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Why Indigenous peoples and issues are more visible in Canada than in the U.S.

I moved to Canada from Alaska about a year and a half ago. One of the first things I noticed in my visits to Canada as a college student and now in my everyday life is that Indigenous peoples and issues enjoy far greater visibility within Canadian media and society than Alaska Native/American Indian peoples and issues do across the border. Indigenous peoples and issues are practically invisible in the U.S. at almost every level of government and society, save perhaps those western states with significant Indigenous populations such as Alaska and New Mexico. In Canada, Indigenous peoples and issues are regularly featured in mainstream news media and there is as a result a running public discourse about issues that impact Indigenous peoples such as cultural appropriation, identity, and social inequities between Indigenous communities and most other parts of Canada that simply doesn’t exist in the U.S.

This post provides a partial explanation for why Indigenous peoples and issues are more visible in Canada than in the U.S. However it is notable that greater visibility of Indigenous peoples in Canada is not necessarily translating into more positive health and wellness outcomes for Indigenous peoples compared to American Indians/Alaska Natives.

1. Population

Perhaps the most obvious difference accounting for differences in visibility between Indigenous peoples in Canada and the U.S. is the stark difference in population size. Indigenous people in Canada account for about 4.3 percent of Canada’s population of 36 million. By contrast, about 2.9 million people identify as American Indian or Alaska Native in the U.S., or less than one percent of the total U.S. population of 309 million. American Indians and Alaska Natives therefore account for a tiny sliver of the overall U.S. population compared to First Nations, Inuit, and Metis in Canada.

2. Geography/demography

Canada has a population that is smaller than the state of California’s that is spread across a landmass that is slightly larger than the entire U.S. Most of the population in Canada is concentrated along the U.S.-Canada border.


Most of the 10 provinces and three territories have significant Indigenous populations and rural fly-in communities in their jurisdictions. Two of the territories (Nunavut and the Northwest Territories) have majority Indigenous populations.

The provinces along the Canada-U.S. border (British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta, Ontario, and Quebec) all have First Nations reserves within their jurisdictions, most of which are in remote regions of the provinces, and some which can only be reached year round by plane.

In addition, Inuit Nunangat (the Inuit homeland) accounts for a whopping 36 percent of Canada’s landmass and 50 percent of its coastline. Inuit are the majority population in the four regions that make up Inuit Nunangat.


American Indian reservations in the U.S. are by contrast concentrated in western states.
Very few states except for those in the West have rural American Indian communities, and only Alaska has communities in it that are only accessible year round by plane.

3. The Constitution

Section 35 of Canada’s Constitution affirms the treaty rights of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis, including modern land claims agreements. Indigenous peoples’ rights occupy their own section (Part II) of the Constitution, even though the full text of that section is short:

35. (1) The existing aboriginal and treaty rights of the aboriginal peoples of Canada are hereby recognized and affirmed.

(2) In this Act, “aboriginal peoples of Canada” includes the Indian, Inuit and Métis peoples of Canada.

Section 35 represents a hard-fought victory for Indigenous peoples who negotiated this language into the Constitution when it was being drafted in 1982.

The Constitution’s clear recognition of Indigenous treaty rights in Canada contrasts with the comparatively murky references to “Indians” within the U.S. Constitution (the reference to Indians in Article I, sec. 8 as being equivalent to foreign nations for the purposes of commerce is foundational to American Indian law).

4. Mainstream media 

The mainstream media coverage of Indigenous peoples and issues in Canada dwarfs that received by American Indians and Alaska Natives in both amount and quality. Mainstream media coverage of Indigenous peoples and issues in Canada has a positive impact on the public’s understanding of Indigenous peoples and issues and enhances the political capital of Indigenous political entities. In the U.S. by contrast, American Indians and Alaska Natives are completely absent from mainstream media unless there is a newsworthy crisis that warrants coverage.

I hear or see Indigenous peoples on the news or radio in Canada at least once a week, mainly on federally-funded CBC programming. Indigenous peoples and issues are the focus of mainstream news reports almost everyday.

