• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
3m 39s

Nome schools revive Inupiaq language

By Heather Hintze 6:21 PM October 13, 2014

On a school day in Nome, a class of second graders at Nome Elementary School gathers around Annie Conger as she begins her cultural studies lesson.

Conger is reading “Neeluk : An Eskimo Boy in the Days of the Whaling Ships.”

“Last time, they had to wake up really early to get ready for Kotzebue,” said the second-grade teacher in a recap of last week’s part of the story.

While reading, she seamlessly interjects words in the Inupiaq language as she tells the students about Neeluk’s adventures.

“The boys boots, or mukluks, were made of tan natchiq (seal) skin,” Conger read.

Conger says she grew up speaking Inupiaq at home. Her students only know English, so she’s proud to teach them the words of her ancestors.

“It’s very important because our language is dying here in the Bering Straits region,” she said. “For our kids to pick up Inupiaq as one of our languages, the kids will remember.”

It wasn’t long ago that students, like Conger’s father, were punished for speaking their Native languages at school. Inupiaq is one of three primary Native languages in Nome, along with two of the three Alaska Yupik Eskimo languages, Siberian and Central.

Conger found that the only way to keep the language alive was through her family.

“My grandfather lived with us who spoke limited English,” she said. “So with us, growing up, it was very important at home to know the language.”

Nome students not only have the chance to learn the language in class, they also get to hear it from fluent speakers as well. Every Thursday, the school hosts Lunch with an Elder. This week, 84-year-old Ester Bourdan tells the students about her life in Wales and her family’s hunting traditions.

Born in Teller in 1929, Bourdan says she didn’t learn English until she went to kindergarten. In Inupiaq, she recounts the story of how she was born, her mother traveling by dog sled to get to a midwife.

Though the students can’t understand her now, she hopes to inspire them to learn their Native language so that one day they might be able to.

“Her and her family members didn’t speak any English,” Marilyn Koezuna-Ireland translated. “They spoke solely in their Inupiaq-Eskimo language. She feels that was the way to be and it was a very good way to be.”

Inupiaq has also made its way to the Nome-Beltz Junior/Senior High School.

Marjorie Tahbone is the school’s first Inupiaq instructor.

“Let me see if I can even say it,” Tahbone told her class as she paused to study a word, doing her best to pronounce what means ‘Lets go to the basketball game.’

Aqsriqityaqtaunukta,” she managed.

Even though Tahbone is the teacher, she’s still learning the language and knows how hard it can be to master the language’s guttural sounds.

“You have to exercise your throat muscles,” she said. “Because in the English language, we don’t use some of the sounds we use in Inupiaq. It’s such a beautiful language.”

But it’s not just about getting students to properly pronounce words, she says. It’s getting them to understand the deeper meaning behind them.

“You can’t really teach just the language. You have to teach history, the ancestry and the understandings and beliefs and philosophies with it,” Tahbone said. “Because some words don’t make any sense unless you explain the background and why we say some of the words.”

The high school class is an elective, so students here have the drive and the desire to carry on a piece of their Native culture.

“We want to bring it back so we know our history and our culture,” said freshman Katherine Scott, who also happens to be Tahbone’s cousin.

Back at the elementary school, Conger has the children string yarn through a popsicle stick to simulate the method of hanging cod. She sees how important it is to get her kids interested in Inupiaq because the fate of the language depends on it.

“I’m originally from Brevig Mission,” Conger said. “We have just six elders left who can speak our language fluently. That scares me.”

Each word the students learn brings them one step closer to reviving the language, one that’s been a part of the area for thousands of years.

Latest Stories

  • Politics

    Trump administration to issue new Syria sanctions

    by Associated Press on Apr 24, 7:20

    WASHINGTON (AP) – U.S. officials say the Trump administration will issue new sanctions against Syria as early as Monday as part of its ongoing crackdown on the Syrian government and those who support it. Two officials say that the sanctions are part of a broader effort to cut off funding and other support to Syria’s […]

  • Lifestyle

    At least global warming may get Americans off the couch more

    by Associated Press on Apr 24, 7:09

    WASHINGTON (AP) – A new study says global warming’s milder winters will likely nudge Americans off the couch more in the future, a rare, small benefit of climate change. With less chilly winters, the study forecasts that Americans will be more likely to get outdoors, increasing their physical activity by as much as 2.5 percent […]

  • Lifestyle

    Astronaut breaks record for most time in space by American

    by Associated Press on Apr 24, 6:04

    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) – Astronaut Peggy Whitson has another record under her space belt. Early Monday, the International Space Station commander surpassed the record of 534 days, two hours and 48 minutes for most accumulated time in orbit by an American. That record was set last year by Jeffrey Williams. Whitson already was the […]

  • News

    Fairbanks recycling center project $150,000 over budget

    by Associated Press on Apr 24, 5:57

    FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) – The Fairbanks North Star Borough is seeking out additional funding to start up a recycling program, as the project is facing a $150,000 cost overrun. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports the borough is looking to open a community recycling center at a warehouse in Fairbanks by July 1, when the Fairbanks […]

  • News

    Kodiak Borough legalizes commercial pot; city ban remains

    by Associated Press on Apr 24, 5:53

    KODIAK, Alaska (AP) – The Kodiak Borough Assembly has voted to lift its commercial marijuana ban, although it is still illegal in the city’s jurisdiction. The Kodiak Daily Mirror reports the assembly voted Thursday 4-2 in favor of lifting the ban. It is unclear how soon people who have applied for state licenses will be […]

  • Bloomberg to world leaders: Ignore Trump on climate

    by Associated Press on Apr 23, 17:36

    NEW YORK (AP) – New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg says he wants to help save an international agreement to reduce carbon emissions. The former New York City mayor addressed his intensifying focus on climate change an interview with The Associated Press. Last week, he released a new book, “Climate of Hope: How Cities, Businesses, and […]

  • Sports

    BLM seeks public input on proposed Red Devil Mine cleanup

    by KTVA Web Staff on Apr 23, 17:17

    The Red Devil Mine is located on the Kuskokwim near the Red Devil Creek between Crooked Creek and Sleetmute. It started mining in the ’30s, picked up steam in the ’50s and ’60s but has not operated since the 1970s. The problem is that there’s mercury, arsenic and antimony in the soils left behind by […]

  • Students sue Trump administration over climate change

    by CBS News on Apr 23, 17:07

    EUGENE, Ore. — Avery McRae has been passionate about the environment for half a lifetime, and she’s been worried about climate change since kindergarten. Now, at 11, she is really getting serious. She recently signed on to sue President Trump and the U.S. government. “Trump is not doing anything to help stop climate change,” she […]