“Key to the Past”: Community Perceptions of Yup’ik Youth Interaction with Culturally Relevant Education

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O’Rourke, Sean R.
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Mount Saint Vincent University
European colonization has dealt crippling blows to the psyches of Indigenous peoples across the world by devastating and, subsequently, marginalizing their cultures. This cultural trauma contributes to the poor mental health outcomes experienced by many Indigenous peoples today. Because Western education curricula and pedagogy perpetuates Indigenous cultural trauma by legitimizing Western colonial dominance, some researchers have proposed culturally relevant education (CRE) can help ameliorate mental health outcomes in Indigenous communities. I conducted ten interviews with community members (i.e., elders and caregivers) and program planners (e.g., educators and archaeologists) in Quinhagak, Alaska to assess their perceptions of Yup’ik youth outcomes following engagement with a series of unique CRE programs that have grown from the Nunalleq Project (a nearby archaeological excavation). Community members and program planners in Quinhagak attribute numerous social and psychological outcomes to youth engagement in CRE. Specific CRE outcomes included teaching youth practical skills (e.g., skills necessary to survive in the wilderness, as well as skills more relevant to Western culture, such as how to use a digital camera and edit film), teaching youth to value their heritage (e.g., teaching them about the struggles their ancestors overcame), and psychological outcomes (e.g., improving youths’ self-esteem). The results of this study provide A) a framework for researchers to directly systematically assess CRE outcomes in Quinhagak and B) guidance for program planners in the village wishing to implement additional CRE for local youth. Specific recommendations for planning future CRE programs for youth in Quinhagak are discussed.
Culturally relevant education, cultural identity, Yup’ik, Indigenous youth, mental health