The Arctic Sounder

Longtime North Slope educator honored for putting Inupiaq at the center of learning

Longtime North Slope educator Pausauraq Jana Harcharek was honored last week for her contributions to Iñupiaq preservation and rooting learning into Iñupiaq culture.

The North Slope School District School Board during their January meeting last week thanked Harcharek “for her many years of dedicated service and her incredible contribution of love, heart, soul into the preservation and celebration of Iñupiaq language, culture and its perpetuation,” said School Board President Robyn Burke.

Harcharek accepted her recognition with tears in her voice.

“Without recognizing who our children are in our classrooms, we are nothing. It means that we consider our children nothing if we leave who they are outside of the classroom,” she said. “We must always honor who we are and model it for our children so that they too can walk proud as their ancestors did.”

Harcharek, who began her work at the district in 1975 as a teacher aide, served on the board of education, worked for the Center of Bilingual and Multicultural Instruction and became the district’s Director of the Iñupiaq Education Department. In 2019, she received an honorary doctorate in education from the World Indigenous Nations University.

One of Harcharek’s main contributions the board highlighted was her leadership in developing in 2006 the Iñupiaq Learning Framework that puts the Iñupiaq language and culture as the foundation for academic curricula and assessment processes.

“To this day, Iñupiaq Learning Framework continues to guide us, guide this district and its educational trajectory,” Burke said. “Pausauraq has spent her career working to ensure our language and culture are not lost to this changing environment. ... As a district, we cannot be more grateful or fortunate to have her expertise, supporting and guiding the next generation of Iñupiaq and non-Iñupiaq educators, teachers and students.”


Iñupiaq Learning Framework

Developing the Iñupiaq Learning Framework was instrumental for the district. After its creation, educators worked to integrate the Iñupiaq knowledge into the core content areas of reading, writing, mathematics, science and history. To help that integration, they involved Elders, parents and community leaders in the process. They also highlighted the importance of hiring local teachers and training teachers from outside the region in the framework.

[From 2016: With few fluent speakers left, young people are teaching Iñupiaq as they learn it]

The framework was created in response to decades of Iñupiaq culture being oppressed, including during the boarding school era, Harcharek wrote in a 2015 paper in the Journal of American Indian Education. To be effective, an education system should acknowledge the traditional styles of learning and the Iñupiaq worldview and lifestyle, she wrote.

The paper on framework creation quoted Iñupiaq artist Nasuġraq Rainey Hopson who described the Iñupiaq world through four realms: environment, community, history and individual — “pieces in a blanket that are needed to carry and elevate an individual to success.”

Harcharek and other educators incorporated Hopson’s idea into the district’s core curriculum: the Environmental Realm, which includes knowledge about hunting and the land; the Community Realm, which prioritizes the wisdom of Elders; the Historical Realm, which focuses on Iñupiaq culture; and the Individual Realm, which includes learning about leadership and values.

“We believe that it is our birthright to have equal opportunity to understand and practice iñua — our philosophies, history, language and interconnectedness with all living things,” “Harcharek said In her 2011 testimony to the United States Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

The initial response to the framework from the students was overwhelmingly positive, Harcharek wrote in her testimony.

Still, the framework didn’t always meet the support from the district’s administration, Harcharek said last week.

In 2019, she retired from her position as the director of Iñupiaq Education. Several years ago, North Slope educators and administrators asked Harcharek to come back to the district and join the renewed efforts to re-ground the district’s curriculum in its Iñupiaq foundations.

“As a result of Pausauraq’s work, children across the Slope for decades have had their Iñupiaq identity and worldview and language and values nurtured, celebrated and made visible,” said David ‘Anŋialuġauraq’ Vadiveloo, the district’s superintendent. “We are indebted to her for her lifelong contribution to our community and our district but also for her courage and perseverance.”

This fall, the North Slope Borough School District restarted the Iñupiaq immersion program. The initiative is just one example of how the district works to recenter language and culture, said Qaġġuna Tennessee Judkins, director of Iñupiaq education at the district.

[Iñupiaq immersion program restarts in Utqiaġvik school]

“We really started hitting the ground running under Jana’s directorship, and really without her, we would not be here,” Judkins said during the meeting last week.

She added that she always looks up to Harcharek in leading the Iñupiaq Education Department.

“They’re tremendously large shoes to fill. Sometimes I feel like I’m walking around the office wearing like size 14 bunny boots,” she said. “Not only has she played a vital role in my growth as a leader professionally, even personally, she’s played a vital role in my life as a mother figure.”

Other educators and administrators praised Harcharek’s accomplishments, dedication and influence during the meeting.

“You’ve worked a long, long time, fought really hard for our students to get better education,” said school board member Nora Jane Burns. “I’m so glad that you were a fighter, a champion to get our language going and keeping it going and finding new ways of trying to inspire teachers.”


Superintendent Vadiveloo noted that with Harcharek’s leadership, the Iñupiaq Learning Framework became world-renowned. Two of her adult children also spoke with tears, expressing how proud they are of their mother and her dedication to education rooted in Iñupiaq culture.

“One of the biggest lessons from everything that transpired for me has been to never, ever give up,” Harcharek said. “Sometimes you have to set aside things that have happened in the past because you have to keep moving forward. And when you recognize that it took a lot for me to come back and continue the work, you weren’t wrong, you’re absolutely right on the money. But I’m here and I’m not going to go anywhere.”

Alena Naiden

Alena Naiden writes about communities in the North Slope and Northwest Arctic regions for the Arctic Sounder and ADN. Previously, she worked at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.