Posted by: Bonnie & Hans | August 1, 2010

Honoring Elders

Last week when we were visiting Margaret (my classroom aide 33 years ago, today an Elder), she said that someone had given her the first salmon of the season and she had boiled it “because that’s how we always.”  Elders here aren’t just old people. According to Iñupiat Ilitqusiat (Eskimo spirit/our values), one of the seventeen values is “Respect for Elders”. The NANA website states:

“Elders traditionally have been respected because they survived such a hard life as people of the Arctic. Today they are also respected for the knowledge that was passed down to them by their ancestors, their commitment to teaching others the Iñupiaq language, traditions, and culture and for the wisdom they have gained from life experiences.”

The school now has a “Hall of Elders” art installation; just finished a few weeks ago. The project was created by photographer Kevin Smith and consists of twelve colorful Elder photograph banners, a four-panel light and a 32 foot long historical-photograph-collage mural in the gym. Today we took some photos to give you a glimpse of what it looks like.

Looking down the main hall

Close up of Elder banner - Vera

Close up of Elder banner - Levi

Close up of Elder banner - Margaret

Close up of Elder banner - Josephine

While the “Hall of Elders” depicts the current Elders, the mural in the gym is a collage of old photographs.

Photo collage mural in the gym

Close up of photo mural - Ruth

Sometimes the projects funded by the state’s Percent for Art Program have differing views of how “good” they are. From the article in the Arctic Sounder and from the comments we’ve heard from people in the village, this project is a huge success. We think having the Elders’ photographs in the school will be a good reminder for us to teach in a way that’s culturally responsive, and we hope the students will have a constant reminder of their Iñupiat Ilitqusiat everyday as they enter the building. Aarigaa! (translation from Iñupiat Eskimo Dictionary: Good! Fine!)



  1. This was a wonderful post. I love the photos of the elders. What a fabulous tribute. Why don’t we have the same thing in our culture?

    (I’m sure the ancient Boenishes will have their photos up there in the hall of honor any time now.)

  2. The banners are wonderful and I love the way they are presented in the installation.

  3. Awesome project..a constant reminder that our elders are always around us..thanks for sharing this

  4. What a great photographer they had for the Hall of Elders as well as they have to be beautiful people. This is a wonderful idea.

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