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Webinar #1: Migrations- Discussion Questions

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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  • The lecture by Kate Ringsmuth connected with Alaska Native Cultures and Issues by providing both history and a physical context in the lecture for all the questions addressed by the book.  Specifically the article on education addressed the importance for Native Alaskan people to be especially aware of place.  “In such economies, a highly ‘place-based’ educational system has evolved” (78).   A knowledge of subtle changes in environment has always been crucial to a subsistence lifestyle.   Through her extensive collection of slides Professor Ringsmuth demonstrated the range of places and people in Alaska as well as the history of migration.  A number of times in the book, speakers referred to the 10,000 years that Native Alaskans have been on this land.  I have used an article published recently about Beringia to help my students understand this concept. 

    The surprises in the text were about the idea of afterborns.  People who were not initially shareholders can potentially become shareholders, depending on the policies created by the Native corporations (23).  This generation has to work with previous generations to determine who makes policies that will affect the future.   I was also interested in the idea of the introducing agriculture into a subsistence lifestyle and how that did not sound appealing (37).    I had heard that Bethel had developed gardening strategies, because the permafrost had melted, but had not thought about how this impacted the system of subsistence.  Finally I had not realized that the Anchorage West Coast International Inn was a Native corporation owned hotel near the airport which I had visited for various functions with AEA, our teacher union (47).

    All of this information will provide me with the context to have more extensive discussions and background to lead the students in my AK Studies class.  Many of these questions have arisen in the course of my first semester teaching the class.  I appreciate that I have answers from Native people about questions concerning Native cultures and issues.  

  • Which major themes were highlighted in Migrations Lecture?


    In my opinion the theme of the relationship of the people with the land that provides for them is the most important. I have been working in Indian country for more that 30 years. During that time I have worked with many different Native groups from the Blackfeet of Montana to the Yup’ik of Alaska. In all cases their concern for the land and that it is able to provide for the people has always been first in their hearts.


    Which article surprised you and why?


    I am not really surprised by any of the articles. The article on Tribal Government, having taught in Indian Country, however intrigued me and working in public schools controlled by the state on two reservations in Montana has given the ability to compare the two different systems. I do not see the villages in the same light as the Blackfeet, Northern Cheyenne or Crow Reservations. In my village it is City and State laws that govern our community, with Alaska State Troopers enforcing the laws. This is something that was not seen on the Reservations.


    How might you utilize this information in the classroom?


    I have been creating a more Blended teaching style in my classes this year. I can see that the Articles in Alaska Native Cultures and Issues could very easily turned into modules that could be included in my online Alaska Studies class in Schoology. They could be a starting point that could lead the students into independent research on these topics.

  • Which major themes were highlighted in the Migrations lecture?


    The most notable and major theme highlighted throughout the lecture focused on the close and important relationship between the land and people of Alaska.  Many parts of the lecture highlighted how land, resources, and geography influenced the migration patterns of people and the formation of pockets of settlements throughout Alaska.  These influences resulted in the development of individual and shared cultures and social systems among the people groups of Alaska depending on geographic features and resources in the environment.


    Which article surprised you and why?


    The articles I found most interesting came out of the section Subsistence and Relationship to Land, Waters, and Wildlife.  I thought this article did a great job of defining and clarifying the importance of subsistence, especially throughout rural Alaskan communities.   I thought the articles were enlightening regarding the perspective of “responsible stewardship” related to the cultural traditions of subsistence.  The articles made clear the challenging balance of traditional subsistence patterns, the introduction and opportunities of new technology, but with the added cost and transition to, or forced influence of cash-based economic systems. 


    How might you utilize this information in the classroom?


    I would really like to include the powerpoint slides from this lecture combined with some of the articles from the reading to improve student understanding of the interconnectedness between land and people across time and space of Alaska history.  These articles would facilitate a clearer and broader scope of understanding for my students in relation to subsistence.  Although we studied subsistence traditions and patterns early on in the semester, many of my students held limited views and understandings of how important subsistence has been and continues to be throughout Alaska, until later in the semester when we analyzed and compared economic resources, trends, and disparities across communities of Alaska.  I think the use of some of these articles would help students to develop a clearer and more encompassing understanding of the value of Alaska’s land and resources, and the dependence and responsibility of the people of Alaska in relation  to them.

    • Which themes were highlighted in the Migrations lecture?


    The idea that Alaska is a diverse state with diverse landscapes and people was emphasized. Each geographic area has it’s own climate, flora, and fauna. Also, the people who inhabit these lands have developed different strategies for inhabiting these landscapes. One’s identity is entwined with his environment and culture. This identity can be seen in the materials used to satisfy basic needs and the way in which resources are utilized. Traditional subsistence patterns in maritime cultures revolve around the harvest of marine mammals, fish and birds, whereas, inland cultures subsist on land mammals with less or no emphasis on marine mammals. So one culture might emerge as a coastal people because of the resources present in that and the environment itself.   


