After ten years of Yup’ik spelling bee competitions, the Inupiaq language was included for the first time this year. The organizers say that’s largely thanks to efforts in Brevig Mission, a 350-person community northwest of Nome.

Announcer: Kopeck, it’s your turn to give it a try, the word is ‘tiŋŋun’ – ‘tiŋŋun’.
Kopeck: Tiŋŋun. T-I-Ŋ-Ŋ-U-N.
Announcer: I heard, T – I – N with a tail, N with a tail – U – N. That earns you a point. Naguuzruq!

The rules of the Inupiaq spelling bee are a little different from others. Misspelling a word does not eliminate contestants, rather the winner is the person who gets the most right answers. There are still very few in the region who speak Iñupiaq fluently and even fewer who can read and write the language.

Yup’ik spellers concentrate during the statewide spelling bee. Photo by Ruth Dan, used with permission.

“We should consider this a celebration of our languages,” said Freda Dan, who organizes the competition. Dan said she found support in a cultural programs coordinator from the Bering Strait School District, Suzzuk Mary Huntington.

Huntington told listeners, “use whatever language we have, as much as possible. If we have to go back and refine and correct, that’s fine. We’ll still be learning. And really be gracious and patient with both ourselves and the people making the efforts because I definitely see reclamation of our Iñupiaq language.”

She encouraged those who speak Inupiaq to consider participating. “It really is about coaches. Finding coaches and finding adults who can feel like they have something to offer and that it’s not going to be too intimidating or they don’t know enough to be able to do it in the way that they would want to,” Huntington said.

Fourth grader Kopeck Kaitlyn Alston from Brevig Mission earned first place in the historic tournament. Kimasuq Danielle Tocktoo came in second, and Kinaviaq Kyla Fahey came in third, both of them also from Brevig Mission.

Image at top: Fourth-grade student Kopeck Kaitlyn Alston, of Brevig Mission, won the first-ever Inupiaq Spelling Bee. Photo by teacher Angie Busch Alston, used with permission.

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