Standard B

Culturally Responsive Curriculum Standard B, part 3. states that there is an “in-depth study of unique elements of contemporary life in Native communities in Alaska, such as the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, subsistence, sovereignty and self-determination.” That resonates with me, as my grandparents and great-grandparents, as well as many older relatives and family friends that I knew growing up in Ketchikan were active in the ANB and ANS. That, however, speaks to a problem in Alaska Native communities of Southeast. ANB/ANS members were largely of a generation born in the 1920s and 1930s. Their children were less active, and my generation hardly at all.

It was my grandparents’ generation, and their parents, who were the at the forefront of Alaska Native civil rights, statehood, Prudhoe Bay, subsistence rights, and ANCSA. We are the beneficiaries of their generation, who demonstrated much resiliency against adversity. They attended boarding schools, where our language was nearly lost. Unfortunately, organizations like the ANB and ANS, which the older generations sustained, didn’t resonate with younger Alaska Natives.

Perhaps the mission has changed, but there are still many challenges facing young Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian. If not ANB/ANS, then the schools are a great place for young Natives to reconnect with what their forebears have accomplished. The culture has changed, particularly in regards to technology, which presents a danger of fragmentation with the past. But technology could also be a means of connection, bringing old and new together. Currently, there are a number of Elders who could speak to Alaska Native values of old, but their numbers only dwindle with time. Language revitalization is perhaps the most crucial component of keeping the culture alive, something that was nearly lost in the 20th century. Southeast Alaska Native people have demonstrated resiliency for untold generations. The young of today have been given the opportunity to redefine what it means to be Alaska Native in the 21st century. They are the cultural bearers of tomorrow. Those who carried the fight in the 20th century would be proud at what they have already accomplished.

680 Final Reflections

One of my favorite television programs of all time, and one I still like to watch today, is Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. Fred Rogers never tired of telling his television friends, “You make each day a special day by just your being you.” I was reminded of Mister Rogers and the word “being” when David Katzeek said that it was one of his favorite words. Being is an empowering idea. Being a teacher is a great privilege because we are being in the presence of our students. Our being is for them. That being is ideally true for all of us as teachers, because it’s how we’ve chosen to define our lives. Irrespective of how any of our students choose to define themselves as cultural beings, it is important and imperative for them to be awake to their feelings, possibilities, and ambitions. If they can reach that point of being, then we teachers have done our jobs. But “being” isn’t one of the words I’ve chosen.

  1. The first word that drew my attention was “another.” In these past three weeks, I’ve come to appreciate and rely on the help of my peers, particularly with respect to the iBook project. At first I was a little overwhelmed with what seemed like a daunting endeavor, but I quickly came to rely on the support and encouragement of my teammates. I recognized that I was not alone. For years, even into adulthood, I thought I was alone. In feeling alone, I often felt like I was a failure. It was only when I came to appreciate that I had many advocates, I knew I could succeed. Relying on another, or others, is not a signifier of failure, but an empowering opportunity to reach our highest potential.
  2. “Understanding.” This word goes hand in hand with listening. One of the most important tasks we have as teachers is to listen to our students. Sometimes young people will have difficulty expressing themselves, and they may not always do it verbally. But active listening will open up channels of communication that are otherwise shut off. We can’t allow ourselves to get so wrapped up in a lesson that we don’t take the time to model listening to our students. By doing so, we help ourselves and them to gain a better understanding of another, or others.
  3. “Together.” As I mentioned, the iBook project was so successful because each team came together. Each of use is unique in that there’s never been another person just like us in all the world, and there never will be another person like us again. Yet, in being together, we accomplished our goal. The same will be true for every student we will encounter in our careers. Many young people may share similar characteristics, but each one is unique. That uniqueness is what makes them special. Once they understand that they’re not alone in their struggles, they can come together to a place of being that enriches their lives and others.