    • Which articles surprised you and why?


                I thought that “Why do we hear so much about high rates of alcoholism, suicide, and violence in many Alaska Native communities?” was misleading. I’ve heard these theories put forth and have read Harold Napoleon’s book, but I can’t place the blame for the endemic violence, alcoholism and suicide strictly on colonization or the effects thereof. I wasn’t surprised that this was the direction that the article took; however, I think that this approach is too simplistic.

                As I posted, identity is a product of environment, and I think that many in rural communities have a negative self-image because of the community dependence on public assistance. For many, identity is connected with their occupation. Replacement technologies have made traditional subsistence practices with traditional resources anachronistic in my community, so subsistence as it is practiced today requires money. Subsistence requires a job or assistance. Unemployment is at 66% in my village, and not having a job but having money makes it very easy to drink, which has also now become part of the identity of my community. Violence and suicide are products of alcoholism.

                We need to truly identify the cause of the dysfunction in our villages, and I feel that is stems more from the dependence on public assistance and the identity of being a victim than from “collective trauma”. Alcoholism and the problems associated with it will not be marginalized until people in rural communities achieve economic independence. Economic independence requires better infrastructure and/or the creation of economic opportunities, or returning to more traditional subsistence economies. 


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


                I plan to read Harold Napoleon’s book in my AK Lit class this semester, and I want my students to understand the concept of identity and how it is connected with environment in both positive and negative ways. I would like students to analyze their environment through a critical lens. While I think that Napoleon does an excellent job of internalizing the identity of being a victim and conceptualizing the future of his people based on this premise, I’m sure that one could also analyze his culture through a critical lens examining aspects that emphasize responsibility and predicating the future of his culture based on these.   

                Wildlife management, wilderness, and subsistence are all aspects of culture and shape our identity and beliefs; however, I want my students to consider that these are constructs. They can be examined historically and in the context of place. Also, these are individual and collective.


  • Which themes were highlighted in the Migrations lecture?

         The migration of people to the new world through Beringia was the highlight of the lesson.  The ecosystems which were created by geological mechanisms (the changes in the landforms caused by the Ice Age) created unique areas in which humans lived.  These ecosystems required varying adaptations as evidenced by the cultural groups across the arctic and subarctic of Alaska.  I was particularly interested in the review of the early cultures and how they slowly changed into the present cultural groups of Alaska.  As with any cultural group, the resources and environment of their region heavily influences (determines) the development of that culture.  The adaptions to the harsh conditions of the northland required specific housing, clothing, food-getting, transportation and daily life activities to endure life at that latitude.  

         An interesting article in the Anchorage paper over the winter break was titled, "Ancient Alaska infants' genes suggest cultural diversity in ice age."  This article is based on a recent archeological find east of Fairbanks where two infants wer found of varying genetics in the same area at the same time.  The part of the article that was particularly interesting to me was the 'Beringian Standstill Hypothesis.' which I had not heard of before.  This hypothesis, which was bolstered by this latest find, suggested that --besides the fact it seemed that there was some stress among the population that infants would die in the summer-- varying populations lived in the arctic for prolonged periods of time.  To use the words of Yereth Rosen, Alaska Dispatch News: Beringian Standstill Hypothesis is the theory that descendants of the early Bering land bridge migrants lingered in the region for several thousand years instead of sweeping quickly down to more southern parts of North America and into South America. 

    Which articles surprised you and why?

    I was pleased that the overview included the discussion of "free" healthcare.  The Alaska Native Health system was /is certainly not free for it was prepaid with loss of land and control. As a life-long Alaskan, this idea of free health care continues to raise its head and will until Alaskans understand the trade that was made.  The issue I did not see discussed--or missed--was the prevalent public health issues caused by the lack adequate systems for running water and sewage disposal.  I was expecting to see some talk about it.  The rampant exposure to boils, pneumonia, h-pylori, pink-eye and other conditions predicated by lack of clean, easily accessible water creates a public health issue.  In the richest state in the union with a university system that broadcasts its grand Arctic engineering program, why do we have people in the 21st century hospitalized and dying of boils? 

    "What does the future look like for Alaska Native communities and cultures? is a most interesting article.  Even without all of the conveniences that encourage climate change, Native communities are having to deal with the great changes that are occurring in the arctic.  Because of our distance from the contiguous lower 48, costs are escalating for housing, heat, food and other life requirements.   Though having to change locations and simultaneously becoming less in control of their lives could be an outcome of all the changes we see, the article suggests that Native communities have been resilient through the many years of changes and will most likely remain connected to their traditional ways of life. 

