Bernice Joseph's Keynote Speech at the 2005
October 20, 2005
[Opening joke - These two best friends
went out hunting. Woody and Albert. As they were setting up camp, they
could see a Grizzly moving toward them in the distance. Albert quickly
started unlacing his boots and pulled out his tennis shoes out of his
bag. Woody asked, "what do you think you're doing? You can't possibly
outrun that bear?" Albert answered, I know that, silly, but I can certainly
Do'eent'a? - How are you? - my Athabascan friends?
Neenjit don'cha? - my Gwich'in friends
C'amai - my Yup'ik Friends
Qanuq itpich? - my Iņupiaq friends
Sh yáa awudanéix'i - my Tlingit friends
Aang - my Aleut friends
Aloha - to our visitors
Go esee Nulaghudoh hu ts'in nesyo. Se'ooza' Bernice Joseph
Go esee Si ts'ookal ma' ooza Rita Esmailka
Go esee Si ts'eekaal ma' ooza', Eddie Hildebrand
Go esee Enaa ma' ooza', Edith Nicholas
Go esee sikkuhn ma'ooza, Stewart Joseph
Go esee sigooga Nee/k'ayoodaa/no, tl'ee yagga hokk'a ma'ooza, Alice Joseph
I thank my grandparents, mother and my husband Stewart for providing
me with guidance, love and support.
I am honored to be here and would like to thank the Alaska Federation
of Natives Board of Directors, staff and Executive Director, Julie
Kitka for inviting
me to be the keynote for the 2005 Alaska
Federation of Natives meeting.
I wish to address the theme "Follow the Lights - Native Ways of Knowing."
I will then discuss the importance of education, while maintaining cultural identity,
efforts in the development of a curriculum sensitive to our cultures, programs
that incorporate indigenous and western values, and honorary degrees that exemplify
what our people know, have to offer and can do for our youth.
What are the Native ways of knowing?
I asked this question of my ts'ookaal, my grandmother, what were her thoughts
about the Native ways of knowing. She asked whether I wanted to know in English
or in her Native language. I said, Gram, you'll have to tell me in your Native
language and then translate it. I've taken two semesters of Koyukon, but still
only have a limited understanding.
Yoo dona dinaghaneet haghu ghal ts'otl - It was hard for us long time ago.
Grandma's mother, the late Annie Mik'eendootza Ekada taught her how to set snares,
how to cook, but she hardly sewed because she trapped, snared and was the sole
provider of her kids. Grandma Annie lost her husband in 1937, so she provided
to her family by herself.
My grandmother Rita learned to sew, crochet, and knit by watching
other people. She learned how to make fur skin boots and fish skin
boots by watching her mother.
When my grandmother's mom was out setting snares and trapping,
grandma would cook, bring in wood, cook for the dogs and have
everything ready for her mother when she got back.
My grandmother spent very little time in the village, as a child.
She went home for Christmas and stayed only until the middle of January.
During that time she attended the Catholic school
She then went back to camp until Easter and stayed
in the village for about 2 weeks to attend school. With this schedule,
completed her Western education to the 4th grade.
In 1938, Miss Olson, a nurse at the clinic in Nulato, rounded up four
the village to work at the hospital that existed
in Nulato. The late Ida Agnes, Edna Stickman, Anita Demoski and my
were recruited to help. They attended a basic class
for 2 weeks and soon began delivering babies. My grandmother ended
almost all of Nulato along with the late Esther
McGinty. Grandma fondly remembers delivering her late brother Henry's daughter
Freda, who later became to be known as "Radar" by her friends
and family, at their six-mile camp.
Native Ways of Knowing, Grandma continues, is to have the utmost respect
for her upbringing and the knowledge she has of the land, animals,
beliefs, weather, plants and people around her.
She has patience and much love to share with her family and community.
education was at camp where she learned to survive.
Her secondary education was to eventually earn her community health
I can almost guarantee that if you speak with any elder today, you
will hear them speak of their support of Western Education. Most elders
I've spoken to, says that is important to have a Western education
to be able to compete in the world we live in today. It's important
to understand Western business concepts if you are going to
operate a successful business. It's important for our kids
to be exposed to Western educational opportunities, BUT not
at the expense of our cultures.
We are all too familiar with the statistics facing Alaska Natives
about educational attainment, suicide, alcohol
and drug abuse and the number
of Alaska Natives in prison.
