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ANCSA Opened Education’s Doors Local schools, higher education for Alaska Natives

Photo by Rob Stapleton/ANCSA@40


Mary Jane Fate and her husband Hugh “Bud” Fate dedicated themselves to improving educational opportunities for Alaska Natives. She is pictured at the September 2010 ANCSA@40 panel discussion.


ary Jane Fate grew up in the Koyukon Athabascan village of Rampart on the Yukon River. She recalls a childhood in which winters were spent trapping, and spring was the season they caught muskrats on the open lakes. Then they would build rafts of logs, float down the river to sell them to the steamboat operators and spend the summer at fish camp. For most Alaska Native children in the villages, what formal education they received ended in the eighth grade in schools run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Students were taught English and discouraged from speaking their native languages. The few who were


encouraged to attend high school were sent to boarding school hundreds or thousands of miles from their families. “There wasn’t any education close to home with family involvement,” Fate said. “This was very important to us because we had so much respect for our elders.” Fate left Rampart and attended Mount Edgecumbe School in Sitka. She is one of the few Alaska Natives of her generation who graduated from high school and college in the 1950s and ’60s. After moving to Fairbanks, she and her husband, Hugh “Bud” Fate, dedicated themselves to improving educational opportunities for Alaska Natives.

They helped found the Fairbanks Native Association, and Mary Jane went on to become co-chair of the Alaska Federation of Natives and a member of the University of Alaska Board of Regents. She was also president of the Rampart Village Corp., which was created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. And it was the issue of land claims, and ANCSA, that ultimately re-wrote the book on education in Alaska, although education was not written into the legislation, nor was it mentioned in the discussions leading up to it. In short, ANCSA set the framework for a community-oriented education system, said Clara Anderson, director of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Interior-Aleutians Campus. “I can’t begin to explain how transformative ANCSA was and what a huge change that was,” Anderson said. “Education became a very hot-button issue after ANCSA was passed,” said Ray Barnhard, professor of crosscultural studies at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

GAINING LOCAL HIGH SCHOOLS In 1970, there were about 120 village schools in Alaska operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Almost all ended in the eighth grade. Although high schools were provided in communities with white student populations, Alaska Native students who wanted to attend high school were sent to boarding schools or boarding home programs. Dropout rates were high and reports of neglect and abuse were common. Statistics provided by Anderson show only about 2,000 Alaska Natives graduated from high school in the 1960s. • Alaska Business Monthly • January 2011