This is a contemporary account of schools for Alaska Natives in the far north in 1920's. Note the multiple roles of the teachers in rural Alaska at the time. Note instruction about the use of Native language. How else does the role of the teacher in these communities differ from the role of teachers in your own community today.

... Paul Ongtooguk

 

CHAPTER XXVIII
SCHOOL REPUBLICS OF THE ARCTIC!

(excerpted from)
Alaska: our Northern Wonderland
by Frank G. Carpenter
Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc.
1928

Alaska: Our Northern Wonderland, copyright 1928 by Frank G. Carpenter, chapter XXVI "Reindeer Meat for American Markets" and chapter XXVIII "School Republics of the Arctic!" Used with permission of Mrs. Edith H. Williams, for educational purposes only.

Eskimo villages with town councils elected by the people!

Eskimo schools governed as republics organized by the pupils!

Cooperative stores run by the natives to get the most for their work and their money!

Christian communities modeled upon the Golden Rule as much as any in the United States!

These are some of the features of civilization developed by Uncle Sam among the natives of Alaska. The work was started by the missionaries shortly after we took possession of the territory. A decade later the Government came to the aid of the missionaries; and later still it took up the job as an independent undertaking. The advance has been steady, and now Uncle Sam is really the great father of his copper-skinned children of the Far North. He has already spent more than a million dollars upon their schools and is now laying out something like two hundred thousand dollars a year in educating and civilizing them. He is watching over their health. He is promoting their industries. He is teaching them self-government and making them American citizens. He is, in short, upbuilding them in every possible way.

This work is being done by the Bureau of Education at Washington through its Alaskan Division with headquarters at Seattle. It has superintendents travelling over the country and studying methods for the betterment of the natives. The chief of the Alaskan Division is William T. Lopp, who came to the Bering Strait as a missionary teacher to the Eskimos when Benjamin Harrison was President. He has covered the entire Arctic coast with reindeer and has visited most of the interior on dog sleds. He covers thousands of miles every year on his inspection trips.

According to Mr. Lopp, Alaska is about the largest school division on the face of the globe. The territory is divided into five districts, each of which has its own superintendent. One of the districts is twice as big as Illinois, while each of the four others is, on the average, larger than Missouri.

Eskimo Kids.jpgEvery one of the sixty-seven government schools for the Eskimos and Indians of Alaska has its own building. These houses are usually one story, and are made of frame or logs. They are heated by wood and are lighted during the dark days of the Arctic winter with kerosene oil or gasoline. In most of the schools five-hour sessions are held for five days of each week. The terms vary in length according to the seasons and the occupations of the locality. Lessons are cut short when the big hunts are on; and the killing of a whale on the ice may give the children a vacation for a week.

There are one or more white teachers in every school and every teacher is a social worker. The schoolhouse is the community centre, the chief meeting place of the people. The little Eskimos are taught to honour Old Glory, which floats over all school buildings. The children are shown the bad effects of drink and are not allowed to use tobacco in school. This is a great reform. Tobacco has always been common among the Eskimos, who learned its use from visiting whalers. It was formerly a rarity to find a child over ten years of age who did not smoke, chew, or use snuff. Along Kotzebue Sound the Eskimos mix their smoking tobacco with shredded willow pith to make it go further, and they char the fungus of the spruce tree and mix the powder with finely cut black Kentucky tobacco for snuff.

The use of alcoholic liquor, long one of the curses of these natives, is now on the decline. The poorest of whisky and alcohol is smuggled in by the whalers and traded for furs. The Eskimos of the Far North long ago learned how to distil alcohol from molasses, sugar, and flour, mixed with water and boiled in an old oil can. Into the can was inserted a gun barrel fitted with dough or clay to render the joints airtight. This gun barrel was then passed through a block of ice, which condensed the steam from the mixture so that it came out drop by drop as a crude spirit.

Sanitation is being taught by the teachers and doctors. Medical directors under the Bureau of Education visit the schools and instruct the teachers how to care for the natives. There are now nine doctors and fourteen nurses continually working among these people, waging war on tuberculosis and other prevalent diseases, but the number is not sufficient, and larger appropriations from Congress are needed to provide an adequate medical service.

The teachers do all they can to instruct the people how to take care of themselves. There are bathtubs in most of the schools, and many of the children now get baths once a week. Even the grown-ups occasionally come in for a wash. The teacher at Kivalina, one of the Eskimo villages north of Bering Strait, says that the bathtub is one of the chief features of his school. During a single term four hundred and ninety-two baths were recorded at the Kivalina school.

In these baths soap is now used, and the disgusting makeshifts of the past have been abolished. In some of the villages the old-fashioned sweat baths still prevail. These are held once a week during the winter. The bathhouse is made of logs and sod. A fire is built on the earth in the centre, and the smoke comes out through a square hole in the roof. When everything is red-hot the coals are covered and a skin is placed over the roof hole so that no heat escapes from the building. Perspiration is induced by beating the body with bundles of willows. The Eskimo bathers sit on a platform at one end of the house, and the heat serves in place of towels for drying them. Sometimes they rush out from this bath and pour over themselves water from holes in the ice.

