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A high school senior became the first Toksook Bay graduate to earn a prestigious language certification

Desiree Asuluk is the first Islander to receive a Seal of Biliteracy.
Elyssa Loughlin
Desiree Asuluk is the first Islander to receive a Seal of Biliteracy.

This spring, a high school senior became the first graduate from Toksook Bay to earn a prestigious language certification. It’s called a Seal of Biliteracy. The seal certifies that a student is proficient in speaking and writing in two languages, in this case, Yugtun and English.

Desiree Asuluk grew up in Toksook Bay speaking Yugtun and English. Her sophomore year of high school, she decided that she wanted to earn a certification that proved that she was proficient in both languages. She took the test to earn a Seal of Biliteracy, but she didn’t pass.

She was able to speak both languages, but the test requires also being able to read and write in both languages and she needed to learn how to do that at a higher level Yugtun. The language is not widely written in the region.

So Asuluk registered for an online class with the University of Alaska Fairbanks to learn.

"It took me a while to learn," Asuluk said. "But since I started taking Yup’ik classes, it became really easy for me."

Senior year, she was ready to take the test again. The certification process is intense. Applicants must take a rigorous test that includes a speaking and writing assessment. "I practiced so hard," Asuluk said.

She took the test on a computer. The reading and writing part went fine. But when it came to the speaking assessment, Asuluk said that the mic didn’t work at first.

"So it took me a while. And then when I completed it, I thought I wasn't gonna pass it. But I kept believing in myself that I would," said Asuluk.

A few days later, Asuluk received good news. "I was told that I passed it and I got really happy," she said.

The certification has already provided Asuluk with a job opportunity. This summer, she will work for the Nunakauyarmuit Tribal Council in Toksook Bay to interview Elders, record their conversations, and translate and transcribe the Yugtun conversations into English.

"I'm excited to learn about the Elders' past, and recording them, and how they lived throughout any hardship they went through, and how they made it successfully."

This fall, Asuluk will attend the University of Alaska Fairbanks Kuskokwim Campus in Bethel, where she plans to study communications. She’s excited to put her biliteracy to use. "I want to do more that includes media like recording, taking pictures, anything that's like that," she said.

Asuluk is one of five LKSD students to receive the Seal of Biliteracy this year. Other students who received the honor in 2022 are from Kasigluk, Kwigillingok, Mertarvik, and Tuntutuliak. Fifty-five students have received a Seal of Biliteracy since LKSD began offering the program in 2017. Asuluk is the first student from Toksook Bay to receive the honor.

Elyssa (she/her) is the Wellness Programming Producer and a second year Jesuit Volunteer/Americorps Member at KYUK. She loves dogs, listening to podcasts and playing ABBA to close out the Birthday Line.
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