    How will you utilize this information in the classroom?

    Currently I am not teaching Alaska Studies in either high school or 4th grade, though I have done both.  What I know about Alaska I learned as a life long resident living in rural Alaska since 1979, from reading newspapers and research articles or books, talking to Alaska Natives I met in rural and urban Alaska, and college classes like this one.  I know that the more I learn the broader my perspective is allowing a deeper understanding of the changes that have occurred in rural Alaska and to become more tolerant in considerations of differing points of view.   I expect to teach Alaska Studies again and hopefully this class will add more resources and expand my knowledge in preparation for teaching students about this great state. And, as you can well imagine, the questions that are addressed in our text are conversations that continue with every new teacher that finds his way to rural Alaska.

  • Which themes were highlighted in the migrations lecture?


                As a first year teacher, I did not have a lot of knowledge about Alaska.  I listened to the recruiter tell me what life would be like if I took the job but the description was wholly inadequate.  Flying out to the village cemented the one preconceived notion that I had, that Alaska was huge.

                The migrations lecture highlighted the diversity of the land.  Instead of one unending type of land, all the different biomes were brought out.  The sense of “place” was highlighted also.  The depiction of Beringia and the people fanning out and populating Alaska was of particular interest to me.  Another theme was that of people(s).

                I am from Michigan.  We consider everyone in the state to be basically the same.  We can even tell an Ohio accent.  My picture of Alaskans was as a homogenous group of people.  The lecture showed just how wrong I was about that.

                The last theme I will mention is connectedness.  The lecture brought out how the Alaskan people are connected to the land and the land to the people.  The way nothing is wasted and the respect that is taught, both for the land and for the elders is exceptional.


    Which articles surprised you and why?


                Two articles surprised me.  The first was whether Native corporations support drilling, mining and logging on their lands.  Obviously this is a highly charged issue with strong opinions on both sides.  Perhaps the reason it surprises me is because of the history that Alaskans have as far as being stewards of the land.  I won’t have the temerity to offer a solution to the problem and from the tenor of the conversation, finding a consensus may be difficult.

                The other article that surprised me was the one on “Subsistence and Relationship to Land, Waters, and Wildlife.  On one level I was surprised that anyone would try to impinge upon the natives subsistence rights.  That just seems counterintuitive to me.  The second surprising ting to me was really a corollary provided by my classroom.  WE did an assignment where they read an article on subsistence living by an elder and compared and contrasted how it was then to how it is today.  Many students had a laissez-faire attitude about subsistence activities.  Whether it is from the consumer culture that is evolving here or the advent of technology that makes it easier to be successful, it does show a shift in the culture.


    How might you utilize this information in the classroom?


                I am looking at focusing on the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act for a lesson or mini-unit in my class.  I teach at the high school level and want to help my students become invested in their future through participation in government.  I think looking at the history of the act and its affect on the land and native Alaskans would be a great way to get started.

  •      There are probably very few people, Alaska Native included, who have been able to get a broad experiential understanding of Alaska's history, cultures and ecoregions.  Even with technological connections available today we can only get a small sampling of each place and perspective.  I have been here 25 years, but mostly in the Kuskokwim Delta, and I am always amazed when I hear and see how different people's lives and perspectives are just a stones throw away. I am also amazed that I could live in this place for so long, and still feel like a rookie when it comes to subsistence and survival.  I think one of the themes that was highlighted in the Migrations lectures was that, though we may  be able to point out basic events in the history of people and places in Alaska, so much more beauty and tragedy, almosts and might-have-beens remain hidden or lost forever.  But it sure is fun to dig into it and discover something new.

        I enjoyed the articles that discussed Native perspectives on natural resources and development.  Paul Ongtooguk was one of my instructors at the Teacher's for Alaska program at UAF in 1992.  I could hear him talking when I read his article.  How Native leaders were able to pull together and bridge the differences among themselves to provide a unified front and leverage their limited power onto the national stage was incredibly impressive.  The roots of that seem to go back to when the military drew Alaska Natives from all over the state during WWII and exposed them to the American power structures.  The common experiences of these leaders and the connections they made with each other gave them a series of successful ventures into the political and economic life of Alaska including the abolition of Jim Crow laws, the ending of Project Chariot, the publishing of the Tundra Times and ultimately, ANCSA.  Although none of these came without compromise and loss of traditional culture, they have helped to secure the survival of free peoples.

    I am currently teaching an Alaska Studies class. My students are all Alaska Native so our classroom is definitely a two-way street.  But the many other Alaska Native voices that come from our readings and the broader picture of the variety throughout Alaska is helpful. 

