Three Alaska Native Leaders

Teaching Strategies

Teaching Strategies

Essential Questions and Big Ideas

  • What makes a good leader?
  • Why do we listen to some people more than others?
  • How does a person become a trend-setter?
  • What kind of leader can you be?

Students consider three Alaska Native leaders who led their people using different methods in different circumstances. They explore the attributes of a good leader and apply that exploration to their own lives.

Grade level

High School

3 class periods (based on 50-minute class periods)

1.    Students will read the stories of three leaders from Alaska's history.
2.    Students will relate each leader to his or her cultural and historic context.
3.    Students will present one leader's story through dramatic presentation.
4.    Students will define the leadership attributes of each of the historical figures.
5.    Students will apply leadership attributes to their own lives.

Materials Needed
Native Peoples and Languages map (left)
Student Reading:
    Apanuugpak: A Yup’ik Warrior (following section)
    Ekeuhnick: Ancient Leader of the Inupiat (section in this Learning Center)
    Elizabeth Peratrovich: A Tlingit Leader for Our Times (section in this Learning Center)
    The Pride of Salem: The Story of Nathaniel Bowditch (optional)

    Ka’ianaa’ahu’ula: A Leader of Hawai'i (optional)

More information on Elizabeth Peratrovich is available at the Sealaska Heritage Institute's web site.

Leadership in Alaska Student Worksheet

Cultural Descriptions downloaded from the Alaska Native Heritage Center web site (
    Eyak, Tlingit, Haida & Tsimshian
    Yup’ik and Cup’ik
    Inupiaq and St. Lawrence Island Yupik


1.    Introduce Alaska and its Native peoples to students. Using the Native Peoples and Languages of Alaska map, locate the different Alaska Native language families and pronounce their names.

2.    The following background information should help you provide information for students and guide them as they study the map:

a.    There are three different “kinds” of Native people in Alaska: Eskimos, Indians, and Aleuts.  Interestingly, not one of those terms is recognized by the group it refers to.  They were all names given to the people by outsiders – much as the term “Indian” was given to the indigenous people of the Lower 48 and the Caribbean by the Europeans.  It’s best to use the names the people call themselves.
b.    Eskimo Language Family: There are four different Eskimo languages spoken in Alaska: Inupiaq in the far north, Central Yup’ik in southwestern Alaska, Siberian Yupik on St. Lawrence Island and parts of Siberia, and Sugpiaq or Alutiiq, spoken in Prince William Sound, Kodiak Island, and the Alaska Peninsula.  An interesting aspect of the Eskimo languages is the way they form plurals: the most common singular ending for a noun is a “q” – spoken like a “k” but further back in the mouth.  Plurals most often end in “t”.  But the languages also have dual forms (two of something), which most often end in “k”.  Thus, to say one, two, or three (or more) kayaks, you would say, respectively, qayaq, qayak, qayat.
c.    The last language, Sugpiaq or Alutiiq, is in the Eskimo language family but the people never call themselves Eskimos.  When speaking English they often call themselves “Aleuts.”
d.    The language spoken in the Aleutian Islands, Unangax, is also a distant relative of Eskimo languages.  The two languages diverged about 4000 years ago.  Many elders call themselves “Aleuts” when they are speaking English, but the two groups of Aleuts are fully aware that they are different.  In fact, they were historically bitter enemies.
e.    Indians: There is one huge language family in Alaska with languages spoken by Athabascan (or Athabaskan – both spellings are acceptable) Indians.  In fact, there are 11 separate Alaskan Athabascan languages and many others in Canada and the Lower 48.  Two of the best known Athabascan languages are Navaho and Apache, and the ancestors of these tribes immigrated south from Alaska hundreds of years ago.
f.    Southeast Indians: The Tlingit, Tsimshian, and Haida Indians have cultures that are very similar to each other, but their languages are not related at all.  This shows that language differences do not necessarily mean that there are vast cultural differences.

3.    Introduce the topic of leadership. Have students do a fast-write on the topic of leaders.  They have five minutes to jot down every attribute they think a leader should have.  Tell them you will not grade them on grammar on spelling, only on completion.

