From left to right, Michael Bach, Nick Alokli, and Susan Colleen Malutin. (Photo by April Laktonen Counceller)
Kodiak College will honor Alutiiq language students and Alutiiq elders at its graduation ceremony tonight.
Nick Alokli is one of the members of the Alutiiq Studies Council of Fluent elders who will be granted Faculty Affiliate status for helping shape the Alutiiq language curriculum at Kodiak College and being otherwise involved in the University of Alaska Anchorage.
Alkoli says his role in helping others learn Alutiiq has enriched his life. He remembers his teachers enforcing an English-speaking only rule when he was growing up in Akhiok.
“I’m more happier than I used to be because before I started teaching I was miserable because they denied my speaking in the schools and I just couldn’t understand it. I was so bitter. Made me worse and I didn’t like English, and I didn’t spend time learning, so I was really slow in learning,” says Alkoli.
He says that he was nevertheless closely connected to Alutiiq as a child.
“My grandpa, he was a reader in church and I was real proud of him,” says Alkoli. “He used to read the gospel in Russian and Alutiiq and I used to understand what he was saying in Alutiiq when he read in the church so that made me real happy.”
He says he had forgotten much of Alutiiq, but when April Laktonen Counceller reached out to him to teach, it all started coming back to him. Counselor is an assistant professor of Alaska Native Studies at Kodiak College and is transitioning to executive director at the Alutiiq Museum.
She says along with giving faculty affiliate status to six elders, the faculty will grant degrees to the first graduating class of the Alutiiq Language Occupational Endorsement Certificate Program.
“The certificate program is less than an associate’s degree or a bachelor’s degree,” says Laktonen Counceller. “It’s a series of six courses. And the final course they take, they also need to test at intermediate proficiency in speaking Alutiiq and that is so that we can use this credential for work-force development and for people who wish to hire people with Alutiiq language proficiency.”
Michael Bach is the Language Archives Specialist at the Alutiiq Museum and is among the six graduates. He’s a self-described “language dork” and says along with Alutiiq, he speaks Spanish and Persian-Farsi.
“All the other languages that I’ve learned were similar to English where there’s a word for everything, whereas Alutiiq describes everything is the way I understand it,” says Bach. “And learning how to find the tools to do that was a challenge for me at first and the coursework helped me kinda understand the underlying grammar of it and give me the tools to be a better learner.”
Susan Colleen Malutin is another graduate. She says when she and others started learning Alutiiq many years ago, the history of discouragement and punishment for speaking Alutiiq meant that not many documents or learning plans were available.
She says it took the combined effort of the elders to put their memories together on tape and in person to fix that. And this is only the beginning.
“It’s still new,” says Malutin. “I mean, within a confined group there’s Alutiiq spoken, but I don’t think you’ll find it in the grocery store, the post office, so it’s still developing, it’s still growing, and it will, as long as the encouragement is there, as long as the willingness is there.”
The Kodiak College Graduation will begin at 7 p.m. at the Kodiak Convention Center.
Faculty will also announce the first honoree of the Native Education Equity Award, for a Kodiak College employee who Alaska Native students feel has got out of their way to serve them, and the first honoree of the Native Student Leadership Award, for an Alaska Native student who employees feel has contributed positively to the campus community. The Kodiak Alutiiq Dancers will also perform.