Screen shot 2017-05-22 at 12.28.09 AMRosanna Deerchild (Cree) hosts her radio show Unreserved every week, broadcast nationally from Winnepeg. The show features a broad range of Indigenous peoples and issues.

Screen shot 2017-05-22 at 12.32.37 AM

Provincial media such as the public TV Ontario often integrates Indigenous peoples and content into its programming as well.

Concluding thoughts

Greater visibility of Indigenous peoples and issues in Canada translates into federal lawmakers nearly all having a rudimentary grasp of who Indigenous peoples are (at least First Nations, who have the largest population of the three main Indigenous cultural groups in Canada). However it is unclear to what degree this understanding translates into policy action that enhances the health and wellness of Indigenous peoples.

At the political level in the U.S., the relative invisibility of American Indians and Alaska Natives in American society translates into reduced political capital that in turn makes it exceedingly difficult to leverage support for policy change from either the broader society or the federal government. However American Indians/Alaska Natives have managed to leverage broad public support for causes that in turn translated into policy action, such as the long-term, mass protest at Standing Rock that led to the Obama administration’s intervention in the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline.



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Federally recognized tribes should brace for possible termination policy under Trump

Whether we like it or not, Saglutupiaġataq (“the compulsive liar” in Iñupiatun) is now president of the United States and Republicans control Congress. Federally recognized Alaska Native and American Indian tribes should brace for the worst, including the possibility that Congress may move to terminate federally recognized tribes.

The termination era of 1953 to 1968 involved Congress stripping tribes of their lands and criminal jurisdiction. The policy was thinly disguised as an attempt to lift American Indians and Alaska Natives out of poverty by assimilating them into mainstream society. However the real goal was to privatize and ransack American Indian and Alaska Native lands.

From the American Indian Relief Council:

From 1953-1964 109 tribes were terminated and federal responsibility and jurisdiction was turned over to state governments. Approximately 2,500,000 acres of trust land was removed from protected status and 12,000 Native Americans lost tribal affiliation. The lands were sold to non-Indians the tribes lost official recognition by the U.S. government….Public Law 280 which was passed in 1953 turned power over to state governments to enforce most of the regular criminal laws on reservations as they were doing in other parts of the state.

Saglutupiaġataq’s administration apparently began mobilizing to pursue the privatization of Indian lands as early as October 2016 with the formation of his 27 member Native American Affairs Coalition. The Coalition is chaired by “Cherokee” pretendian Rep. Markwayne Mullin. Like the termination policy of more than 60 years ago, the Coalition contends that impoverished tribes are saddled by federal regulations that stymie self-reliance and prosperity. Tribal lands should be privatized, it argues, so that American Indians can pursue development projects that lift them out of poverty.

Saglutupiaġataq has tapped Montana Rep. Ryan Zinke for secretary of the Interior, the federal agency overseeing the Borough of Indian Affairs. Zinke is a known fraudster with little integrity. Scientific American characterizes Zinke as a “mixed bag” with an anti-environment, pro-industry voting record. It is unlikely that he will be a friend to Indian Country or to Alaska Natives.

American Indian trust lands

American Indian trust lands

Some estimate that American Indian lands held in trust by the federal government hold as much as one fifth of the nation’s oil and gas, along with significant coal reserves. Saglutupiaġataq released his “America first” energy plan hours after being sworn into office. It states the following:

Sound energy policy begins with the recognition that we have vast untapped domestic energy reserves right here in America. The Trump Administration will embrace the shale oil and gas revolution to bring jobs and prosperity to millions of Americans. We must take advantage of the estimated $50 trillion in untapped shale, oil, and natural gas reserves, especially those on federal lands that the American people own.

American Indian reservations are federally owned lands held “in trust” for tribes. The “vast untapped domestic energy reserves” referred to in Saglutupiaġataq’s energy plan are largely within American Indian reservations. These lands would need to be sold or leased to private sector corporations by the federal government in order for development to proceed. But first, tribal jurisdiction over those lands would need to be terminated by Congress and vested in states.

