ANUAH Discussion Forum

Leading By Example, in the 21st Century...

Read your copy of Alaska Native Cultures and Issues.

Respond to the following 3 questions:

  • Which themes were highlighted in the Migrations lecture?
  • Which articles surprised you and why?
  • Finally, how might you utilize this information in the classroom?

(Here is an Interactive Recording of this webinar for those who missed it, or want to review)

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Replies to This Discussion

Okay, I had a bit of free time to read last night and during my planning today, so here are my initial thoughts on some of the articles.

  • ·  Which themes were highlighted in the Migrations lecture?


Just as there are geographically many different “Alaskas” that each have their own particular resource, so too are there many different types of Alaskans, all of whom have ancestors who thrived for ten thousand years in one of the “harshest areas of the world” (1). However, while an Inuit may rely on the whale hunt, a Gwichin Athabaskan eagerly anticipates the caribou hunt, or a Yupik native makes plans for the year based on his success at fish camp, one common thread runs through all their lives: subsistence.


  • ·  Which articles surprised you and why?


I really liked the connection between alcohol and America’s founding fathers and how “alcohol was an accepted way of life that in 1829 the secretary of war estimated that three quarters of the nation’s laborers drank daily at least 4 ounces of distilled spirits” (68). When we cover stereotypes during the Culture unit, it inevitably comes up that most kids from Eagle River only encounter large numbers of Alaska Natives when they drive through Anchorage and see homeless Natives by Brother Francis or panhandling in Midtown. I’ve always pointed out that those people don’t represent the bulk of Alaska Natives and they come to Anchorage because there are services to help them, but I’d never thought to present information regarding alcoholism and Alaska Natives with an anecdote about the early United States. The comments regarding the erosion of traditional Native society (and especially its loss of elder leadership) via colonialism and the negative feelings associated with the loss of subsistence ways and the inability to enter into a cash society were also things I knew, but which gave me new, more concrete, information I can share with my students (69).  


  • ·  Finally, how might you utilize this information in the classroom?


I really liked the statement that “the bulk of Alaska Native identity is beyond the surface” (5). My favorite unit to teach in 9th grade AK Studies is Culture, because it’s truly an eye opening experience for students to try to experience a fragment of Alaska Native life. After I give them an overview of the regional differences between the groups, they have to create an authentic Native Alaskan artifact. That alone teaches them how much work goes into a deceptively simple item like a halibut hook, when they have to find the wood and whittle it by hand. Their discussion after we’ve shared our artifacts always centers around the fact that they have so much more respect for the various cultures and the work they put into surviving. A number of students also choose to decorate their artifacts with Native Alaskan symbols and they make excellent connections to a number of themes that underlie Alaska Native culture, most especially their deep connection to the land and its animals.


In addition, while I definitely cover the issue of the forced boarding schools and how ANCSA was meant to avoid the failure of the reservation system prevalent in the Lower 48, I knew nothing about the Indian Child Welfare Act. This is a great example of how Congress has tried not to entirely repeat the mistakes of the past, but acknowledging that “no nation can flourish if its youngest members are removed” (71). I’ll definitely be adding that to my lecture notes!

Hi Stephanie,

Great comments and insights.  In my US History class I also talk about the historic role of alcohol--which in early America was a replacement for bad water.  Student are intrigued as to how Boston bars became sites of revolutionary action, and the fact that everyone drank--both men and women.  A spiritual component--the power to alter the state of mind--was appealing to Native Americans, and was considered, at first anyway, an implement of power.  I think your absolutely correct that by putting a topic into historic contexts reduces the stereotype. 

I plan to talk more about Alaska's education history in upcoming lectures so I hope that too will help support your classroom activities.


Hi Katherine,

Have you read 6 Glasses That Changed the World by Tom Standage? It's essentially the history of the world as told by the impacts of beer (early civ), wine (Greece & Rome), hard spirits (Discovery of New World), tea (Industrial Revolution/Imperialism), coffee (Enlightenment), and Coca-Cola (Modern Imperialism). The sections on beer and wine touch on the topic of replacing bad water. It always shocks my students that even kids were drinking watered beer and wine in the ancient days.

Haven't read it but heard about it.  I'm really excited about this type of approach to explaining the significance of the past--using one topic in order to see the countless linkages.  It provides an alternative to the timeline--that in fact we are part of massive social network--a Big History.  Thanks for the recommendation...definitely going to check it out now...

Hi Stephanie! 

I'm a first year teacher and I am trying to build some meaningful lesson plans for my Alaska Studies classes. The assignment that you mentioned that requires them to build their own native artifact sounds fantastic. I was wondering if you would be willing to share any resources you have or an assignment sheet? I could use all the help I can get :)

Thank you!


Are you HS or elementary AK Studies? If you're HS, I wrote a PBL lesson plan for Native kids (b/c it has to do with their corporation) that my kiddos really did well in last year. It's six weeks long, and covers a ton of stuff. If you want it, just ask!


Question 1 - Which themes were highlighted in the Migrations lecture?

