KTVA’s Teacher of the Week, Veronica Kaganak, is a first-grade teacher at the Alaska Native Cultural Charter School in Anchorage. She knew from an early age she wanted to teach and studied under one of the best — her grandmother Maryann Sundown. Kaganak learned how to read Yupik from Sundown, who was also known affectionately as the Yup’ik Dance Diva.

 

“Every Sunday I’d sit with her at church and she’d be pointing to the words that are written in Yupik,” Kaganak said of her grandmother. “I told myself I want to do the same things for children, not just Native children, but children in general.”

 

Kaganak speaks to her first-graders in English and Yupik, teaching them Christmas songs and how to recite the Pledge of Allegiance in the Native language.

 

She’s one of four fluent Yupik speakers at the school, but Kaganak says they need more educators who are fluent in Alaska Native languages.

 

“We need Athabascan speakers, we need Inupiat speakers or the other Native languages,” she said.

 

Ultimately, her goal is to preserve her culture and pass it on to younger generations. Kaganak teaches traditions like preserving and making clothing out of seal skin, gathering food and knowing the edible plants home to Alaska. She’s also taught the kids different types of fish and in years past has demonstrated how to gut fish with her thumb.

 

“I’m passing [on] the traditions I learned from my grandparents and my parents and I don’t ever want it to go away,” she said.

 

 

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