Our Past is part of our Present
Alice Lineberger shares a story of how she got to hold onto her language and the role of her great grandparents when boarding schools came along.
I met up with a friend, Alice Leinberger, while we were both visiting University of Alaska Fairbanks with potential university students. During a quick share of a lunch, she told me a story that incredible, heartbreaking, heartwarming, heroic, and promising all in one.
Alice's son was attending Mt. Edgecumbe Boarding school at the time, and visiting colleges for his future plans. I shared with her the value he has in being well grounded in his culture and knowing his Yup'ik language. She shared with me why her family got to keep their language.
The gift of being left behind
"When they came to take kids to boarding schools, my father was young but they did take the others my grandfather and his aunts and uncles. My father stayed behind and was taken care of by his grandparents. This is why my father learned so much of the language, it was the only language his grandparents knew. They taught him all the old ways while his aunts and uncles were off at boarding school. My father then knew these things to share with us."
I asked about the others that went to boarding school. She said they went to Oregon or Washington, out of state. She shared they did ok in school and learned what they were expected to, but later on many of them struggled as adults. She understood they had lost a part of who they were and were lost.
Alice grew up in Toksook Bay and learned many things from her father, including the Yup'ik language. When her own son was in elementary school in Bethel, they chose the Yup'ik Immersion elementary school to support his cultural knowledge and language learning.
Wisdom of Keeping the Culture
Alice shared the picture above with me, a beautiful picture with so much significance. "My dad's grandparents refused to wear western clothes. When the people came and were taking pictures of people in the village they would give them western clothes to wear for the pictures. They refused to put them on. That is why we have this picture of them in their own clothes in front of their sod house."
They refused to put on western clothes for the picture
It seemed that her great grandparents already knew that survival meant hanging on to themselves. Alice shared that they taught her dad many things and in turn he made a point of teaching her and her siblings Native ways of doing things. She has continued the effort with her own kids.
"It is funny now, that my own son is off to boarding school. But I do not have that same worry that he will lose his culture. I think he will still be himself and go off to college. I am really proud of him."