Education is the key to overcoming many of the barriers Alaska Natives
face. Yet, it must be an education that is sensitive
to Native Ways
of Knowing. Children must be grounded in their
cultures and beliefs in order to be successful.
Recent studies from indigenous
peoples from places such as New Zealand, Canada
and Hawaii show that students perform at higher
levels when they are provided
with contextual or points of reference that they
can relate to in a meaningful way.
As a matter of fact, as we become more global in nature and experience
a mixture of different cultures, it becomes more
difficult for cultural
identity and community to survive. Let me provide
an example that was written in the Harvard Educational
Review. In 1992,
a study was done by Keith Osajima documenting the
story of a Chinese American student's ambivalence toward and discomfort
with issues of racial/ethnic identity that she faced in her
daily life. She articulated her position in this way.
"I grew up in a white suburb and my parents are also very Americanized, and spoke
mostly English at home, so I don't speak ChineseÄI also grew up trying to identify
as much as possible with White people and feeling very inadequate because I would
never be like them... I mean, it's constant conflict with me now. I assume it's
going to be for the rest of my life... You know either being with White Americans
and not feeling I'm like them, or going to the Chinese environment, like Chinatown
or something, and not feeling like I fit in there." (Harvard
Educational Review, Cambridge: Fall 2003).
This poignant example speaks directly to the question of culture and
identity. Imagine how many of our Alaska Native youth must feel with
of their belonging. Let me take you through a small exercise.
I would like you to go through a small exercise. Take a moment
to imagine your child's classroom. What does your child's classroom look like? What pictures
or artwork hang in the school? Are there pictures and objects that the child
can relate to? How are the days of the week, months, and years depicted by the
teacher? What kind of literature are the children required to read?
Are there photographs of respected elders? Do elders and parents feel
comfortable visiting the school? Is there respect for the subsistence
activities and are
students given excused or unexcused absences for hunting, trapping
or other subsistence activities? Are teachers and administrators aware
of the subsistence calendar?
What type of homework is your student bringing home on a daily
or weekly basis? Are students asked to write papers about manatees
or moose? Alligators or beluga
My instincts are that most curricula are Western in nature. As
a result, students do not see themselves represented in written materials,
texts, movies, videos
or literature. From this, is it safe to say that students are
learning that it was the Europeans that made history, discovered
other lands, shaped the histories
of science, the arts, and humanities; and made the important
contributions to the world?
Well, we know that's not true.
Take for example, the first things my late great grandmother Martha
Joe learned in school. In her biography, she stated that we had big
charts hanging on the
wall in school. "The first words I learned were 'c-a-t' and 'r-a-t.' Sometimes
it was just like a dream." I wonder if she had ever seen a cat at that point
in her life. Let's see, cat subsist on rat. Gee, that makes sense.
I believe that this speaks to the need for culturally appropriate
curriculum that provides students with a sense of being.
There have been great efforts by teacher organizations around
the world, nation and out very own state to change this. There has
been work at the K-12 and college
level curriculum. Make no mistake, there is much more work
to be done as there continues to be a dominant influence of the Eurocentric
There have been efforts by organizations like the Athabascan Interior Native
Educators Association to build curriculum that based upon
cultural activities, identification of animals, land, seasons and
the subsistence round. The Alaska
Native Knowledge Network, in partnership with AFN has been
recording and developing curriculum based upon elders' knowledge and input.
The Effie Kokrine Charter
School right here in Fairbanks has been
a dream and vision for Alaska Native Educators for years. The concept
stemmed from the first
Education Summit hosted by the First
This Charter School opened their doors at the beginning of this academic
year, and I might add, exceeded
their enrollment projections. There are many of us that
share in the excitement of what they have to offer to Alaska Native
students, and non-Native students
seeking a new way of learning. This school has over 90%
Alaska Native teacher hire. They will make a difference for Alaska
Native students, so we must support
their efforts 100%.
There has also been recognition by the University of Alaska
by honoring elders for their extensive knowledge through time. Several
elders and Native Alaskans
have been awarded with the prestigious honorary degree,
the highest degree that a university can offer.
The first Alaska Native to be honored with a doctorate
degree was Dr. Walter Soboleff, a Tlingit. He was awarded the degree
in 1968 and was invited back as
the UAF commencement speaker in 2003.
