History of Alaska Native Education: Alaska Education Timeline

February 24, 2021

Jane G. Haigh

This is abstracted from:

(Barnhardt) Barnhardt, Carol, “A History of Schooling for Alaska Native People,” Journal of American Indian Education, Volume 40, Number 1, Fall, 2001 http://www.ankn.uaf.edu/curriculum/Articles/CarolBarnhardt/HistoryofSchooling.html

(Darnell/Hoems) Darnell, Frank and Anton Hoëm, Taken to Extremes: Education in the Far North: Chapter 4 Historical Development of Schooling.

{Getches} David H. Getches, “Law and Alaska Native Education: The Influence of Federal and State Legislation upon Education of Rural Alaska Natives,” Center for Northern Educational Research, UAF 1977             http://www.alaskool.org/native_ed/law/law_ane.html#top

1867   50 Russian supported schools, mostly Russian Orthodox. Gradually closed after 1867

            1887 only 17 left {Getches)

1867-1884 – period of nearly total neglect

            The Russian Orthodox Church maintained educational programs in the Aleutian Islands, Southwestern Alaska, and Sitka. And schools for Native children on the Pribilof Islands were maintained by the Alaska Commercial Company {Getches)

During this period- Residents of Sitka organized their own short lived school {Getches)

1884 Organic Act 

Secretary of the Interior was charged with making “needful and proper provision for the education of the children of school age in the Territory of Alaska, without reference to race, until such time as permanent provision shall be made for the same. . .”10

Sec. of Interior entered into contracts with churches and missionary societies.

Government took over the operation of four existing Presbyterian schools and established new schools at Juneau, Sitka, and Unalaska. {Getches)

1884 Organic Act

            Barnhardt “This act established the first civil government in Alaska and provided the legal basis for federal provision of education. The Act delegated responsibility for providing schooling “for children of all races” to the Office of the United States Secretary of the Interior.

1886 Sheldon Jackson appointed as general agent of Education in Alaska, (Easley) $25,000 appropriated

1888   Education delegated to the Bureau of Education

1890s   Some schools were operated directly by the federal government while others, referred to as “contract schools,” were contracted to missionary groups including Episcopal, Methodist, Moravian, Presbyterian. Catholics, and others established their own missions

             “Practice of contracting to mission groups is increasingly criticized”

1896   Congress finally moves away from missionaries and church schools

            Department of Interior Appropriations Act stated that it was the policy of the government to make no appropriation for Indian education in sectarian schools.” They are to contract with mission schools only where “nonsectarian schools cannot be provided.” {Getches}

1900 Act of Congress

permitted communities having a population of 300 or more to incorporate as towns and to elect their own school boards to assume control of public school boards within them.

The effect of the act was of limited scope because so few communities were large enough to qualify {Getches}

1905   Nelson Act. Congress sanctions a dual system of education; passes the Nelson Act providing for the establishment of schools outside incorporated towns for “white children and children of mixed blood leading a civilized life.” operated by the Territory of Alaska

            Schools for Alaska Native students continue to be run by the federal Bureau of Education.

            Segregated education systems continued until 1967

1906   Six children in Sitka sue; text of what constitutes “civilized”:

Whether or not the persons in question have turned aside from old associations, former habits of life, and easier modes of existence; in other words have exchanged the old barbaric, uncivilized environment for one changed, new, and so different as to indicate an advanced and improved condition of mind, which desires and reaches out for something altogether distinct from and unlike the old life.29 {Getches}

In rejecting the children’s plea, the court considered that “civilization . . . includes . . . more than a prosperous business, a trade, a house, white man’s clothes and membership in a church.”30   {Getches}

1912 Territory Act established a legislature but with limited powers

Although the act gave Alaska a legislature, its powers were severely limited, specifically with respect to education.32 As if to spite Congress in protest for its stinginess with legislative powers, the territorial legislature enacted a uniform school act purporting to establish a school system throughout the state to assume education functions for all but Alaska Native.33 The act provided for a territorial board of education, a superintendent, and a means of financing schools earmarking a percentage of the territorial tax revenues for schools.34  {Getches}

1917   Congress, amends Organic Act so Territory can take over responsibility for the education of “white children and children of mixed blood who lead a civilized life.”