In the coming year, my intention is to listen and learn as much as possible from my host teacher at JDHS. I will follow her lead in approaching culturally responsive teaching. My own strategies as a teacher will evolve from the point of intersection with my colleagues and students. As I have expressed in class, I feel like I am in a period of great self-discovery in my life. Having said that, certainly, the inclusion of Elders into a discussion of Southeast Alaska history is an enriching prospect. As for specific content/units, the iBook introductions and lesson plans may be a good starting place when teaching about regions of Alaska. For me, teaching history will be about finding my way into the curriculum. That is, making it personal enough for me in oder to communicate what I feel is important for my students to internalize. What is the core story in the history? Like analyzing a script, I tend to think in terms of the work of an actor, discovering intentions and motives. I would like to bring history dramatically to life, whether through historical videos, film clips, or some sort of interactive performance.

Artifact Assignment

On June 16, we had the chance to visit the new Alaska State Museum, where our initial assignment was to find an artifact that spoke to us. As I wandered about looking at the extraordinary art and objects from Alaska’s past, I was instantly drawn to this traditional herring rake, used to collect roe (eggs) from female herring that had spawned on cedar tree branches or kelp. Why the herring rake? First of all, I had never heard of it before. Also, I grew up commercial seining with my grandfather, as I shared with the class. In addition to salmon, each spring my grandfather participated as one of 54 permit holders in the Sitka Sound Herring Sac Roe fishery. The first time I went along was when I was 13, and I rarely missed a year until I was 32. He passed away three years after my final time as a member of his crew. As such, Sitka, Alaska will always have a special place in my heart because of those many years with my grandfather in that fishery. This herring rake makes me want to investigate further the traditional fishing methods of the Tlingit, particularly for herring. I’d love to get a copy of the out-of-print book, Indian Fishing, by Hillary Stewart.

Discovering this artifact also directly led to my lesson plan on the Exxon Valdez oil spill, which happened in March 1989, when I was herring fishing in Sitka! I remember all of us following it on the news. When I was thinking of a possible lesson plan for Southcentral, my initial thought was researching the herring fishery in Prince William Sound that had been disrupted because of the spill.

CRT: Scott’s Lesson and an Earful From Ernestine

Unfortunately, I missed Alberta’s presentation on 6/23. I did read Scott’s lesson he had prepared with his colleagues as a middle school teacher on the Kenai Peninsula. It was a great example of collaboration among disciplines to empower students to take an active interest in their own education by engaging with others in their community. As we’ve addressed multiple times during our class, school doesn’t have to be boring, with a teacher merely serving to dispense knowledge from the front of the room. That may be the old model of teaching, and something I certainly experienced as a middle (junior high) and high school student. In the secondary grades, schools should encourage students to do more than just become expert note-takers. I also took to heart how Scott admitted a learning curve when implementing his curriculum. There were things he would do differently in the future. That’s another lesson I took away from David K.’s talk, that we never stop learning. I can’t ever expect as an educator to have all the answers, nor should I expect that my future colleagues will have the answers. But, as with Scott, teaching is a collaborative experience at its best. Draw on the wisdom of others and the wisdom of experience, and you’ll know how to guide your students toward a more fulfilling education experience.

As an undergrad student at UAS, I’ve know Ernestine for years. Although I haven’t yet read her book, Blonde Indian, I’ve known her to be a passionate advocate for justice in the Alaska Native community. I am also aware of the difficulties she’s had as an employee of UAS. She was very frank about her sometimes tense relationships with her colleagues, but she has demonstrated time and again her passion for teaching. I greatly admire her work, yet I also know that there’s two sides to every story. She can come across as very angry, but much of that anger is justified, and someone has to say those things! While I may not agree on the severity of present-day colonialism, evidence of oppression certainly still pervades our culture, particularly with respect to education. There is a divide between Native and non-Native. The kids certainly know it, and feel it every day. I experienced it personally when I was a student. Now, my hope is to be that one teacher, as Ernestine said, that will change the world. Not too tall of an order. That’s a teacher’s job.

