Harvard lauds Chickaloon school, contributes $10,000

Posted: Monday, June 24, 2002

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- The Chickaloon tribal government's Ya Ne Dah Ah School has been honored by Harvard University. The recognition by the university's John F. Kennedy School of Government includes a $10,000 grant.

Students at the school a few miles north of Palmer study standards disciplines such as math and science.

But there's more. Drumming, singing, dancing and language courses in Ahtna Athabaskan, traditionally spoken by the Chickaloon tribe, add an unconventional aspect to the curriculum. Ya Ne Dah Ah means ''ancient teachings'' in the Ahtna Athabaskan language.

Yet even with the time devoted to the nonstandard subjects, Ya Ne Dah Ah students score higher than a national sample group, according to the Harvard Web site.

''It just feels like a whole different atmosphere than any school I've ever seen,'' said Patricia Wade, who works at the school for first- through sixth-grade students.

About 10 students attend Ya Ne Dah Ah School, which is tribally owned and operated, Wade said. Chickaloon is a village of 213 people 26 miles from Palmer.

The school began in the early 1990s after Patricia Wade's mother, Katherine, grew frustrated working with Native inmates.

Some listened to advice, but ''others you can't teach them anything if you tried,'' said Katherine Wade, 79, known in Chickaloon as the clan grandmother.

She decided to teach tribal traditions to youngsters as a way to keep them out of trouble and foster respect for their heritage. At the time, Katherine Wade was the sole Chickaloon resident who spoke Ahtna Athabaskan.

''I thought maybe if the little kids learned to speak our language, I'd have somebody to talk to,'' she said. ''Our language is so neat and so descriptive compared to cold English.''

Katherine Wide stopped teaching after a couple years, but her two nieces have kept the school going. Ya Ne Dah Ah School receives no federal or state funding and relies on the community and grants to stay open, Patricia Wade said.

''We've been just holding on by a thread and working on a shoestring for many years,'' she said. ''We're so excited to be recognized by an institution like that.''

Eight Indian tribes nationwide were awarded grants as part of the Harvard project called ''Honoring Nations,'' which recognizes exceptional tribal government programs.

The Chilkoot Indian Association in Haines was one of 16 finalists for the award.

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