            “Although many of the rural schools in the territorial system were scattered over hundreds of square kilometers in regions with a large population of Native pupils, the programs of instruction made no provision for local conditions or Native cultures.

            “although the federal school system was dedicated to Native education, eventually more Natives were enrolled in territorial/state schools than in the federal systems as new schools were added to the territorial system and the composition of village populations changed.

            When the Territorial Department of Education first became organized, there were 46 rural, unincorporated communities with territorial schools that enrolled 1,162 pupils and employed 58 teachers. At the same time, the Bureau of Education operated 71 rural schools with a total enrollment of 3,500 pupils and a faculty of 133 teachers.”

The federal government remained solely responsible for Native education.

            (The impetus for the 1917 Act may have been prohibition in Alaska.37 Because a major part of the budgets for Nelson Act schools had been from saloon licenses, revenues dried up along with the territory. An alternative for education funding had to be found and the shift to territorial responsibility was the answer.)  [Getches]

1920s   BIA creates three boarding schools in Alaska: White Mountain, Eklutna, and Kodiak??)

1924  Federal Citizenship Act should have removed “civilized test” for mixed blood children, but it did not.

            “Alaska’s racially segregated school system continued for many years as it was required to by law. However, strict racial barriers began to give way to practicality. Rather than insisting upon costly duplication of facilities in small villages, territorial schools often admitted Natives. Similarly, under rules applicable to federally run Native schools, the few whites who resided in almost totally Native villages were admitted when no territorial school was available.42   [Getches]

1926   Sing v. Sitka School Board, a part Indian challenged as racially discriminatory an announced policy of admitting no children of Indian blood to the public school in Sitka

            Separate but Equal was at the time established by Supreme Court; Accordingly, the school district claimed that the child’s education was provided for in other schools maintained for Indians by the Secretary of the Interior. The court said that it could not determine whether the child was a fullblood Indian as contemplated by the Nelson Act and whether the Secretary did in fact maintain a school which was on an equal plane with territorial schools. Thus in Sing v. Sitka School Board, no decision was reached, but it was suggested that exclusion of the child from school if both of these conditions were not shown would be improper.46   [Getches]

1928 Jones vs. Ellis  it was held that the right of mixed-blood children to attend the territorial schools in Ketchikan was equivalent to that of white children, so that the plaintiff could not be excluded to eliminate overcrowding simply because she was a mixed blood and had the alternative of attending the Indian school. [Getches]

1930    Congress authorized the Secretary to contract with school boards to educate “non-taxpaying Natives including those of mixed Native and white blood

            This act should have been a significant step toward eliminating racial barriers. In many towns Natives were included in territorial schools, but funding was not sufficient to satisfy territorial officials, and arrangements were made to transfer territorial schools with all Native enrollments to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. [Getches]

1930   As late as 1930 at least 19 communities, many of them small villages, had separate, federally run Native schools and territorial schools. Dept. of the Interior, Annual Report of the Governor of Alaska to the Secretary of the Interior for Fiscal Year ended June 30, 1930, 83, 86  

by 1931 Federal Government under Bureau of Education has assumed responsibility for the social welfare and education of most rural Native people.

            Services included education, medical services, the Reindeer Service, cooperative stores, a supply ship (the North Star,) an orphanage and three industrial schools.

            Schools continue to operate under the philosophy of assimilation

1926 White Mountain Boarding School opens

1928  Meriam Report calls for a major reformation of American Indian education, Indian involvement at all levels of the educational process, education tied to communities, day schools extended, boarding schools reformed, Indian language and culture included in the development of the curriculum, and field services decentralized

            At this time approximately 40% of all American Indian/Alaska Native children attended federal BIA schools and about 80 % of this group were in boarding schools

             Only a handful of government schools offered instruction above the eighth grade level,

            In Alaska, 2/3  of Alaska Native children who were in school were in federal BIA schools; the large majority in BIA day schools in villages.

            Very few students were able to attend the limited number of BIA or church-affiliated boarding high schools.

