My Turn: UAS should foster cultural understanding

Posted: Wednesday, September 21, 2005

I am a graduate of the University of Alaska Southeast. Several years ago, the university seemed supportive of our Tlingit culture; the system valued our students, our identity and our language. This was partially because the University of Alaska Southeast and the Sealaska Heritage Institute formed a partnership to facilitate success of Native students. This agreement facilitated our classes of elementary and intermediate Tlingit, and allowed SHI to develop and teach classes during their summer courses within the Sealaska Kusteey Program. SHI and UAS chose to foster and increase the success ofNative students on the UAS campus.

I have seen and been involved with some struggles at UAS, as a student, tutor, teaching assistant and adjunct faculty member. For many years we have been hearing that a Tlingit language minor will be offered. This has yet to come to fruition, and many of us Tlingit language students have numerous credits that do not fit within our degree programs because the degree we were told would be offered does not actually exist.

Although several positive things have happened over the years, I find myself discouraged and extremely disappointed by some of the decisions made by UAS. As students of UAS and members of the UAS Tlingit Culture Immersion Dancers, we were told that we are not allowed to attend the World Indigenous Peoples Conference on Education 2005, in Aotearoa, New Zealand. As the dance leader, I was never contacted by UAS administrators to discuss this chance for their students; I was only informed that UAS did not support us and was instructed that we are not to fund raise for this event. This opportunity to attend WIPCE 2005 would have allowed our Tlingit educators, elders and language learners to gain more depth within our efforts to revitalize our language and culture. How does this decision honor our ancestors' knowledge and way of life?

The chance to learn from other indigenous cultures could be beneficial for the continuing education of students, teachers, elders and for UAS. Had there been a discourse regarding this opportunity, perhaps UAS could have offered an anthropology class where students would have had to apply what they gained from their WIPCE experiences working with other indigenous cultures within education, to maintain our indigenous languages and cultures. The dissemination of knowledge with faculty members, other UAS students and Tlingit language learners could have been another component. This missed opportunity is a shame, especially when we are implementing our indigenous knowledge within a western context and world view. The decision by UAS is another poor and disappointing decision which could have facilitated growth for the population of Native students on their campus, which is on Tlingit land, by the way.

Recently I heard the UAS ad on the radio for fall classes. Every upcoming semester I listen for "Sign up for elementary Tlingit" or "Learn Tlingit on UAS campus." What I do hear is, "You can learn French or Spanish at UAS."

After obtaining my master's degree from UAS and viewing education through this lens, I am able to see more clearly the impacts of Western education on our culture. After becoming familiar with UAS's Center for Teacher Education framework I know that our group could have gained experience within the following areas of the CTE framework: diversity, professionalism, partnerships, community, philosophy, environment and most importantly, student learning.

Should we continue to rely on lip service? How do the decisions made by UAS foster success, bridge gaps, and satisfy their responsibilities and commitments? SHI has assisted UAS with money and a talent bank of teachers, language students and a UAS dance group. What has UAS offered in return? UAS could be the vehicle to support and create viable programs that facilitate indigenous knowledge, culturally responsive education and lifelong informed, reflective and responsive individuals.

• Juneau resident Hans Chester teaches a first- and second-grade split class at Glacier Valley Elementary School.

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