"I like this village. We started living at fish camp year-round when I was 6 years old. We needed food and there was no work. We were raised in camp until I was 17 years old. When I was 17, they sent me to school. It was during the winter, so I was there for six months, then the next year for three months. Then we went back to camp. Someone told me, “You won’t have a job if you’re not educated,” and I sure worried about that because I never learned anything [at school]. At camp, my siblings and I learned how to make mukluks (traditional boots), fish, pick berries, hunt, trap, we learned those things. Mom taught us how to make baskets, sew, and make nets. Back then there was no welfare or monies. They never gave us money, and we had a hard time living. So I was raised in camp.
When I was 12 years old, I went to the school to visit. I spent the day there. Everybody was speaking English, and I didn’t know how to speak English. I never learned. I started speaking to them in Inupiaq, and they complained about me to the teacher, and then the teacher wrote down my name. When we all got ready to go out to play, the teacher said, “Mildred, you talked Eskimo in school.” He gave me a sheet of paper and a pencil, and he told me to write “I will not talk Eskimo in school anymore” 100 times. So, I wrote “I will not talk Eskimo in school anymore” 100 times. After I finished, I gave that paper to him, I went out, and never went back to school.
I started thinking that maybe I could sell baskets and make money. Then, my husband and I were in town with our three kids. He said, “Mildred, you can get birch bark for those girls so they can make baskets. You can teach them.” So I started teaching for two hours and later four hours a day at the school. I taught the boys and girls Inupiaq and what I learned at camp. I worked there for 20 years." — Mildred Black is Inupiaq from Shungnak, Alaska.
- © Brian Adams
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- I AM INUIT