Ester Green is an Elder teacher with the Rural Human Services program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Kuskokwim Campus and gave the Keynote Address at this years 2018 commencement ceremony. Green is herself a former graduate of KuC. Below, find the full audio and transcript of her address.
“First off, welcome to Vice Chancellor Evon Peter and Board of Regents Member Karen Perdue. Thank you to Mary Pete for your leadership. My name is Esther Green, or Nuqarrluk. My mother’s name was Lucy P. Evon, or Pasrata’ar. My father’s name was Wassilie B. Evon; Ayagkaq. I was born and raised in Nunapitchuk.
I am humbled that I was asked to do this by the university. When I was asked, my heart started pounding and I felt shaky and scared. Right there I thought, 'should I say yes or no?!' I did not want to push away the wonderful part of being an Elder teacher in the university classroom, so I decided to pour it out from my heart.
My mom culturally educated me. That was my first education at home when I was growing up. She told me so I wouldn’t forget. She showed me so I remember and included me in everything she did. Those were the things I needed to know. Now she is a branch on that tree. Everything she taught me about was all interconnected to who I am as a Yup’ik person.
I had dropped out of school when I was in 6th grade, I later married, raised my children. Then after they left home, I decided to go to college to become a Yup’ik teacher with the school district.
When I entered the college classroom it was like entering an alien dimension. I did not know the instructor; I couldn’t ask questions. I did not know the students who sat in front of me or those who sat behind me or those who sat beside me. We never really talked to each other. We did not brainstorm together to solve problem or discuss topics; there was little interaction between us. The teacher was like a demand. At the end of class I said to my colleagues, 'This is none of my business!' But I had to do it; it was 'must do' or else no degree and no chance to be a Yup’ik teacher. It was scary because it was so different than my mom’s instruction ways.
And then one day after I retired from Lower Kuskokwim School District (LKSD), I was invited to be an Elder instructor in the Rural Human Services (RHS) program. This RHS is a culturally relevant and unique program. RHS teaches each person as a whole: spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and culturally. It leads a person to explore one’s life to start with before becoming a front line worker. RHS has helped the students, as well as me as an Elder, with reawakening to self, others, our surroundings, and is an inspiration. It also teaches those who are in a hurry all the time to be patient. As students go through each class to reach their goals, they face rough, tough spots on their healing and education journey.
When the students come into RHS they seem scared, low confidence, and not trusting education because of the past; afraid to speak. Kind of like I was when I first went to college. Over time, I became amazed at what was happening to my people right in front of my eyes, including me.
In the RHS model of education, I see students taking risks and they find out who they are and where they came from. They see how being Yup’ik or Cup’ik or whatever their culture, it is okay. There is nothing wrong with the culture they come from. As a matter of fact, in RHS and HUMS cohort programs our life experiences, lessons we were taught, cultural practices we have, are all part of the foundation for learning new information.
Students make sacrifices to attend classes. Regardless of the situation at home or challenging conditions, they still came. If they are weathered out in their village, they will sometimes snowmachine to a nearby village that might have planes flying.
Faculty are leaders in the classroom, understanding about education, tireless, makes sure the students have everything they need. Teaches students how to enter into KuC and how to succeed in a university.
The faculty orient themselves to know the culture, our ways of knowing, and how students learn and live in order to teach well. They partner with the culture, and that’s how Western information and our culture get to be partners. One of our Elders, Peter Jacobs, used to say that we can look at what Western knowledge is offering and decide for ourselves what is useful, and then leave what is not useful. We are the ones who have to make that decision, not the Western culture making the decision for us.
Wouldn’t it be nice and wonderful if every class in the university discovered this model of education? Even K-12; by the time they go to college they will be so confident and ready. The Kuskokwim Campus with its staff and faculty has allowed me to be a part of the students' learning community in the classroom. I even have my own editor and secretary.
I want to also thank my own children. They taught me so much in my healing journey. Even my grandchildren and my great-grandchildren and my close friends and siblings. My fellow Elders in the Calircaraq and Healthy Families programs, who have been great teachers to me. They did something to me, helped me make use of what I learned, and encouraged me to share and give out what I learn.
I will finish with this. What we learn in life and in college does not belong to us. Knowledge is not a possession that you keep for yourself or that you own. It must be shared with your people, your community. It must be given away. Thank you.”