The termination era of 1953 to 1968 shows us that tribal lands and thus tribal governments, peoples, and cultures remain vulnerable to the whims of Congress. There is a strong possibility that American Indians may soon be fighting against a renewed and calculated assault on their political, cultural and spiritual existence.


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UAF Interior-Aleutians Campus to Host Alaska Native Fish and Game Co-Management Seminar November 19th & 20th, 2015 in Fairbanks, Alaska

Co-Management Symposium

Weaving Together Two Worlds

Purpose: A forum to build understanding, relationships, and knowledge for advancing the co-management of Alaskan fish and wildlife resources.

Progressive focus: Shared value of healthy ecosystems, healthy populations, and resource abundance.

Co-Management is the term that defines systems and opportunities that provide an adequate and meaningful role for Alaska Natives in management of traditional resources. Alaska Natives and their Tribal governments, Tribal consortiums, nonprofits, and corporations have served as stewards of their traditional lands and resources for thousands of years maintaining healthy and productive ecosystems, they have proven knowledge, skills, and abilities to adequately manage Alaska’s fish and wildlife resources. Co-Management refers to a system where those relying upon the resources have a substantial role in making decisions about the management for healthy, productive ecosystems and populations.

Who is this symposium for?
This event will bring together University of Alaska researchers and staff, Alaska Native Tribal and ANCSA corporation leaders and staff, state and federal fish and game managers, and those with the vested interest in seeing successful co-management in Alaska.

Co-Management Symposium – Day 1 & 2
Building on a historical perspective of fish and wildlife management in Alaska, speakers will focus on the contemporary challenges and opportunities for co-management in Alaska today. Successful examples of co-management in action will be highlighted, one-to-one sharing and dialogue will be incorporated,  and collaborative solutions will be identified.

Co-Production of Knowledge – Day 3
In conjunction with the Co-Management Symposium there will be an optional third day for Tribal leaders/staff, university researchers, and agency researchers  that are interested in developing collaborative research partnerships. This interactive workshop will be particularly useful for Tribal leaders who are seeking partners for identified research priorities.

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Critique: Attorney General’s Advisory Committee report on American Indian/Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence

The Attorney General’s Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to violence was created in 2013 based upon a recommendation from the Attorney General’s National Task Force on Children Exposed to Violence. The Task Force on American Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence is anchored by an advisory committee consisting of federal and non-federal experts on the topic. Last month the advisory committee fulfilled its charge in publishing policy recommendations to Attorney General Eric Holder that address issues around AI/AN children exposed to violence. These recommendations are contained in the advisory committee’s report published last month, Ending Violence So Children Thrive (click on the image below to access the pdf).
Screen shot 2014-12-04 at 9.48.38 PM

The advisory committee carried out four hearings and six listening sessions nationwide to learn from key practitioners, advocates, academicians, policy makers, and the public about the issue of AI/AN children exposed to violence in the U.S. The advisory committee was also directed to “gather information on promising and evidence-based practices that could benefit these children and their communities.”

There is a huge need for promising and evidence-based practices for violence prevention in AI/AN communities, reflected in grim statistics that show the vulnerability of AI/AN women and children to physical and sexual violence. And yet research about the violence faced by AI/AN children remains incredibly sparse, making it difficult for tribes and urban Indian organizations to compete for grant funding for prevention and treatment efforts that are not “evidence based,” or to develop community-led interventions that do not simply rely on anecdotes and guesswork.

Ending Violence so Children Can Thrive contains 31 policy recommendations that cover a lot of terrain, spanning from a directive to establish a Native American Affairs Office within the White House Domestic Policy Council to calling on the Secretary of Health and Human Services to increase and support access to culturally appropriate behavioral health and substance abuse prevention and treatment services in AI/AN communities. The report states that “many tribal communities are developing and implementing culturally based prevention and intervention programs” yet most tribes “do not have the resources necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of these programs” (p. 62).

The question then is, what difference can top-down policies actually make for families if so little remains known about what’s happening on the ground?

