Twenty years ago, Tricia Brown and Roy Corral interviewed children from seven Alaska Native cultures and produced the book Children of the Midnight Sun. Recognizing that cultures are constantly evolving and being influenced by global changes, Brown and Corral returned to create Children of the First People. They interviewed kids from the eight Alaska Native groups featured in their first book and the three groups that had not been included originally.
In Children of the First People, we are introduced to kids and families who have been shaped by their modern day experiences as well as the cultural traditions that they have inherited. They participate in many of the same activities as children worldwide such as playing video games and basketball. Many of them attend church services. One boy from the Iñupiat group is featured in social media videos that his mom produces. Some of them live in small towns and others live in big cities. Each child included in the book has different experiences and traditions and the author does a nice job of ensuring that none of the children are considered “cultural representatives” for their Alaska Native groups. Educators also need to make sure that students understand that each of these children is just one individual in a larger group and that they do not speak for the group as a whole.
Brown and Corral also describe the unique experiences of children within these Alaskan communities. Some of them live on islands that can only be reached by boats or small planes. While many of the kids eat hamburgers on occasion, some of them prefer dishes made of whale skin and blubber. This might be a point at which students in our classrooms bring up confusion or feelings of cultural superiority and it is important that teachers have these conversations with students. Asking students what they know about Native communities before reading and how their knowledge changes during and after reading is an important part of culturally responsive literacy practices.
Alaska Native people are a vital part of our national community. However, they are rarely part of our children’s literature. It is important to note that neither Brown nor Corral are Alaska Natives themselves, but the families and children within the book really do tell their own stories. I am hopeful that with books like this one and the PBS show Molly of Denali, children will take an interest in learning more about these cultural communities.
Teaching Tolerance Social Justice Standards:
Diversity 6: I like knowing people who are like me and different from me, and I treat each person with respect.
Diversity 7: I have accurate, respectful words to describe how I am similar to and different from people who share my identities and those who have other identities.
Diversity 8: I want to know more about other people’s lives and experiences, and I know how to ask questions respectfully and listen carefully and non-judgmentally.
W.8- Recall relevant information from experiences or gather relevant information from print and digital sources; take notes and categorize information, and provide a list of sources.
SL.1.C- Pose and respond to specific questions to clarify or follow up on information, and make comments that contribute to the discussion and link to the remarks of others.