1930 or 31 Alaska Native affairs were transferred from the Bureau of Education to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the most immediate result of Meriam Report in Alaska

1931 the Secretary of the Interior transferred responsibility for education of Alaska Natives from the Bureau of Education to the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

1932    Wrangell Institute Boarding School established on Wrangell Island in the Alaskan panhandle

1934-1945   John Collier appointed Commissioner of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the Collier Era brings passage of the IRA, Indian self-determination

1934   Johnson O’Malley Act intent to provide a means for transferring the education of Indian children from the federal government to state and local school systems

The Secretary of the Interior was authorized to contract with states and territories, and later, political subdivisions, public and private institutions, and corporations,57 for the education of Indians.

See generally National Indian Education Association, Study of Title II of P.L. 93-638, prepared for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, 11-68 (1975) (hereinafter cited Study of Title II) for a comprehensive legislative history of the Johnson O’Malley Act.

1934   the Indian Reorganization Act and the Johnson-O’Malley Act (commonly referred to today by their initials, IRA and JOM) enacted by Congress

1936   Congress passes the Alaska Reorganization Act: authorizes the creation of reservations on land occupied by Alaska Natives. And granted special permission to establish “village” governments and constitutions, and most groups chose this option

            The Johnson-O’Malley (JOM) Act initiated a new federal approach to American Indian/Alaska Native education.

             Act authorized the BIA to negotiate contracts with state, territorial or local agencies to provide federal funds to help defray expenses incurred for the education of American Indians and Alaska Natives

1943   Territorial Commissioner of Education requests an opinion from the Alaska Attorney General on the rights of Native children relative to school attendance. The opinion was remarkable for its directness, its unprejudiced view, and its time. In response to the request, the Attorney General wrote,

Since the question of the right of native children to admittance to the white schools has come up so often in recent years and is again to the fore, it seems proper to deal with the subject at some length, decisively. . . . The question to be answered is: Is the Territory required to furnish school facilities to children of pure native blood; and failing this, must such children be admitted to white schools when demand for admittance is made?24

1947   BIA opens Mt. Edgecumbe

            If Mount Edgecumbe was full, Alaska Native students were sent to boarding schools operated by the BIA in other states. The bureau also operated an elementary school at Wrangell for children from communities with no school facilities at all. The philosophical emphasis of the BIA program changed from keeping Native children in their home communities to taking them out of their communities and encouraging them not to return.24 [Commission; Darnell]

1952, Alaska enters into first Johnson-O’Malley contract

             The Act also “reaffirmed the continuing legal responsibility of both the federal government and the states to provide education for Indians. While the federal responsibility was based on treaty and statute, the states’ responsibility lay in their obligation to educate all residents”

1951 the BIA began to transfer some of the schools it had been operating to the Territory of Alaska for operation as contract schools. This process continued after Alaska became a state in 1959 and was completed in 1985.25

1942- 1954 JOM led transfer of 46 federally-operated rural BIA elementary schools from federal to territorial control.

1950-93   Federal BIA day schools and three boarding schools remained in Alaska, but “30 to 40 communities and 1,800 children were still without any facilities at all”

        The majority of Alaska Native students attended elementary school in their own rural villages where there was only one school run either by the Territory or by the BIA.

            The only options open to Alaska Natives in small rural communities who wished to attend high school were the distant BIA boarding high schools, with the exception of a small number of church-affiliated boarding high schools in some regions of the state.

1955-56  Constitutional Convention and passage of Constitution for the State of Alaska on February 5, 1956.Only one Alaska native was a participant in the constitutional convention.  The constitution included a  strong statement committing the state to full responsibility for the education of all children:

The legislature shall by general law establish and maintain a system of public schools open to all children of the State . . .69

1959   Jan. 3. Statehood Act approved by Congress

Dual system continues, with both the state and federal school systems still a dual presence in rural Alaska

1960s   Szasz (1974) describes the situation one year in the late 1960s when there were 400 eighth-grade graduates from rural elementary schools for whom there was no space available in the BIA high school boarding facilities open to Alaska students (i.e. Mt. Edgecumbe and Wrangell in Alaska and Chemawa in Oregon). The BIA therefore enrolled 204 Alaska Native students in the Chilocco BIA Boarding High School in Oklahoma.

