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Alutiiq Renaissance:
An Educational Countermovement


Following an international wave of Indigenous decolonization efforts, the Kodiak Alutiiq began an educational countermovement, often described as the Alutiiq Renaissance. Just prior to and following the passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA) in 1971, Kodiak Alutiiq peoples began to unite efforts in protecting and sharing traditional ways of life and knowledge as they regained autonomy.

There were a number of early efforts by Alutiiq leaders to revitalize our language in the 1980s and 1990s, including creation of high school and college level Alutiiq Language classes, developed and taught by Philomena Knecht and Alutiiq speaker Florence Pestrikoff in a 1993 pilot class (Counceller, 2010, 2012; P. Knecht, 1995). Their efforts and others grew from an increased interest and pride in Alutiiq heritage after ANCSA and the new availability of the Alutiiq language in a written form, through Jeff Leer’s research and publication of an Alutiiq dictionary in 1978 and a grammar book in 1990. While the Knecht and Pestrikoff class pilot was ultimately not sustained, the unpublished lesson booklet they produced has been used to develop current language learning resources (P. Knecht, 1995). It is probable that all the cultural revitalization efforts had not yet gained momentum to influence students in their commitment to learn the language (Counceller, 2012). In January 2011, the community launched a second pilot of an Alutiiq Language class at Kodiak High School. The course is now in its third year with twelve students in Level I and six in Level II.

Through a combined Alutiiq community effort, with funding from the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill Trust, the Alutiiq Museum and Archaeological Repository through the Alutiiq Heritage Foundation was founded in 1995. The Museum has significantly influenced cultural education and helped reestablish a positive sense of identity and unity for the Alutiiq people, by having a regional focus for Alutiiq cultural and historical research, offering a home for artifacts and gathered cultural knowledge, and providing educational materials and workshops to help carry on traditional knowledge among each new generation. Through the Museum, Alutiiq leaders and educators have been able to teach mask carving, bentwood bowl and hat construction, kayak building, and the Alutiiq language. The Museum has won a number of awards and continues to be a community focal point as we use it to support educational efforts within the Kodiak Alutiiq community, as well as educate visitors and other community members about the traditional practices and lifeways of our people throughout time and into the present.

Among one of the most significant education programs the Alutiiq Museum manages is the Kodiak Alutiiq Language Revitalization Program. Through this program an Elders council called the New Words Council or Nuta’at Niugnelistet is working to empower Alutiiq people with creation of terms for modern scientific, technological and medical items, helping bring the language into the twenty-first century. As a collaborative effort between grassroots language revitalization leaders, the community is developing curriculum to expand instruction and help sustain Kodiak Alutiiq as a living language.

Perhaps less known outside the Kodiak Alutiiq community are a number of Native education programs quietly supporting Kodiak Alutiiq students and families. In 1966, Kodiak Area Native Association (KANA) was established. Through their education department they provide job training, scholarships, and preschools in three of the largest villages: Old Harbor, Ouzinkie, and Port Lions. A number of tribal councils around the island also offer Alutiiq dance training programs and other after school programs. The Kodiak Island Housing Authority (KIHA) provides a series of education programs and an after school family center for residents of their Woody Way complex, as well as funding support for Native educational programs throughout the region. As a result of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), and our regional corporation Koniag, Inc., Koniag Education Foundation (KEF) was founded in 1993. They provide higher education scholarships and mentorship, and connections to internships and job training.

Another significant influence on Alaska Native education statewide was the development of the Alaska Rural Systemic Initiative (AKRSI) through combined support by the Alaska Federation of Natives and the University of Alaska Fairbanks, with leadership by Ray Barnhardt, Ph.D., Angayuqaq Oscar Kawagley, Ph.D., and Frank Hill (Kushman & R. Barnhardt, 1999). Specifically for the Kodiak Alutiiq, a number of grassroots efforts were put into action during this time period or influenced related efforts around the state, including the AKRSI series of Guidelines for Cultural-Responsive Schools (1998-2003). As a graduate of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Education Department, with its strong emphasis in Cross-Cultural Studies, Teresa Schneider took on a role as Alutiiq Studies Coordinator at the Kodiak Island Borough School District through AKRSI efforts and funding. She and a group of Alutiiq Elders and educators established a regional Native education association called the Native Educators of the Alutiiq Region (NEAR) in 1999. NEAR and the educators in its network have supported development of several curriculum units, such as a Kodiak Alutiiq Spring Plants curriculum, and new teacher orientation sessions that have begun to make a difference in the level of involvement the Alutiiq community has within our schools. Perhaps one of the most significant publications to promote culturally relevant education practices was their collaboration with Alutiiq Elders to produce an Alutiiq Values poster, publishing fourteen core value statements that help show how Alutiiq traditional practices and worldview today are part of a continuous knowledge stream and provide the framework for Alutiiq education (NEAR, 2002).

Around the island various organizations have sponsored culture-based summer camps since 1995, which have significantly impacted Kodiak Alutiiq youth by building positive exposure to Alutiiq culture and ways of life through intergenerational learning environments aligned to traditional Alutiiq education practices. Through summer camps like these the community has produced additional curriculum and publications such as the Red Cedar of Afognak, a Native science children’s book I co-authored, which won an Honoring Alaska’s Indigenous Literature Award and an American Book Award by the Before Columbus Foundation (Drabek, 2009b; Drabek & Adams, 2004).

Starting in 2000, the Kodiak Native community has co-sponsored a regional gathering called Esgarlluku Taquka’aq or Awakening Bear, which featured an annual education summit for several years. Later, through Kodiak Island Housing Authority (KIHA) efforts, community empowerment and leadership in education and other areas were further extended with creation of a Rural Leadership Forum, which meets three times a year. Through their education sessions, the Kodiak rural villages have been able to build a stronger relationship with Kodiak Island Borough School District and Kodiak College and developed Advisory School Boards Best Practices.

Combined, there are many Alutiiq organizations and leaders working together to develop new ways to support respect for the Alutiiq worldview and traditional knowledge. They are well aware that it is through education that we can transform our communities back into empowered, self-sufficient communities, rooted within our Alutiiq values. These efforts require collaboration, creative solutions, and learning from other Indigenous communities who are proving they can establish successful Indigenous place-based education systems.

Excerpt from Alisha Drabek, Ph.D. (2012) dissertation:
Liitukut Sugpiat'stun (We are Learning How to be Real People):
Exploring Kodiak Alutiiq Literature through Core Values


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Pre-Colonial Kodiak Alutiiq Eras

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