Decolonizing educational systems and promoting traditional and other community-based education reinforces positive cultural identity, traditional knowledge, and languages. These opportunities are sources of future and present strength and leadership for Barrow and Indigenous communities more broadly. They have the potential to increase opportunities for youth and sustain cultural lifeways.

Part of the colonizing schooling process was a devaluation of Indigenous ways of knowing. Assimilating pressures meant that cultural identity, traditional knowledges, and languages were being lost. Positive, decolonizing forces, both in the school system and in community settings, are being developed to increase Indigenous knowledges and languages in education. Elder mentors, leaders, and community involvement are all important for decolonizing processes.

There are many examples of indigenizing education in Barrow. These include the North Slope Borough School District’s Iñupiaq Learning Framework, the VIVA Iñupiaq learning software, Ilisaġvik College, the Uqautchim Uglua Iñupiaq immersion early child education program, and the vast archive of oral histories and other materials available from the North Slope Borough’s Iñupiat Heritage, Language, and Culture commission.

“Absolutely, the elders are the wisdom keepers. A lot of that isn’t being taught to the younger generations. Respect for elders. Their rules, their laws are more powerful than western laws even. If we live by them it would be good.”

“I think each of us in our own way are leaders depending on. our own interests and pursuits. So anyone can be a leader in his or her own right….I think the contributions that individuals make vary anywhere from having expertise in say for example the sewing of boat skins, to being a fine seamstress, to being a artistic in whatever medium, to being an eloquent speaker of the language. Being a prolific hunter. Being a person who models the way to be according to Inupiaq ways of thinking.”

“Our leaders, to me, the ones that I see as our leaders are our elders. And that will never change in my eyes, my eyes. So. I will do my very best for our elders and if they’re in need, you know, we need to take care of them. Cause they’re the ones that have that knowledge for one more person that comes around that may need something. People that have lived a hard life and have survived have a lot of information. Have a lot of information to share.”

“Utuqqanaavut utuqqaliuruat apqusiuqtiŋarut irrakkagmiñ. Allaŋusugniaŋitchuq. Aasii pillautisuugniaqtuŋa pilluatisummiuŋa utuqqanaamnun ikayutausivluŋali qaunaksraqsivluŋammiuḷu. Atakii tamaktua utuqqanaat iḷisimapiallaqtut iḷitchisuvluni iñulluataiññikkutiqaqtuat aasii taamna iñuum qaiyaqsiniagman inugraligmiuq. Tamatkua iñuich siģģaģnaguugai iñuusiat iḷisimallaalugi aviktuasigiksut.”

“Again, it’s going to be traditional knowledge I look up to most. Our leaders, I like our leaders to be actively involved with whaling, you know that’s very important to me as a leader. They have to be actively involved in. You have to support the community, take care of your family, your kids, your wife or your husband. And then contribute to the community by whaling and giving, that’s a leader. That’s what we look up to. And education, education is very important. Finding a balance between both.”

“That we can stand up. And that we can make our own decisions. We have the answers within us. It’s reclaiming that, that is inside and being able to do that makes me most, I mean it’s so humbling at the same time. I don’t know if the word proud does it…It just exudes this goodness. Not pride, this arrogant stuff, but these feelings of good, goodness.”

“Makitasivlukapta. Naligagmatigutsuli. Kiiqsrutiqaqtugut iḷiŋnun uumatimnun. Tavraptauaq aŋiuqtusuuruq, iḷumunittuq, aasii kamasaaŋiittuq. Nalunaitkiga uqaqtun quvaisaaq taamna ittuq, nakuuḷŋitchuqaasii. Quviasułhaamik nakuusisuuruq aksigmata, aaŋitchumiñaitchuq.”

“But we’re lucky in that way, where we’ll always have the gifts from the community because of the gifts that we have given to the community for the generations to come. And that’s something that gives us hope for the rest of our lives. Even me I’m in a change right now, I’m not currently working, I have to decide what is the role I have to do. But I know there are so many roles that I could do, it’s just a matter of deciding what is the role I’m willing to take at this point in my life. And that’s a gift that I’ll always have because of what I’ve given to myself, what I’ve given to our communities, what I’ve given to our region, what I’ve given to our state, and what I’ve given to our nation.”

“Qaitkikput aitchuusiaskrat allat iḷitchisuvluni naagga iñuusiaksraŋnik aitchuqtigaatigut miqłiqtuvunnun kiŋuģaaģiimnunlu. Tavra tainna piyumiñaqłuta ataramik ittuksraurugut. Uvaŋaptauq, allaŋusugmagikkiga, savagumiñaitkiga akkupak, qanuq naliģasukkiga savaguminiaqtuŋa. Atakii iḷisimaksraģa savalluatisalaich piqaqtuq iḷaani, qanuqaasii isummiqsugiga qanuqtilaaptun savagniagiga savaguusukkiga akkupaglaan iñuusiaģa. Taamnakii qaitquutiqaqtuniagiga ataramik atakii sunauvva aitchuqtugisuugiga uvamnun, sunauvva aitchuqtiksraģa nunaaqinnunmun, nunaaqilluatagimnun, sunaliuvva aitchuqtiksraģa state-gum, aasii aitchuqtiksraģa nation-gum.”