Despite having this understanding, many of the advisory committee’s policy recommendations are formed around the assumption that strengthening tribal jurisdiction and sovereignty are key to preventing violence exposure among AI/AN children. This assumption is most prominent in the report chapter focusing on Alaska, where four of the committee’s five policy recommendations have to do with Congress reinstating Indian Country in Alaska and providing financial support for tribes to develop their civil and criminal justice systems, including their own police forces. Most of these recommendations were lifted verbatim from the Indian Law and Order Commission’s 2013 Final Report. The thinking is that if tribes had a land base over which to exercise civil and criminal jurisdiction and a tribal police presence to enforce law, then Alaska Native children and communities would be safer.

The issue isn’t whether or not this should happen (tribes should decide for themselves) but the assumptions about what effect these changes in jurisdiction would actually have on reducing violence. The report points out that Alaska State Troopers have a full-time presence in less than half of the tribal communities, and that this inequitable access to justice can be mitigated by reinstating Indian Country. Yet access to justice and violence prevention are not synonymous. Criminal justice systems and police respond to violent crime (they’re usually reactionary, and that’s part of the problem), they don’t necessarily prevent it from happening.

And when it comes to issues like child sexual abuse, law enforcement and the courts are rarely in the picture because these crimes are hardly ever reported, even in the mainstream U.S. population. Nunavut, Canada provides a counterpoint to the advisory committee’s assumption that tribal police and justice systems will help prevent violence against children. RCMP officers have a full-time presence in each of Nunavut’s 25 communities, yet the crime rate in that majority Inuit jurisdiction has doubled since the territory was created.

Screen shot 2014-12-07 at 10.45.13 PM Nunavut public defenders will tell you that preventing violence against children in this jurisdiction where almost half the population has experienced child sexual abuse, is much more complex than whether or not there’s a police presence in town. In the words of public defender Mandy Sammurtok:

So we’ve got this individual who has grown up thinking that that life is normal. And then we’ve got a system where there’s no treatment available for an individual. There’s no substance abuse treatment available. There’s no mental health treatment, and we also live in little fish bowls where basically the RCMP know everything that’s going on. And that’s fine; it’s good to be safe in a community. So, you’ve got a person who has lived this life and a lot of times, a lot of my clients say, “Oh yeah, and Mandy, uncle whoever” or “that guy down the street, he molested me.” That’s, a lot of times where this is going in a lot of my clients’ lives. And I say it all the time: my client, although he has a victim, he’s also a victim. There are no services available for my client. He didn’t have anywhere to go before he got to the court system. I would always hope that the justice system would be the last stop for an individual. But unfortunately in Nunavut, the justice system is the first stop (Nunavut Tunngavik, Inc., 2014).

Yet in Alaska, the assumption that reinstating Indian Country will make Alaska Native communities safer seems to be gaining traction among Alaska Native tribes. This despite the fact that, as the committee’s own report acknowledges, lower 48 tribal law enforcement has always been chronically underfunded. The advisory committee’s report states that “There is a vital connection between inherent Tribal sovereignty and protecting AI/AN children” (p. 43). This connection is easier to see when it comes to strengthening child tribal protection systems, providing greater Indian Child Welfare Act oversight, and securing mandatory rather than discretionary federal funding for tribal violence prevention programs — all issue addressed in the advisory committee’s policy recommendations. These are defensible recommendations, and Ending Violence so Children Can Thrive advances important messaging about the need for trauma informed care, research, and partnership building.

However the argument that reinstating Indian Country in Alaska and beefing up tribal law enforcement and tribal justice systems will prevent violence against children is more political ploy than solution. It is important to push back on this assumption if we hope to seriously address the pandemic of physical and sexual violence too many of our Alaska Native children are experiencing. We need only look at Canadian Inuit communities that have had a full-time police presence for decades to know that the issues run much deeper. Alaska Native communities do need law enforcement, and empowering tribes to take on this responsibility seems to be the most viable solution. But it is misleading and irresponsible to overstate the role of law enforcement and the courts in preventing violence and other social challenges.

Keeping the focus on real issues, such as the huge gaps in research, mental health services and support and housing that exist in the state, is a start.