I haven't had a chance to finish the reading yet, but I can certainly get a jump on the first question. The biggest theme that stuck out to me in the lecture was theme of the interconnectedness of the people and land of Alaska (and really any place). So much of this lecture touched on the various ways that natural processes, systems, and patterns of the land & environment have affected the peoples of Alaska. Whether it be the subsistence activities of various indigenous groups, the cultural similarities and differences, or the wide array of languages, the land itself has been one of, if not the, most powerful influence on the lives of Alaskans. Natural landscapes have, at different points in time, connected or isolated groups of people. The local climates and ecosystems have determined cultures and economics for the individuals living in any given place. As much as we talk about how dramatically life changed for Native Alaskans when Europeans arrived, the physical space of Alaska has been shaping the lives of Alaskans in incredible ways for thousands of years. Compared to that, the cultural impact of Europeans is just blip on the radar. That was my big take away from this lecture - the immense power that Alaska's land has had in shaping the lives of the variety of people that have called this place home.

Fantastic response, Eli.  You took away the important message, alright.  The land was and continues to be a shaper of culture and history, and in turn, it too is in constant flux.  Next class will shift to another major agent of change--Europeans and the Americans.  More than a blip, but a blending perhaps, an interpretation that hopefully will add to your classroom lessons!

I think it's very apparent that Alaska's environment has definitely impacted our history, especially considering that the major eras we focus on when teaching Alaska Studies include the exploitation of so many natural resources: Russians with furs, Americans with the Gold Rush, and our current dependence on oil. I do wonder how many other states are comparable, but I feel like Alaska is somewhat unique in this aspect, as compared to, say someone from Ohio or Georgia.

And while there are certainly parallels between Native Americans and Native Alaskans in regards to first contact with white Westerners, I also feel like Alaska might be unique in that its landscape is so vast that many of the Native groups had never even met a white person, yet the very ground beneath their feet was claimed by outsiders. The sheer size of the state led to its isolation.

Question 3 - Finally, how might you utilize this information in the classroom?

Sorry to go out of order, but this is another question I feel confident in my ability to answer without having yet completed the reading. There were a couple of things that I found particularly fascinating from the lecture, that I think students could find equally interesting and valuable. One of these two topics is: Beringia was not merely a transportation corridor, but a place that people called home for thousands of years. It was a place where people lived long enough, and separate enough from the continents on either side of it that it can be considered a place of origin for Alaska Natives. That is an idea that I think could be incredibly powerful for my (mostly) Yup'ik students, and indigenous Alaskans (even Native Americans) everywhere. The idea that they did not really come from Asia, but from someplace different lends a really powerful nuance to their cultural and ethnic identity.

The other topic I'd love to explore in my AK Studies class is the forces that led each Native Alaskan group to settle in their current regions, particularly why the Yup'ik people came to settle Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. I wonder how many students (even parents for that matter) have really considered the question: Why are we here? Not in the existential meaning, but in the more concrete meaning of why do we live in this place, and not somewhere else? This could be a really fun, insightful, and meaningful subject of inquiry.

Another great response!  I'm that you found common ground in the content that will resonate with your students.  Check out the UAF website for more information about Beringia.  I found tons of public accessible articles based on research and findings of linguists, archeologists, and other scientists and cultural experts. History is literally following out of the river banks and along shorelines as climate warms and changes (again!)  Next week, we'll be focusing on economics--although the power and significance of the land again comes into the foreground.  Will look at the various encounters among Alaska's diverse groups (Alaska Natives, Russians, and EuroAmericans) and the motives driving each groups.  Let me know if there are sources or suggestions I can provide you for your class!

The biggest theme discussed both in the lecture and in the book was that of the close relationship between the land and those who inhabit it. The geographic features of a place correspond closely to those who use that space. This idea is not new; it was discussed in Myra Shackley’s “Space, Sanctity and Service” (2002) which takes Michael Foucault’s (1986) idea of heterotropia into the sacred realm, much as “Alaska Native Cultures and Issues” does. Nevertheless, nothing in this book seemed particularly indicative of Native Alaskans qua Alaskans, as most of the material can be found more articulately explained by men like Howard Vogel (2001) or Joel Brady (2000).

Rather than being surprised by a particular article, I was most surprised by the lack of discussion about government aide in the villages, especially in the section about the potential reasons for particular social ills. In my own region, 90% of the economic flow is through the public sector (Fienup-Riordan, Tyson, John, Meade, & Active, 200, p. 16), and in my own village, 55.7% of the workforce works directly for the government. Aside from the government providing aide through such jobs, more than 47% of villagers have received SNAP (“food stamps”) in the past year, 32% of households receive social security, at an average of over $11,000 a year, and nearly 25% receive cash assistance each year (U.S. Census Bureau. 2012. American FactFinder Community Facts: Napaskiak, AK. Business by Industry, 2012 American Community Survey, Occupation by Sex and Median Earnings). In the words of one elder, “‘The government,’ it seemed, was a vague somebody with an inexhaustible money supply and one that I could call on at will” (Oswalt, 1990, p. 161). It is impossible to overstate the obvious demoralizing and emasculating effect of such patronization, and yet “Alaska Native Cultures and Issues” seems to overlook it; it seems to be a one-sided presentation of a complicated subject, and while knowing the book and the milieu from whence it arises it does not surprise me, I would have still hoped for better.

            I would use the incredible visuals in the lecture for my students. They tend to struggle with understanding the various eco-regions of Alaska, and I am sure the wonderful pictures of each region and its local fauna would help them to grasp this otherwise difficult concept.


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