Can teaching Native languages improve graduation rates in Alaska? https://t.co/NP3TycleBe #AlaskaNative #IndigenousLanguages
— Kaleimamoowahinekapu (@candacekgalla) May 6, 2016
|The University of Alaska Southeast graduated its first Alaska Native Languages and Studies majors in 2014. (Photo by Lisa Phu/KTOO)|
Many of Alaska’s rural schools are not working. Low student performance and high teacher turnover are just two of more obvious indicators of problems in these mostly Native school districts. Those working in the schools say it’s time for radical changes.
Paul Berg has taught in Alaska for more than 40 years — 10 of them in villages.
“You want to see racism go to a village school,” said Berg. “You’ll see Outside, usually Anglo teachers have the best jobs, the most pay. Vast majority of administrators will be Anglo. It is not working. The statistics and the data are very clear. ”
Berg, now 70, teaches high school students during the summer and works as a cross-cultural specialist for the Goldbelt Heritage Foundation. He, among other educators meeting this month at the University of Alaska’s Natives Studies Conference, describes schools as colonial forces not that much different from the boarding schools of years ago that punished Native children for speaking their languages.
“Education is the means whereby a culture perpetuates itself and transfers itself to the young. Public education has taken this away from the Yupik, the Inupiat, the Aleut and others and given basically middle-class America to these people,” said Berg. “As to the degree that they wish that… that should be their choice but they should have the inalienable undeniable right to transfer the culture and the language to their children. It’s called the right of culture sovereignty and English-speaking nations are among the last on earth to recognize it.
|Xh’unei Lance Twitchell addresses a crowd at the 2014 Alaska Federation of Natives Convention. At the event, Gov. Sean Parnell signed HB 216, a bill making Alaska’s Native languages official state languages. (Photo by Jennifer Canfield/KTOO)|
“My prayer is that Tlingit is going to live forever because we want our little babies to be talking,” said Xh’unei Lance Twitchell.