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Store-bought food prices in Greenland

I was in Greenland this past May and had the opportunity to visit a few grocery stores in Nuuk and Sisimiut. Just as in rural Alaska and Canada, store-bought foods are flown into Greenlandic communities, mostly from Denmark ostensibly by way of Kangerlussuaq (the main international flight hub) or Nuuk (the largest town and capital). The cost of store-bought foods is therefore more expensive than in mainland Denmark where ground transportation is possible.

As I have discussed in past posts, store-bought foods are extremely expensive in much of rural Alaska and Canada. While we know that high store-bought food prices contribute to a high percentage of food insecure households in Nunavut, Canada, little remains known about household food security in rural Alaska Native communities.

The World Health Organization defines food security as “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life”.

I took pictures of store-bought foods in Sisimiut that are generally regarded as nutritious, such as potatoes, bread, eggs and meats, as well as a few non-food items such as dish soap and diapers. The store, Brugseni, also sold beer, wine and spirits, and had a bakery. The foods I chose were selected at random.

Sisimiut is Greenland’s second largest town about 200 miles north of Nuuk with a population of 5,600. It is accessible only by air and water.

I’ve converted the food prices from Danish Kroner to U.S. dollars and the units from kilograms to pounds. In general, store-bought food prices at Brugseni  (those shown here) and at the three main grocery stores in Nuuk are lower than those I have seen in other Inuit communities like Kotzebue, Barrow and Iqaluit, at least after conversion.

There are probably other factors at play such as local and national taxes and minimum wage that likely distort store-bought food costs in the context of this country and community, but it would seem to behoove policy makers to learn more about Greenland’s food distribution policies.

Efforts to subsidize the cost of store-bought foods in Northern Canada have failed, and perhaps future posts on this blog will explore how the Government of Greenland subsidizes store-bought food costs in its communities, if at all.

“100% Greenlandic owned”

IMG_4776Brugseni in Sisimiut

IMG_4748Red onion, $3.60/2.2 Ibs

IMG_4752Celery, $1.89/.77 Ibs

IMG_4750Potatoes, $20.24/5.5 Ibs

IMG_4753Danish cucumber, $4.50

IMG_4754Iceberg lettuce, $6.30

IMG_4755Pink Lady apples (8), $7.20

IMG_4756Watermelon, $9.89

IMG_4757Bagged avocados (2), $1.89/.78 Ibs

IMG_4758Single avocado, $1.62

IMG_4759Kernel rye bread loaf, $4.68

IMG_4760Market rye bread loaf, $5.00

Small pork chops (6), $9.63

Cubed lean beef, $10.73/1 Ib

Rib eye, $12.87/.8 Ib

IMG_4764Roast beef, $21.49/2 Ib

Ground beef, $5.58/1.2 Ib

Eggs (10), $5.31

IMG_4767Milk, roughly $8 per gallon (1 gallon = 3.7 liters)

IMG_4768Toilet paper (4 rolls), $7.90

Toilet paper (6 rolls), $5.39

IMG_4770Dish soap, $2.25/25.4 oz

IMG_4771Dish soap, $7.18/42.25 oz

IMG_4774Diapers (40), $17.98

IMG_4775Diapers (56), $26.79



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Comparing two Alaska contracts, urban and rural.

This posting compares and contrasts interesting provisions within the most recent contracts between two Alaska school districts and their respective local unions. I place these analyses within the context of Alaska’s scope of bargaining statute, and within the larger context of Alaska’s unusual K – 12 student demographics. In an effort to explore how differences between urban and rural education in Alaska are reflected in the content of local contracts, I examine the Anchorage School District’s 2010-2013 contract with the Anchorage Education Association, and the North Slope Borough School District’s 2009-2012 contract with the North Slope Borough Education Association. I argue that each district’s unique setting is reflected in the language of their contracts, and that on the North Slope, steps should be taken to align local union responsibilities with the District’s current educational reform initiative. I premise the discussion by providing a brief synopsis of the state’s scope of bargaining, as defined by statute, before introducing the Anchorage School District (ASD) and the North Slope Borough School District (NSBSD). I provide an overview of these districts and then discuss salient differences in their respective provisions.