The University of Alaska Fairbanks honored the late
Chief Peter John, traditional chief of the Tanana Chiefs region,
At a summit hosted by Rural
Student Services in 1990, Chief Peter John spoke of Troth
Yeddha', the hill that UAF
now stands on, as an important meeting place for chiefs from the Interior.
At the last meeting of the chiefs, he stated "people from all
over the world will come to this great place of learning."
These were the powerful words of our late Chief. He knew that good
things would happen on that hill. If you were to visit the "hill" today, you would see people
from all over the world coming together to study and learn.
There is important research taking place with scientists and elders.
I asked a colleague of mine about examples on the North Slope. He share
what he termed
a "hallmark" case from the 1970's and 80's. The US Government estimated a dangerously
low population of bowhead whales. The International Whaling Commission was about
to rule subsistence whaling off-limits to the Iņupiat people. The whalers of
the North Slope knew that there were many more whales than the scientist had
estimated, and they showed the scientists that over generations the whales migrate
through the ice, not just through open water as the scientist had observed. The
North Slope Borough hired their scientists, and working together with the Iņupiat
elders they developed an internationally respected census method that vindicated
the Iņupiat whalers.
There have also been some exciting and successful programs developed
that incorporate Western and Indigenous knowledge. The Rural Human
Services Certificate Program
is built on Alaska Native traditional values. This
program developed by Interior-Aleutians Campus Director Clara Johnson
with the work of an advisory council made up of
grassroots community people validates respective
traditions to facilitate healing through the positive blending of Western
concepts with Alaska Native traditional
The RHS program is thriving and showing continuous
improvement since its inception just over 10 years ago. Over 149
RHS counselors and students are working in rural
Alaska, achieving the goal of, "a counselor in every village."
As I mentioned earlier, there are great things happening, but there
is much more to do. For Alaska Native people to have their place at
the policy-making level,
and to make bolstering changes, several things
Alaska Natives must be respected for their knowledge. Alaska
Native culture must
be as revered as the cultures of the Japanese,
Chinese, Russians, and other cultural groups from around the world.
We face a huge challenge with the loss of the Alaska Native languages.
it is as common for students to choose their
own Alaska Native language in the schools as it is for Spanish, Russian,
and French, to name a few, we are a long
ways from having equity.
We must work together to build a solid telecommunications
infrastructure that will allow our rural residents with quality
internet access necessary to diversity
their economies and access a quality education.
We must work to "grow our own" policy level makers. Our neighbors
to the far south of us, the Maori of New Zealand took bold actions
to produce 500 Maori
PhD's. Under the leadership and guidance of Dr.
Graham H. Smith, a Maori, they embraced an impressive
plan to grow their own PhD candidates. Dr. Graham
is now working on a similar charge with the First
Nations people at the University of British Columbia
where they have set a target of 250 First Nations
to earn their PhD's. They will have success because
there is commitment by the indigenous people
to make a stance, and demand that level of commitment
university. At UAF, we have begun to develop
proposals that will move us toward these types
of efforts. We have invited Dr. Graham Smith
to spend a semester
with us to develop a concrete plan for Alaska
Above all, we must work together
to keep rural Alaska a viable place to live.
It's going to take our legislators, state and
federal government, community leaders and educators
to support our communities through municipal
funding. There a major
mining economic development projects on the horizon
near the communities of Illiamna, Bethel and
Nome. It is our collective obligation to support
in order for the whole state to benefit from
In conclusion, I note that
the First Alaskans is making great strides
towards building Alaska Native policy makers. They are
in the process of building a "think
tank" of Alaska Native people. It's all about
Native minds shaping our future.
Our people have come a long way from only a few decades of Western
education, to developing our own curriculum, to be recognized
for traditional knowledge through honorary
degrees and be recognized on Commissions, Boards, and
Effie Kokrine School to further help us to
maintain our sense and knowledge of self, while living
in a western world, but empowered through cultural
and cultural presence to stand tall and be
counted for all of our contributions to education, health,
politics, economics and science. We have done
a lot, but
we have only just begun.
In closing, I would like to call upon my family
and friends to end with a special presentation
dedicated to all of our youth, both those that
have passed on, but
more importantly to those that struggle to
find their identity.
Nulato singers, please join
me in this special presentation.
Anaa Mas'ee - Thank you so much for having me as your keynote. My warmest wishes
for a productive, illustrious
and memorable meeting here in Fairbanks.