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Class Culture

Teenager stands inside high school workshop, wearing winter hat

Each “Winterim,” Nome-Beltz High School offers a set of short-term electives for students to study subjects not on the regular course menu. This year, two Winterim courses involved Alaska Native culture: enhanced leadership skills and Native handicrafts.

Michael Hoyt taught Alaska Native Leadership. His students are “really, really excited about learning Iñupiaq,” Hoyt says, “and being able to introduce themselves — they are so excited about that.” Students practiced counting in Iñupiaq, discussed contemporary issues facing indigenous communities, and reflected on Alaska Native values and how those values can be applied in daily life. Hoyt brought into the classroom his experience as the advisor for the Nome Native Youth Leadership Organization, as well as his own knowledge of the Southeast Alaska Native language of Tlingit.

Hoyt’s students also tackled issues that the Inuit Circumpolar Council thinks are critical. The ICC helps form policies for countries that encircle the North Pole. The class brainstormed about what they can do as individuals and communities to address global issues with local effects.

Classroom with a half-dozen students working on handmade winter hats
Nome-Beltz Winterim students sewing their fur hats. Photo: Katie Kazmierski, KNOM.
A wooden desk with various pens, pencils, scissors, and other office supplies, several of them labeled with Siberian Yupik words.
Siberian Yupik labels for classroom objects: “Qiipaq” translates to “thread,” and “Pumsuukeghtan” means “scissors.” Photo: Katie Kazmierski, KNOM.

Down the hall, Phyllis Walluk taught Nome teenagers to make their own seal-skin and beaver hats. While sewing fleece lining into her seal-skin hat, Nome high school senior Sierra Anderson said that “Phyllis’s classes are always the best classes for Winterim, ‘cause you get to make something and take it home and use it.” Walluk’s classes are popular at Nome-Beltz. Anderson last year tried to sign up for Walluk’s class on making mukluks (traditional animal skin boots), but it was already full.

During the regular school schedule, Walluk teaches a longer class, “Alaska Native Art and Culture,” in which students progress from small craft projects to larger pieces, like mittens, hats, or kuspuks. For the short Winterim, the challenge was finding a project that students could complete in only two weeks. Beaver hats fit the bill and teach a practical tradition. “It is something that everybody needs to know how to do,” she says, “and it’s good for them to know that they can make clothing from the furs they can catch. They can prepare, they can tan, and they can make clothing out of them.”

Bulletin board with posters and hand-drawn animals native to Western Alaska.
Inside a Nome-Beltz High School classroom, posters emphasize regional, cultural values. One reads “Knowledge of our Elders must be taught to our children through our values. Their powerful words never die.” Photo: Katie Kazmierski, KNOM.

Image at top: Nome-Beltz Winterim student Ethan Seeganna poses with his finished beaver hat. Photo: Katie Kazmierski, KNOM.