Alaska’s Scope of Bargaining

Alaska’s scope of bargaining statue permits collective bargaining between school districts and representative bargaining organizations, and striking by labor organizations representing employees of a municipal school district. Negotiations are limited to wages, hours of work, compensation, fringe benefits, and personnel policies. Recognition and grievance procedures, extra-curricula activities and duties, professional development, life, health and liability insurance, automobile allowances and reimbursements for physical examinations are also mandatory subjects of bargaining. The document cites Alaska Supreme Court precedent[1] as bases for the narrowing of scope to the economic interests of employees and attendant aversion to issues that deal with professional goals and methods. Although “professional goals and methods” are not defined, the following subjects are non-negotiable: relief from non-instructional chores, class size, teacher load and preparation time, evaluation of administrators, numbers of teacher aides, para-professionals, and specialists, and the school calendar.

Contextualizing the ASD and NSBSD

There are remarkable demographic and geographic differences between the ASD and NSBSD. In 2010, nearly 300,000 people were living in Anchorage, the most populous and ethnically diverse city in Alaska (U.S. Census, 2010). As of the 2010-2011 school year 49,206 K-12 students were enrolled in the ASD’s 97 schools, 53% of who are of color (Alaska Department of Education and Early Development, 2010). That year, 72% of Anchorage high school students graduated.

By contrast, the NSBSD encompasses 11 schools in eight Iñupiat (Inuit) communities above the Arctic Circle, spanning an area larger than the state of Minnesota. As of 2010, 9,430 people were living in the region, and 80% of the District’s 1,605 students were Iñupiat. The high school graduation rate for NSBSD students is about 59% overall and 54% for Iñupiat. In keeping with the District’s mandate to provide culturally and locally responsive education, the District began unrolling a school reform initiative in 2006 that places the learning priorities of the dominant Iñupiat population at the center of the education system (Siku News, September 10, 2010). As illustrated in the following section, language alluding to this initiative is curiously absent from the NSBSD’s contract with the North Slope Borough Education Association (NSBEA).

Comparing ASD and NSBSD Contracts

The ASD and NSBSD contracts appear to stay within the narrow parameters outlined by statute, with the main differences being that the ASD-AEA contract is much more specific while the NSBSD-NSBEA contract leaves sections such as “Reduction in Force” and parent-teacher conference requirements extremely vague.  It is questionable whether certain supports available to Anchorage teachers, and provisions concerning teacher-parent-student relations on the North Slope may fall within the excluded “general policies describing the function and purpose of a public employer.” The ASD’s contract with the AEA supports “experimentation to improve student performance,” and encourages teacher innovation, recognizing the benefits of classroom visits and innovative site-based activities. This implies that teachers have a certain degree of latitude when it comes to developing curricula and crafting pedagogical practices. The ASD-AEA contract also provides for the development of mentoring and Instructional Coach programs in order to “strengthen educator recruitment, retention, and student achievement.”

In contrast to ASD language about school-level improvisation, the NSBSD-NSBEA contract tends to concentrate power and decision-making at the district level. Teacher innovation and experimentation are not stressed, and comparable teacher mentorship opportunities do not exist. If teacher mentorship opportunities are designed to increase teacher retention, it is important to note that teacher turnover is more than twice as high in rural Alaska school districts than in the state’s five urban districts.  The NSBSD-NSBEA contract gives teachers the freedom and responsibility to plan, develop, and implement teaching techniques and methodologies in keeping with prescribed curriculum guides. A superintendent-appointed Curriculum Development Committee exists within the NSBSD, and the NSBEA is entitled to representation on that committee. As the district works to implement the Iñupiaq Learning Framework at the center of its reform initiative, it is likely that greater centralization of curricula and pedagogy will be necessary due to the local knowledge limitations inherent in an overwhelmingly non-Native and non-Alaskan teaching force.