ALST600 Final Reflections

The one thing I’d say about myself as a undergrad student is that I’m bad at math. As Peter said to me recently, we all get gifts in life, but not all of them. Math definitely isn’t one of my gifts. I wouldn’t have made it through any of my undergrad math courses were it not for the tutors, math specialists, and professors who believed in me. I also wouldn’t have gotten through the iBook assignment were it not for the patience and encouragement of Team Southcentral: Reuben, Mason, Meghan, Shaun, and Sophia. When we started this project, I didn’t know which region I wanted to research. I simply stood in the hallway until every region looked like it was spoken for and I put my name on the list that had only five names. I don’t think I could’ve picked a better team. I appreciated Reuben’s patience, Mason’s humor, Meghan’s generosity, Shaun’s technical expertise, and Sophia plays the viola beautifully.

The most valuable lesson I learned is that, when doing research, there are some ways of proceeding that are more efficient than others. I learned by watching how my team members approached their research. Besides being bad at math, I feel like I lack in imagination sometimes. I felt like I was undertaking a daunting task, and my initial approach was to panic, thinking I needed to check out a bunch of books. How do I do this?, I thought, but was afraid to ask anyone. Again, from Peter, at some point you just have to stop panicking and do it. Slowly, I came to realize that I wasn’t alone, that Team Southcentral was in this together, and that my part our iBook introduction was absolutely doable. I think the final result in our collective effort demonstrates everyone’s commitment to being the best educator they can be.

Thank you to Peter for his sage advice, and to Team Southcentral, for helping me expand my imagination. By that I mean that I know I can do something like this again. The panic is gone.

Growing up Native

As a Tlingit kid from Ketchikan, I never felt the kind of racism directed against me, personally, that I saw in the movies or on television, or perhaps read about in history books. I simply accepted that I was who I was and the family to which I belonged. No one else seemed to mind. I understood that Alaska Native people of a previous generation had fought for and won equality as citizens, long before the civil rights tensions of the 1960s came to a head elsewhere in the nation. I can’t speak to the experience of Alaska Natives as a whole, only my own experience.

In our group discussion of BH&H I was drawn to the “six identity statuses which characterize a White individual’s patter of responding to racial situations in his or her environment.” The first being Contact. Being White is viewed as a “normal” state, rarely reflected upon. That is, the privileges of being white are simply taken for granted. Maybe I did grow up privileged, because I never identified purely as a Native kid. While I certainly saw a racial divide growing up, particularly from members of my own family, I never took part in any  sort of active racial identity reflection. People were simply curious to me, and I was content to remain an observer and not get involved. That remained true, at least, until I became a teenager.

In Ketchikan High School of the 1980s there was a clear racial divide between the “normal” kids and the Native kids. While I don’t recall any hostile words being spoken from either group towards the other, there certainly was little social mixing. White kids were friends among themselves and Native kids were friends among themselves. I increasingly felt isolated from both groups. What I observed of the Native kids, though, didn’t appeal to me. How they dressed and interacted with each other, their language, wasn’t something I could partake in. Also, observing their behavior in school contrasted with how I saw them at potlatch gatherings, for instance. The same Native kids I saw from school were the ones wearing the regalia and dancing.

One of my strongest interests in high school was politics. It’s been a few years, but I was likely most comfortable speaking up in history or U.S. government classes. It was the 80s and I, like many kids of my generation, was drawn to Ronald Reagan. Maybe it was how I confidently spoke about current events that drew certain kids to me. White kids. I came to accept my new friends and rejected being Native. I felt a new empowerment as I had at last been socially accepted in the cool crowd. I had not so subtly shifted my identity from Native to white.

I’ve reached point in my life that I want to reestablish the connections that I broke those many years ago. My political views have certainly evolved with time, and my attitudes towards being Native  have also evolved. I trust that, because of courses like this one, I am progressing toward a more purposeful and positive affirmation of my humanity.

In our group presentation I felt compelled to speak out against a current presidential candidate, who I feel will set the absolutely wrong tone for today’s youth. As a teenager I drawn to a political ideology for the wrong reasons, and presidential candidate in question, referring to a female U.S. Senator as “Pocahontas”, denigrating whole classes of people based on their ethnicity, gender or religious faith, is a danger for the country. Such sentiments expressed from from the White House will only make it more difficult for teachers who are attempting to guide our students to a more hopeful affirmation of themselves and the country we share.