This is a summary of presentation for the Bristol Bay Education Summit 15-17 Nov 04 in Dillingham, AK.
By Paul Ongtooguk

"Education beyond high school seems to be a necessity for Alaska Natives if they are to be prepared for employment in our communities and regions. The possibilities have never been more exciting for in the last thirty years there has been a dramatic transformation of the social and economic status of Alaska Natives within the State. The last generation of Alaska Natives created a world of new organizations and traditional organizations continue to mature as well - Alaska Native tribal governments, non-profit and health and social service organizations, foundations for education and research, and Native profit corporations at the village and regional levels. The potential for continuing development and definition of these organizations is tremendous, as is the array of positions available. However, these Alaska Native organizations need a new generation of college-educated professionals who understand our communities, our challenges and our opportunities and who are prepared to continue to advance the transformation of the social and economic status of Alaska Natives in this State.

A critical question that must be asked is: Are the students of the region being prepared for the reality of life beyond graduating from high school? There is a danger in defining “preparation” too narrowly. For preparation includes not only reading, writing and content knowledge, but the development of the imagination, vision, and a sense of purpose and mission. Preparation includes the desire to view oneself as a contributing and important member of a traditional society and a dynamic responsive community. When school districts in the region, including school administrators and board members say they are responding to the needs of Alaska Native communities we should be asking and comparing their programs with these realities. It does us little good to have developed new economic and social networks, if the next generation is not able to engage with these networks. Our schools are more than ever narrowing the definition of education to the ability to pass a test. Our Alaska Native issues, our authors, our literature, history, lives and customs are relegated to a back seat or perhaps no seat at all. These are not educational frills for Native youth, but rather they are critical elements of an education that will truly prepare our students.

As Alaska Natives we need to express our voice. We need to talk about our concerns and our aspirations for improving the educational system with each other, with our youth, with our communities. This is our challenge and we need to meet this challenge by defining the problem and advancing the solution. The stakes are high – much higher than a “high stakes” test – as the very life of our institutions and our communities is in the hands of the next generation.

While solutions to this problem should be multiple, I would mention that the College of Education at the University of Alaska Anchorage has developed an initial brochure about preparing for college. The brochure also contains information about our campus, our community and education programs. We look forward to having more, well prepared students from this region attending our programs. Education is a critical function of any society and traditional Alaska Native communities developed complex systems of education. Those systems have not been significantly integrated with the Western system of education that is practiced throughout the State. Alaska Natives, who choose a career in education, can begin to accomplish this integration and define educational programs and institutions for our future."