  • The theme that sticks out the most to me is the same as that which connected for most of the respondents, the connection to the land. The land is the anchor to the language, but more than that it is the anchor to the way of life. The fact that the land issue is still at risk was brought out loud and clear. (You'll forgive give me for not siting the specific articles in the book.) Two points stick out most in my mind. The first was made I believe by Ilarion Merculief, that the status of corporations may potentially result in the forfeiture of land as an asset in the case of bankruptcy. The second is the attitude of many people on the road system about rural preference for fishing and hunting. There is a real control issue, and although it is not about land ownership, it is definitely about land use. And the detractors are right, rural preference is a thinly veiled way of maintaining preference for Alaska Natives without running afoul of the Constitution, but on the balance of things, rural preference, along with health care, are really a very small return for the 84% of the land for which they were traded.

  • Which themes were highlighted in the Migrations lecture?


    The biggest theme I saw in the lecture was the connection between people and the land that shaped the way people lived. Though many native cultures came to be, they all shared a dependency on the land that carried over not only to traditions, customs, spirituality, and language but to food sources and tools as well. This process was, much like the shaping of Alaska, a slow one. It took thousands of years for people to make the migration and much of that landscape can be found in the various ecosystems throughout Alaska.


    Which articles surprised you and why?


    I was really surprised to find out about the Arctic Small Tool Tradition in the Partnow article. It’s fascinating to me that tools were being meticulously made at this time period. The tools had very specific purposes and were thought to be some of the best stonework of the time period. This tradition would ultimately give way to the traditions practice in permanent villages .


    One thing that I don’t think surprised me, but that  I found interesting to read, was the information from Alaska Native Cultures and Issues regarding the difference in educational values. Students in rural Alaska absolutely face the challenge of trying to balance their cultural values with those of western society (Roderick 80). I completely agree that, as Native students struggle to find their own identity in a growing world, they still have to deal with a legacy of “deep mistrust of the educational institutions of the dominant culture” (81).


    How might you utilize this information in the classroom?

    This is my first year teaching Alaska Lit and only my second year teaching;  I’m lucky enough to teach it in a small village on the Bering Sea. However, I did not grow up in Alaska, and I’m still learning about the rich history and cultures of the state. The readings have made me better equipped to answer questions about Native culture, and they have also given me insight to the social structure of my community. These insights, though they may not be explicitly taught in the classroom, will make me a better teacher and fit nicely into my ever growing toolbox of teacher knowledge.

  • Which themes were highlighted in the migration lecture?

                The migration lecture focused on the geographical features of Alaska and focused, maybe unknowingly, on many of the five themes of geography: movement (migration), region (characteristics of the land and its people), location (through maps and region locations), interaction (between the people, animals and their environment) and lastly place (answering the question “what is is like when you get there?”).


    Which articles surprised you? Why?


                Growing up in Anchorage, I have had a working knowledge of Native Alaskan culture, but I am still learning and am more intrigued by the myriad of cultures scattered throughout our great state. With that being said many of the articles reaffirmed what I already knew, or believed to be true. The one I found the most interesting was on the discussion regarding logging, hunting and mining on Native lands. As noted in the text many people that inquire about a Native Corporations’ stance on developing land in order to extract its natural resources believe that the response will be a resounding “no!”. I think many people are of this belief because of the subsistence lifestyle and Native Alaskan’s close relationship with nature, they can’t imagine a situation in which this development would be deemed acceptable (for example, development leads to revenue for healthcare and education). I enjoy how there were three articles offering a different perspective to this issue, it spoke volumes to the diversity of Alaska’s people and the importance of hearing all voices at the table, not just those that support our own.


                Also, I enjoyed the articles on the development on the Native corporations. To me, these organizations had always just existed, but my husband (not from Alaska) would always inquire about these organizations and how they formed and what their purpose was. I was always able to answer the former rather than the latter, so  I enjoyed reading specifically about how these organizations settled out of the Alaska Native Claim Settlement Act and who is considered a shareholder and how over time this has changed over time.


    Finally, how might you utilize this information in the classroom.


                I teach Geography and our second unit focuses specifically on Alaska. Alaska has a landscape as diverse as its people, but the great expanse of our state and lack of a highway infrastructure inhibits many of even Alaska’s lifelong residents from exploring much of the state. I thoroughly enjoyed how the class was introduced with the tour around the state. I would definitely love to use the images from the powerpoint to take my students on a virtual tour of the state. I can also see myself using articles from the Alaska Native Cultures and Issues to introduce students to indigenous issues in our state and linking them with current events. I have many students that hail from rural Alaska and I always encourage them to share images from their villages or issues, but many are hesitant to. I think incorporating these images and issues makes it more likely for them to say “I have been there!” or “that looks like my village” and more openly share their amazing experiences.

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