Kodiak Island Borough School District Board of Education will add two sentences to the opening of its meetings to acknowledge that they are on land that once belonged to the Alutiiq people.
It’s called a land acknowledgment, and it’s a growing trend across the United States and other countries where Indigenous people have been displaced.
“We are gathered today on the traditional homeland of the Alutiiq/Sugpiaq people,” the acknowledgment reads.
“The heritage and culture of the Alutiiq people continue to enrich our communities and our schools.”
Those two sentences have a lot of power, advocates say. Native Education Parent Committee Chair Alisha Drabek said it would be another step forward in the education community’s ties to the Native communities.
“The discussion arose from staff and the committee that this would be a really wonderful way for the school district to further strengthen the relationship with the 10 tribes of Kodiak Island and the fact we’ve been here for 7,000 years,” Drabek said at the meeting.
The Alutiiq Museum has performed similar acknowledgments at its events, as has Kodiak College.
Drabek said that the acknowledgment would, among other things, deeply impact Alutiiq students and elders, especially given the problematic history between Natives and the education system.
Students will better be able to identify with the school system. Native students make up about 18% of the school system.
“It’s important that they see themselves reflected in what they’re learning about. And for Native students, there has been a long history in the decades prior of a negative encounter with education and our culture,” Drabek said.
“Having an opportunity to hear an acknowledgment of our ancestry and respect for that is pretty profound.”
Elders might feel more welcome in the schools. Drabek used to teach the Alutiiq language at Kodiak High School. Sometimes she’d bring elders from the Alutiiq community into the classroom. But the elders didn’t always feel like they belonged.
“At first they were very shy about that. They were uncomfortable being invited to the school as an educator because several of them had been physically punished by their teachers when they were in school for speaking their language,” Drabek said.
“It’s a process of healing for them to be invited back into the school and for the administration to recognize they hold a place of honor and we’ve moved beyond those very painful years.”
The Board of Education unanimously approved adding the acknowledgment on Monday night. It will be read at the start of meetings in the future.