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Canku Ota

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(Many Paths)

An Online Newsletter Celebrating Native America


July 14, 2001 - Issue 40


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Tribal School Teaches Language, Traditions


by Eric Burkett Anchorage Daily News-July 3, 2001

Mother and ChildSUTTON, AK - About 100 people participated in a powwow on the grounds of the Chickaloon Native Village headquarters Saturday, a benefit for the village's tribal school. Yah Ne Dah Ah School was founded more than a decade ago by elder and clan grandmother Kathleen Wade as a means to pass on Chickaloon's language and traditions to the tribe's children.

Wade was pleased with the turnout in support of the school. The gathering drew not only members of Chickaloon Native Village, but members of a wide number of tribes. Michael and Gilbert Valencia, brothers from the Osage and Otoe tribes of Oklahoma but who now live in Anchorage, were present as the Buffalo Dancers. Their distinctive dress, typical of tribes in the Midwest, set them apart as they participated in the various dances throughout the day.

Paul Pike, a Micmac from Newfoundland and lead singer of the Alaska-based indigenous/rock band Medicine Dream, showed up with his drums, as did the drumming group Sleeping Lady. Marie Smith, the matriarch of the Eyak Tribe, was also on hand, as she often is for Chickaloon events. As the last remaining speaker of the Eyak language, she has a special interest in the goals of Yah Ne Dah Ah School.

The school has 14 elementary-aged students, which is capacity for the small school. In addition to standard curriculum, students spend an hour a day studying Ahtna Athabaskan, the language of the Chickaloon and Copper River Athabaskan people. The students have scored very well on their Scholastic Aptitude Tests, said Donita Peter, the school's curriculum director.

In 10 years, Yah Ne Dah Ah has had its ups and downs, closing on at least a couple of occasions for lack of funds. But those setbacks never undermined the important position the school holds for Chickaloon.

"All of our programs revolve around the school," said Peter.

Chickaloon is in year three of a five-year plan that calls for the construction of a new, larger facility that could handle more students, Peter said. The school operates on private funding, receiving some support from Native organizations like Cook Inlet Region Inc.

Wade, the school's founder, said she is frustrated by the small number of students and is worried that their language skills aren't where they should be. Her concern is exacerbated, perhaps, because she is the only fluent speaker of Ahtna in Chickaloon.

The students can name animals, she said, but conversational skills are lacking. For Wade, the importance of being able to speak Ahtna extends beyond cultural identity. Being proficient in Ahtna would also strengthen the children's communications skills.

"You can describe things much more accurately in Indian than you can in English," she said.

 Maps by Travel


Chickaloon Native Village
The first objective is to develop and implement social studies curricula and teaching materials for three key grades elementary (4th grade), middle school (8th grade), and a high school elective (10th grade) for the Matanuska-Susitna Borough School District. The curricula will accurately portray the Athabascan Peoples of the area historically and contemporarily by the end of March 2001.

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Canku Ota is a copyright © 2000, 2001 of Vicki Lockard and Paul Barry.


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