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History and Culture

Home  >  History and Culture  >  Art of Storytelling
Alaska Native Oratory Society's Annual Contest  -  Mayor's Address on Education
By Doreen Spear « Prev   Page 3 of 3  

Doreen holds her daughter, Daelynette 'Aniksuaq' Spear. Seated on her right is Doreen's Aaka (grandmother), Rebecca Hopson, wife of the late Eben Hopson Sr.
Introduction

As an Inupiat-Eskimo from the North Slope Borough, I have first-hand experience living in an isolated village. I have seen our Inupiat culture start to lose its strength within the younger generations. Living among Inupiat elders is a life experience, and to learn anything of my Inupiat culture is dear to my heart. I am not fluent in my Inupiat language, but this does not discourage me to learn more. As I grow older, my desire to acquire the knowledge of my elders also grows. I only hope the younger generation also considers strengthening our Inupiat culture. The main barrier between the younger generations and the Inupiat culture is an educational system that completely satisfies our cultural well-being. I was involved in bilingual and bicultural activities throughout elementary and high school. My formal education has led me to college, where I still lack the cultural knowledge of my Inupiat ancestors.

Today my presentation will explore my grandfather's beliefs about education and self-determination. My grandfather, Eben Hopson Sr., was denied a high school education, which only motivated him to build high schools and improve the educational system on the North Slope Borough. Now there is a middle school in Barrow, Alaska, named after him and a life-size statue of him with an inscription that reads, 'Education is the key to success. Do not let anything stand in your pursuit of education.' In order for the younger generations to be great Inupiat leaders, we need to seriously consider our culture to be most important, especially in schools. Eben Hopson, Sr. clearly addressed this belief at the Teachers Affiliation Union's contracting meeting, which was televised in Barrow on December 19, 1975. The title is 'Mayor's Address on Education.'

Mayor's Address on Education

By Eben Hopson Sr., Mayor, North Slope Borough

We Inupiaq are a nation of people occupying the circumpolar Arctic from Siberia through Alaska and Canada to Greenland. We share common values, language, culture and economic systems. Our culture has enabled us to survive and flourish for thousands of years in the Arctic where no other man or culture could. Among our entire international Inupiat community, we of the North Slope are the only Inupiaq who have achieved true self-government with the formation of the North Slope Borough. We have the greatest opportunity to direct our own destiny as we have for the past millennia. Possibly the greatest significance of home rule is that it enables us to regain control of the education of our children.

For thousands of years, our traditional method of socializing our youth was the responsibility of the family and community. From the first, visitors to the Arctic have universally commented on the warm disposition of our children. Corporal punishment was absolutely unknown. Boys and girls began their education with their parents and, by the time they reached their teenage years, they had mastered the skills necessary to survive on the land here. From that time forward, the youth -- with his family and within his community -- devoted his attention to his intellectual and social growth. For 87 years the Bureau of Indian Affairs tried to destroy our culture through the education of our children. Those who would destroy our culture did not succeed. However, it was not without cost. Many of our people have suffered. We all know the social ills we endure today.

Recently, I heard a member of the school personnel say that many of our Inupiaq children have poor self-concepts. Is it any wonder, when the school systems fail to provide the Inupiaq student with experiences which would build positive self-concepts when the Inupiat language and culture are almost totally excluded? My children and yours spend many hours in school each day, 180 days each year for 12 years. We must have teachers who will reflect and transmit our ideals and values. We must have Inupiat-centered orientation in all areas of instruction. I do not want my children to learn that we were "discovered" by Columbus or Vitus Bering. I do not want to hear that we were barbaric or uncivilized. I do not want our children to feel inferior because their language and culture are different from those of their teacher. I do not want to see school planning surveys, which list hunting, fishing, whaling or trapping as social or recreational activities.

The [Alaska Native] Land Claims movement and the self-determined attitude of the Alaska Natives were largely responsible for the removal of the suppression of our Native languages and culture. Bilingual instruction became the new educational policy. However, this has generally meant that we use English as our primary language of instruction and somehow integrate Inupiat into the curriculum. The North Slope Borough schools must implement a program that is bilingual and bicultural. Our children must be taught in our Inupiat language, with English as the secondary language. To attain this goal, we must have teachers who are bilingual and bicultural, knowledgeable in our Inupiat culture and values. This can be achieved either with instructors who are Inupiat or who have been trained in Inupiat.

Our Inupiat School Board will be forced to always preside over a predominantly White cultural school district. What can we do about this problem? We must develop a teacher recruitment and training program to satisfy our needs.

  1. Foremost, we must encourage and train our own Inupiaq to become teachers.
  2. Recruit responsive teachers who are willing to learn both the Inupiat language and our cultural values.
  3. Train teachers and offer financial incentives to those who become proficient in our language and culture, in addition to Inupiat history and ideologies.
  4. Evaluate current teachers to insure Inupiat educational philosophies are being implemented.

Americans are beginning to assess their own values and are finding them compatible with our own. We can now afford to be selective of our teachers. We should select teachers who are willing to become contributing members of the community. We must strive to break down the barrier between the community and the school. Rather than being an integral part of the community, the latter resembles a colonial fort. We must end teacher segregation in the North Slope. We must rid ourselves of these temporary residents who are there merely for financial gain.

A number of teachers have already demonstrated their willingness to live among us as neighbors and friends. They have become permanent members of the community. They identify with us and share our concerns. Our teachers are the highest paid teachers in the entire United States. What are we getting for our money? We should be able to hire the best bilingual-bicultural teachers in the world. We should have teachers who can teach well in Inupiat schools. We should have the best schools in the nation, surpassing any of the elite prep schools in the east. We should have teachers who earn their keep by effectively teaching our children. I feel certain that the school board members share my frustrations and concerns. It is important to remember the lessons of the past. In addition, we must search and master the new changes if we are to continue to dominate the Arctic.

We have demonstrated we can survive the trespasses that have been perpetuated upon us. We have been successful in establishing our own home rule government. We have been able to achieve self-government. We must strive to ensure that our borough, our city governments and our school systems reflect our Inupiat ideals. We are Inupiaq.

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About the Author: Doreen "Sagvayauq" Andersen-Spear is the daughter of Ralph Andersen and Flossie Hopson-Andersen. Her grandparents are Eben and Rebecca "Sagvayuaq" Hopson Sr.; her grandmother Rebecca, after whom she was named, lives in Barrow. Her other grandparents are John and Martha "Peggy" Andersen from Dillingham, Alaska. Doreen is originally from Barrow, Alaska, and now lives with her husband, Donnon A. Spear, and their daughter, Daelynette "Aniksuaq" Spear, in Anchorage.
 
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