Alaska storytelling is done to show values, pass on skills, and in some instances show why and how something is or came to be, for example, the etymological genre of storytelling.

When a story is told etymologically it is a story specifically designed to tell why something is the way it is, for example, why the raven is black, and why pussywillows have twisted tree trunks. They are told to explain something.

Stories that tell of legends are passed down to show human characteristics or again just to show why things are the way they are. In the legends of my people there is a first man, who deals with nature. The stories of this man usually show human types of personalities like shrewdness and the emotional traits of people. Most of the time animals and nature are personified to stress the meaning of the handed-down values. An example of this is that hunters are thought to be great and noble but the little animals are usually more shrewd and quicker with their wits. Hence this type of story hands down values and sets the society's expectations.

The most common type of storytelling is when a skill is handed down from person to person. In the Interior this could be how to kill a moose quickly and efficiently, but in other places it could be how to kill a whale.

Basically these stories are told so people know how to live off the land and survive. These are the stories that do not change very much or at all. They are passed down to another as if the teller is reading from a book. There are usually no major additions or falsities put into these stories. This is because the way Native people have been living has been that way for tens of thousands of years and there is no need to change something that works.

All of these types are used to preserve a life-style that has been in existence for thousands of years. Keeping the tradition of storytelling guarantees that the ideas and values and skill stay alive even in a competitive, dominant White society. Storytelling is an educational source of wisdom for the young people of a Native American society. Native storytelling also preserves an attitude, a certain pride that shows in the faces of those who know and live by the traditional Native values. To this day these stories and legends are still in circulation and will continue to be as long as they are passed down to the next generation.


Phyllis Norton

Elders in our community are important to our culture. The elders teach their children to learn the ways that they learned, for instance, speaking Eskimo, learning to respect others, learning how to hunt, learning how to cook and other kinds of learning tasks passing on from generation to generation. The elder's grandchildren will learn from their parents.

My grandparents are a fine example of speaking Inupiaq to me. They want me to learn, to understand what they say.

My ahna has a tradition that she learned herself with the help of Blanche Lincoln, a healer. It is where she treats people, like if a person has a sprained ankle, bad back and other things also. After she's done treating a person she usually writes in something like a journal. Some people may think what she does is like a witch doctor, but others believe in what she does. She can’t do this any more because she had a stroke; she is paralyzed on one side of her body and she can't help any more people but herself.

I don't know if she passed on her skills to anyone, but she has influenced me. I like what she is doing.