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Take Wing “Tengluni” Program Adapts and Thrives Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

YK Cultural Immersion Program Aims to Increase Graduation Rates and Postsecondary Preparedness

Storyknife, Adapted from March/April 2020 edition

Take Wing “Tengluni” students toured UAA in February 2020 prior to COVID-19 restrictions. Meetings since the pandemic have been virtual. Calista Education and Culture, Inc. is adapting for the fall semester.

STAY TUNED! Calista Education and Culture, Inc. will announce plans for the fall/winter Tengluni program next week!

Calista Education and Culture, Inc. started the Take WingTengluni” [DUHN-loo-nee] immersion program for YK Delta students this year with a goal to increase high school graduation rates and postsecondary preparedness.

The first two cohorts of YK Delta high school seniors (49 students total) joined Take Wing Tengluni for the fall semester. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, all meetings since the February session in Bethel and Anchorage, have been virtual.

Take Wing “Tengluni” students and instructors toured the UAA campus in early February prior to COVID-19 travel restrictions.

For example, on May 7 and 14, Yuuyaraq Instructor Rachel Nicholai of Napaskiak and Calista Elder Mark John conducted Yuuyaraq lessons by Zoom teleconference.

Rachel shared stories emphasizing the importance of the traditional family cycle and Mark shared the history of pandemics in the YK TaDelta with stories emphasizing resilience. After the lesson, students discussed what they learned and shared ideas on what they can do to help their community during COVID-19.

Students from 11 villages (Akiak, Bethel, Chefornak, Kasigluk, Kongiganak, Kwethluk, Kwigillingok, Metarvik/Newtok, Quinhagak, Tuntultuliak, and Toksook Bay) participated in the audio-only lessons.

What makes Take Wing “Tengluni” unique is the way it fosters traditional Yuuyaraq [YUU-yah-hak] values and teachings while providing formal mentoring to navigate the postsecondary education experience. Yuuyaraq translates in Yup’ik to “The Way of Being.”

Storyknife interviewed Tengluni students and their instructors in February while they participated in training sessions at the University of Alaska Anchorage campus.

Instructor Rachel Nicholai illustrates the teachings with the simple fact that you must “always be ready.” In Yup’ik, “always be ready” is Upingaurluta [U-bing-NAU-loo-da].

“Our ancestors were always getting ready. They were always ahead of the season in respect to subsistence hunting, fishing and gathering,” Rachel says. “That’s what I teach them, you have to get ready for a job or career in your life. Some day they will be Elders and leaders in their own communities.”

The Yuuyaraq lessons are grounded in the principles of the Yup’ik culture known as Qanruyutet [Kahn-YU-yu-tet] or “the teachings.” Rachel says the teachings revealed that people in the past respected every living thing.

“Whatever was taught in the past, still holds skills they can use to be successful,” Rachel says. “In the past they respected everything—humanity, spirituality and the land. Everything is connected through the teachings.”

Alaska Humanities Forum Youth Program Manager Chuck Herman of Bethel joined the group in Anchorage for a tour of the University of Alaska Anchorage among other campuses in February.

“This is a great program that brings high school juniors from all over the YK Delta into Anchorage, Bethel, Kenai and Seward to work on both postsecondary opportunities and Yuuyaraq,” says Chuck. “We’re really trying to bring both aspects together. We want to show that Yuuyaraq—the way of being—fits in to postsecondary education.”

The Alaska Humanities Forum is a key partner in the Tengluni program, which used to be called “Take Wing Alaska.”

Logan Paul of Kipnuk joined the Tengluni program this year and is interested in gaining vocational training after graduating.

“Take Wing taught me about Yuuyaraq and how we live, and how we used to live,” Logan says. “At UAA, I’ve learned about joining college and the many scholarship opportunities there are.”

Casey Igkurak of Kwigillingok is a high school junior interested in pursuing a mechanical engineering degree.

“The Tengluni program showed me that there are many opportunities after high school. There are many places we can attend college,” Casey says. “Sharing this experience with other students from near our area also felt good because it prepared us to meet other people when we come to college.”

Payton Chanar of Toksook Bay says she’s gained knowledge of not only postsecondary opportunities, but the knowledge of what is important in her culture. “I really want to thank Tengluni for giving me the opportunity to be part of this program,” Payton says. “The Tengluni program has been helpful for my future. It’s taught me a lot about Yuuyaraq—our way of life. Tengluni has shown me how important it is to keep it going no matter how far I am from home.”

Funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Alaska Native Education grants program, Tengluni was developed with the Alaska Humanities Forum, in consultation with the Kuspuk, Lower Kuskokwim, Lower Yukon and Yupiit School Districts. The program aims to serve 570 high school students in 14 schools throughout the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta.

Calista Education and Culture, Inc. (CECI) was established in 1980 as an Alaska Native-owned 501(c)3 nonprofit organization providing educational scholarships to Calista Corporation Shareholders and Descendants. Visit CECI on Facebook @CalistaEducation.