1962   Meeting in Washington, D. C. on March 1, 1962 with officials from the BIA, State of Alaska, the University of Alaska, and the United States Office of Education, leads to agreement that the State would assume a primary role in educational planning which would serve as a basis of coordination between the two governmental agencies. [Ray]

1963   Governor’s Committee on Education Report: “An Overall Education Plan for Rural Alaska.” Committee, chaired by Dr. Charles K. Ray of the University of Alaska, long a leader in Alaska education, recommended a system of elementary and junior high schools in villages with a minimum number of students (10 for elementary; 90 for junior high/high). Regional boarding high schools for students from communities where 150 high-school-age children were not present, would be established with minimum enrollments of 300 students.

1965-1966   Formation of Alaska State Operated School System ASOSS designed to provide centralized management of schools in rural Alaska. [commission]

1966 State opens William Beltz Boarding High School outside of Nome

1966   Planning begins on an eight-million dollar high school/dormitory campus in Bethel, with .

1966   State contracts for TCA report

1966   State of Alaska begins Boarding Home Program in order to provide a secondary school education within Alaska for rural students from areas without a local high school

1967   Regional High School opened in Kodiak

1967   TCA Report recommends establishing six boarding schools with dormitory complexes, each enrolling 650 or more students

1968   Title VII of Federal ESEA aid to support bilingual programs for children of limited English speaking ability. BIA schools and nonprofit or tribal reservation schools were included in the act in 1970.207 The congressional hearings make it clear that there is to be parental and tribal participation in the development and operation of projects under the act.208 

 1968   December, Alaska congressional delegation scheduled a meeting in Sitka to discuss the regional school construction program in response to opposition.  Much of the opposition was specifically to major expansion of Mt. Edgecumbe School and generally to the perpetuation of boarding high schools. Statements favoring additional construction at Mt. Edgecumbe came primarily from [white] residents of Southeastern Alaska where this facility is located [Ray]

1970   Most Johnson O’Malley [JOM] funding going to boarding home program

Use of JOM funds for the boarding home program was justified as proper by classifying the added costs of transportation and paying for students’ room and board as special education needs over and above normal school costs.143  {Getches}

1971     NW Alaska planning project statement calls for full democratic control over village schools. Calls out paternalistic control of both BIA and the State. [See Ray]

1971–72   1,200 students participating in Boarding Home program [Kleinfeld]

1972   New boarding and regional school program opens in Bethel

1972     The Indian Education Act204  amends P.L. 874 and ESEA, largely by adding special programs to benefit Indians to existing aid provisions.  {Getches}

1972-73   Also 969 students in Regional Boarding Schools: Nome-Beltz Regional High School        173; Kodiak Aleutian Regional High School 73; Bethel Regional High School 205; Wildwood (Kenai) 158; Mt. Edgecumbe 360; and 348 at Chemawa in Oregon [Kleinfeld]

By 1972, all the regional high schools are failing Native students.

1974   New JOM regulations adopted, placed more control with Native parents.             designed to correct past abuses and ambiguities and to signal some new directions in the program.153 They emphasized special educational needs, parent participation and control, and accountability. The new regulations were developed in a series of meetings among BIA officials and numerous Indian interest organizations, including Alaska Native groups.154 Special hearings were held soon after their adoption to ascertain the views of all interested parties, including Indians, tribes, organizations, educators, and school officials.155 The hearings were open, public participatory meetings, unusual for congressional committees. {Getches}

1975, the Indian Self-Determination and Education Assistance Act was passed by Congress.166 Title II of the Act amended the Johnson O’Malley Act for the first time since 1936.167  {Getches}

1975   State disbands the State Operated School System, sets up twenty-one regionally controlled school districts to provide local control of schools. Community School Committees supplemented regional school boards to further emphasize local participation in school management.26  [commission]

1976    By 1976 the state had 32 communities with boarding homes, accommodating 851 students

1976    Tobeluk v. Lind (popularly known as the Molly Hootch case) was settled by entry of a detailed consent decree providing for the establishment of a high school program in every one of the 126 villages covered by the litigation, unless people in the village decided against a local program.

1978  Public Law 95-561 assigned most control over BIA schools to tribal governing bodies or to school boards appointed by tribal governing bodies; Federal policy placed emphasis on local control of schools These tribal entities had more control than that delegated by the State to regional school boards and Community School Committees.27 [commission]

1979   Anna Tobeluk graduated from her village high school. By then, the number of new high school programs under the consent decree had climbed to 66. As of the 1982-83 school year, 101 native villages covered by the lawsuit had new or expanded school programs.