This past weekend, Anchorage was the vibrant hub for a unique statewide event—the Inupiaq and Yup’ik Spelling Bee for Beginners, drawing students from various corners of Alaska. The competition featured twenty-one participants in the Yup’ik division, while the Inupiaq contest saw an intense showdown between two competitors from Sitka.

According to John Chakuchin, a dedicated educator from the Lower Kuskokwim School District, it’s crucial for youth to learn their native languages. The journey to the finals was challenging, involving multiple preliminary rounds at both school and district levels, culminating in a representation of six districts at the state competition.

The event adopted an unconventional approach to competition, wherein no participants were eliminated. Instead, students accumulated points with each correctly spelled word, fostering a more inclusive and encouraging environment.

Coltrane Chase, a Yup’ik language student at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, emphasized the significance of such events in reviving indigenous languages and reinforcing cultural identity. He highlighted the profound impact of learning and actively using native languages on personal and communal identity.

Echoing this sentiment, Chakuchin, who coached three students at the event, stressed the importance of maintaining Alaska Native languages as a core aspect of cultural identity and pride. He expressed satisfaction in seeing young participants contribute to the revival and preservation of these languages.

Organizers of the event have announced plans to continue this enriching cultural tradition into the following year.

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