The first item of business for students visiting the Alaska
Room at Anne Wien Elementary is getting dressed.
afternoon, Ann Pearsons third-grade class, arriving from Arctic
Light Elementary, did just that.
boys donned white cotton hunting jackets similar to traditional
seal gut parkas worn by Native men hunting on the arctic ice. The
girls were outfitted with traditional kuspuks (summer dresses) trimmed
with ric rac.
the next two hours, the youngsters were immersed in Native culture.
There was storytelling, beading, basketmaking, dancing, singing
and a wealth of information about the Native people of Alaska from
their origins to the present day Aleut, Athabascan, Inupiaq,
Yupik and Southeast Indians.
fast-paced program, led by teacher Lillian DeWilde and assisted
by three cultural specialists, is presented twice daily.
class is divided into three sections, and the small groups moved
from station to station at the sound of a magic nomadic bell,
intended to refer to nomadic Athabascan Indians who lived a subsistence
lifestyle and moved from seasonal camp to seasonal camp to procure
game, fish and furs, DeWilde explained.
was no time to be bored. After a slide presentation about the history
and diversity of Alaskas first inhabitants, the groups were
on the go.
the story station was retired teacher and Aleut elder Roy Roehl,
who immediately engrosses each group with stories of growing up
in the Southwest community of Dillingham.
was different during Roehls growing-up years No hot
lunches, no school gym and no school buses. Roehl mushed a dog team
noon we gave them (dogs) a half of a fish and at the end of the
day we gave them a whole one, he explained.
mean they didnt have dog food then? asked one of the
also explained a simple method used to catch ptarmigan.
set a gill net between two willows, and the next day wed have
ptarmigans and did not spend a (shotgun) shell, he said.
also perked up at Roehls telling of a dramatic encounter with
a bear while he was berry picking one fine summer day. When he looked
up from his berry pail into the face of a bear, the bear was just
as startled as he was.
ran away in one direction, and he ran away in the other direction,
he was done, Roehl talked about the variety of Alaska berries, the
five salmon species and their various names.
another station, children sat for a lesson in the basic steps of
child was given a plastic plate of colorful beads and, a small cutout
felt picture frame, needle and thread.
take a deep breath, intoned Julia Kakaruk, I want you
to look and listen.
a short time, many hands were busily at work.
Browning, 8, selected red, white and blue beads to trim his picture
chose red, white and blue because thats American, and I love
the Army, he said.
her beadwork project before the magic nomadic bell rang again, Tishera
Owens, 8, smiled. I thought we were just going to learn stuff,
she said, delighted with the hands-on project.
next stop, overseen by Lesley Jones, featured birchbark basketmaking
using paper materials simulating tree bark.
the students got down to business. They folded, pasted and wholly
transformed a paper pattern into an attractive facsimile of a traditional
basket, albeit bound with yarn instead of willow roots.
DeWilde had a few questions for the students.
is culture? she asked.
you live your life. was the prompt reply from one of the students.
to a question about what languages, other than English, were spoken
in their homes, student answers included Spanish, Jamaican and Samoan.
childrens only assignment was to ask someone in their own
household about their familys cultural heritage.
is so important to know your culture, DeWilde stressed. You
are going to meet thousands of people in school before you are finished.
If you dont know your own culture, you wont be able
to understand other cultures, she said.
as a final treat, the students were introduced to Eskimo and Indian
dances and songs, accompanied by the beat of drums.
song is a story, DeWilde explained. Athabascans use
their voices (singing while dancing), Eskimos use their bodies,
she said as she simulated paddling a boat while hunting and looking
how we had to learn our history through our dance and through our
stories, DeWilde said.
school year, thousands of schoolchildren visit the Alaska Room from
district schools, homeschools, charter schools and private schools.
Alaska Room is a rich environment, filled to overflowing with information
and artifacts representing Natives from all parts of the state.
try to represent all the cultures, DeWilde said.
often find DeWilde traveling to elementary, middle and high schools
throughout the district, giving presentations and filling special
requests on a variety of cultural topics.
of the long-term goals of the Alaska Room program, DeWilde explained,
is to eradicate racial tensions by teaching children to value and
respect their own and other cultures when they are young.