I have been greatly interested in the Eskimo school republics established all along the coast of the Arctic Ocean, as well as in the Seward Peninsula and in the Yukon and Kuskokwim basins. There is one at Wainwright, between Icy Cape and Point Barrow, which has enacted its own school laws and governs itself under the teacher's guidance. All pupils who can read in the first reader are eligible for membership. The officers consist of a president, mayor, and judge, each with a term of one month. There is a council, which meets every Friday afternoon, when the president takes the chair and laws are enacted. No bill can become a law unless it is passed by the council and signed by the mayor.

Among the laws are:

"No citizen shall speak Eskimo in the schoolroom.

"No citizen shall whisper or look behind in school time.

"No citizen shall be noisy or rude. He shall not wear his skin parka into the schoolroom, and he shall be fined if he comes to school with a dirty face or uncombed hair."

The laws define the duties of the citizen-pupils and the work each is to do in keeping the school clean. They provide for records of attendance, of the game killed by the village hunters, of the weather, and also of the amount of paper, pencils, and books used.

The mayor of this school has three police officers. One is a truant officer, one a health officer, and another the monitor of the kindergarten. One of the police officers is always present in the schoolroom, even during the recess and after hours, when the schoolhouse is used as a sort of club.

At Kivalina the school republic has a president, vice-president, judge, two peace officers, two health officers, and two commissioners of work. The health officers watch over the cleanliness of all the children in the village. They make everyone clean himself of vermin, and when a new child comes to school he is taken to the bathroom where his hair is combed and his body rigidly inspected. He is made to wash his hands and face, and if his clothing is dirty he is sent home to have it washed or changed. The commissioners of work are responsible for the manual labour of the school, such as taking care of the fires, sweeping the schoolroom, and bringing in ice and snow for the bath tank.

Five Eskimos.jpgKivalina, like nearly all the Eskimo villages of the Far North, has a town council. The council is composed of five men. Three are old Eskimos, and the other two are younger men who can read, write, and speak English. This council takes charge of all matters relating to the village, including supplies of food and fuel. One year the stock of firewood was not sufficient; the next summer, under the direction of the council, driftwood was brought down on rafts from a beach twenty miles away, and a municipal woodpile large enough for the following winter was built. The council is now considering the supply of dried fish for next season and will establish municipal fish traps along the rivers.

The Eskimo town at Noatak, on the Noatak River, some distance above Kotzebue Sound in Arctic Alaska, has a government consisting of five trustees who settle all disputes among the people. It has also annually elected peace officers. These men have kept liquor from coming into their village. The teacher there says that not one drop of liquor was brought into Noatak during the whole of last winter.

One of the most interesting schools of Alaska is that at Point Barrow, the farthest north school in the world. The settlement there consists of six or eight white men in addition to the teacher, and about two hundred natives. The whites are engaged in whaling. The Eskimos fish and trap and catch whales and seals. They have also reindeer which add to their income, and on the whole they are well-to-do.

The schoolhouse at Point Barrow cost six thousand dollars, and includes the home of the teacher. It has a blacksmith shop with portable forge and the boys are taught how to use the white man's tools. They learn carpentry and make all sorts of things from dog chains to coverings for canoes. The shop itself was built by volunteer labour.

The school at Selawik has a sewing department and a sewing machine. The machine is used by the women of the village, and girls come from miles around to learn how to make garments. It is used by the young men, too, in making sails for their boats.

In one school on the Arctic Ocean there are three classes in cooking each week. The girls make bread, rolls, biscuits, and doughnuts, both at school and at home. Sourdough biscuits and hot cakes are now to be had in every igloo, and they have great feasts on Thanksgiving and Christmas, sometimes cooked for the whole village by the girl pupils.

The advance in sewing among the Eskimos is remarkable. Not many years ago a great part of the sewing was done with bone needles and the only materials were skins. The skins were so hard that they had to be chewed in the mouth before the needle would go through, and there are many Eskimo women with teeth ground down to the gums by their work as seamstresses. Every school now has its sewing class, and in some of them an hour a day is devoted to making garments of one kind or another. The smaller girls hem towels or dishcloths and make gingham aprons for the girls of the cooking class. In one school every girl above the primary grade has made a dress for herself. The older girls also make dresses for the smaller children. In some of the schools they are embroidering on cotton the birds, flowers, and animals of Alaska. Instruction in darning and mending is given both boys and girls.

The Eskimo children are learning how to handle money and are passing from the stage of barter to credit and cash. Arithmetic lessons include problems on the buying and selling of goods, the selling of furs, and the importation of articles from the outside. At Point Barrow the advanced classes use the price lists in the mail-order catalogues, and estimate what things cost in furs. They compute the expense of sending fox skins to Seattle by mail and figure out the value of bear skins, whalebone, and ivory.

Money values are thoroughly explained and the relations of time and distance are taught. In the past these things had little significance among the Eskimos. Distance was reckoned by the number of sleeps during a journey. The Wainwright School, for instance, is three sleeps south of Point Barrow and one sleep north of Icy Cape.


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