On a related note, it is startling that the NSBSD-NSBEA says nothing about the educational goals of the majority Iñupiat population, as outlined in the Iñupiat Learning Framework. I know from work experience that the Framework asks teachers to occupy significantly different roles than they have in the past, as facilitators of self-determination rather than colonization. The contract does not allude to the challenges universally endemic of an education system that has been imposed upon a population as a colonizing device, nor does it mention the words “Iñupiat,” “Indigenous,” or “Alaska Native” at all. In fact, the only sign that teachers will be occupying different geographical and cultural space is the contract’s “Village Cost Differential Payment,” which is meant to compensate for the region’s exorbitantly high cost of living. Perhaps similarly, teachers are eligible for “Family Communications” performance pay of up to $1000 for classroom and face-to-face communications with parents/family in the presence of students. It is unclear whether this is a trust-building measure or a substitute for parent-teacher conferences.


The ASD-AEA and NSBSD-NSBEA contracts differ substantially yet both appear consistent with Alaska’s scope of bargaining statute. ASD-AEA generally gives schools and teachers more discretion in decision-making, and perhaps this helps explain why contract language was much more detailed and specific in contrast to NSBSD-NSBEA, which tended to leave issues relatively vague. This is probably due to the relatively small size of the NSBSD, or it may betray an aversion to concentrating power and decision-making in the hands of teachers who are much more likely than Anchorage teachers to leave the district after a short time. School districts such as the ASD are privileged when it comes to teacher mentorship and support – services that are at least contractually absent from the NSBSD, ostensibly due to high teacher turnover – and this is one symptom of inequity between urban and rural districts. My most salient finding, however, was the seeming inconsistency between the stated educational goals of the region’s majority Indigenous population as outlined in the Iñupiaq Learning Framework, and contract language that does not speak to the problematic role non-Indigenous teachers often find themselves in as outsiders with little guidance, imposing their values in classrooms.


Alaska Department of Education and Early Development. (2010). “Enrollment by District, Ethnicity and Grade as of Oct. 1, 2010,” accessed February 29, 2012,

Siku News. (September 10, 2010). “New Inupiaq framework says it all”, accessed February 29, 2012,

U.S. Census (2010). “QuickFacts”, accessed February 29, 2012, http://quickfacts.census.

[1] Alaska Public Employees Ass’n v. Alaska State Employees Ass’n (1992) and Kai Sch. District v. Kenai Educ. Ass’n (1977).

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Words of Inspiration

“We speak at this moment in Inuttitut. We learned this from our parents who learned it from their parents and so on. This has been our education. We are not different from the Japanese, Germans and others. We will pass our language to our children. The people should not think that the education system we have now is the only education system. We have elders that are equal to professors and we can be educated in Inuttitut…Since the government started educating Inuit, the culture has slowly eroded. The passing on of cultural knowledge has been neglected by parents. Teaching how to read, write and speak well in Inuttitut in classrooms is the purpose of the school. But we have to rejuvenate the teaching of moral tradition and culture in the home by the parents. This is part of teaching. My grandmother was teaching up to the day she died. She talked about family, ways to keep a good life, respect, and so forth. Just because children are stent to school does not mean we have to give up our share of teaching them about life…The white man’s way is also interfering with our teaching tradition, for example, when a youth is 18under the white law he is considered a grown man and capable of taking care of himself. This creates disrespect. Under the Inuit way of teaching, an Inuk was not an adult until he was capable of providing for the family or the community. If these traditions are kept alive by the parents outside of school, it can help us to keep our language and culture. I am talking about parents’ responsibility that seems to have been thrown at the schools, schools that can only teach the white way.”

Kangirsuk, Nunavik, Quebec resident, January 26, 1991

“We did not get control of our own school boards, our corporations, so that we could carry on the philosophies and objectives of the federal administrators of the 1950s. We have the means to promote our traditions, culture, and language, at least within our region…

“Assuming that the long term plan for the region is that it is to be a homeland for Inuit, in tradition, culture, and language, all residents will be expected to be proficient in the language of the Inuit, in the same way as Inuit are now expected to be proficient in French or English. Let’s get radical.”

Jobie Weetaluktuk, June 25, 1990. Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, Quebec.

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