North Slope government and history is now part of high school graduation requirements for all North Slope Borough schools.
The borough school board passed a new policy this month making the curriculum change mandatory for students, beginning with freshmen who start in 2017.
Pausauraq Jana Harcharek, the Inupiat education director for the North Slope Borough school district, said this change has been years in the making.
“And it goes back probably to the formation of the North Slope Borough School District, when founding Mayor Eben Hopson, in a speech, said that our schools will reflect the ideologies of the Inupiat, that our schools will reflect who we are as people,” Harcharek said.
Now, thanks to the school board, borough district students will receive one credit toward social studies requirement through a North Slope government class and a North Slope history class.
The class will be integrated into what’s already being taught instead of creating a separate class entirely, Harcharek said.
“So we’ve developed and implemented a series of what we call culture-based units,” Harcharek said. “So as a district we’ve been producing units for teachers to integrate into their teaching from kindergarten, or K-3, K-4, all the way up through grade 12, so this would just become part of that work.”
Harcharek does not foresee the curriculum changes adding any additional costs for the school district.
She said teaching students about their background, their Inupiat history, is beneficial beyond helping students get a job post-graduation.
“They need to learn about how our people use Western tools through federal legislation in the formation, for example, of the North Slope Borough, our regional corporations, our village corporations, as tools to advance the Inupiat agenda and to protect our subsistence life ways, to protect the rights that we have as people to land, to education,” Harcharek said.
As a person who identifies as Inupiat, Harcharek recognizes the significance of incorporating North Slope local government and history into an Inupiat student’s education.
“It means that we are able to fulfill the wishes of our elders and our people who have been expressing this idea of being inclusive of who we are in the classrooms,” Harcharek said. “It helps ground them in who they are from a historical perspective, because it is by knowing from where you came that you are able to maneuver more effectively in this day and age.”
The next step for expanding education related to local native history is to share these curriculum practices with international groups of people.
By 2018 the North Slope Borough school district’s goal, Harcharek said, is to help schools in Russia, Canada, and Greenland incorporate their own local history and government classes.