4.    Ask for volunteers to read their fast-writes.  Compare attributes.

5.    Ask students for names of leaders in their schools, communities, state, or nation. How do we know who our leaders are? Does leadership show up most prominently during times of trouble or widespread disagreement? Can a person be a leader if he or she does not have a formal title? Ask for examples.

6.    Explore the idea that in different settings, different attributes could be prized in a leader. If students have studied Shakespeare, for instance, they could consider Coriolanus as an example of a war leader who could not make the transition into a statesman. Draw other examples from current books read or movies seen. Talk about real-life examples when being a leader in one arena did or did not prepare a person for other leadership roles. Examples to consider might be Ulysses S. Grant or Dwight D. Eisenhower, army generals who became US Presidents.

7.    Discuss the proposition that different cultures prize different attributes in their leaders. For instance, honor was a paramount attribute among the Japanese Samurai, wisdom and patience in an Indian leader like Gandhi. Helping others is essential in Quaker groups. Hard work is prized in other societies. And so on. Explain that Alaska's indigenous populations were so diverse that each of the cultural groups prized different attributes. Students will be investigating those characteristics in their readings.

8.    On the board, make a classroom inventory of leadership styles.  If students cannot think of any, jump-start them by asking, “How would you characterize the style in this classroom?  Is it democratic?  Autocratic?”

9.    Divide the class into groups of no more than five. Each group will read about and report on a different leader in Alaska's history: Ekeuhnick, an Inupiaq leader who lived in the distant time before calendars were kept; Apanuugpak, a legendary Yup'ik war leader who probably lived in the sixteenth, seventeenth, or eighteenth centuries, and Elizabeth Peratrovich, a Tlingit woman of the twentieth century.

10.    Each group reads the piece about its chosen leader, then all group members complete the Leadership in Alaska Student Worksheet.

11.    Design a rubric for the group presentations and discuss it.  A sample rubric might include the following requirements:

a.    The presentation must take no longer than 5 minutes.
b.    All group members have a part in the presentation.
c.    Speakers’ voices must be clear and audible to the rest of the class.
d.    The group must make good use of visual aids (e.g., maps).
e.    The report includes information about the culture of the leader.
f.    Information about the leader’s role in making history is presented in dramatic form.
g.    The information is judged memorable by the audience.


1.    Working within their groups, students prepare a class presentation that accords with the rubric.

2.    Students present their dramatic enactments while fellow classmates assess them using the rubric.


1.    Discuss, compare, and contrast the leaders, based on the following topics:

•    What we know and how we know it.  Discuss: How do we know about these leaders? How do we know about the deeds of contemporary leaders? What are the limitations of the different ways of learning about leaders? (Consider, for instance, written biography, oral tradition, written documents written by the individuals, belongings now in museums that belonged to the leader, memoirs.)
•    What is prized within the cultures about each leader.
•    Leadership abilities. Discuss: Could any of the individuals have been leaders in the situations that the other two people found themselves in? That is, how would Ekeuhnick have done before the Alaska Territorial Legislature? Would Elizabeth Peratrovich have been a good war leader? Was Apanuugpak the right person to lead his people to a new way of life during the time of climate change in northern Alaska?
•    Transference of their abilities and accomplishments to today’s world.  Discuss: Would any of the individuals be considered leaders in the students' own communities today?

2.    In class discussion, have students react to the three leaders: In what way are students like or different from the leaders they learned about? What do they admire about the leaders? Are there characteristics that they do not admire?

3.    Have students write essays about themselves as leaders.  Topics to include in the essays might include:
a.    What abilities do I have that are similar to those of the leaders I have learned about?
b.    What issues in my life, community, state, or nation need good leadership?
c.    What do I see myself doing in the future to combine my personal abilities with the needs of the community, state, or nation?

4.    Optional: have students explore stories of leaders from Hawaii (Ka’ianaa’ahu’ula) and Massachusetts (Nathaniel Bowditch of Salem) by reading their stories.  Compare and contrast them with the Alaskan leaders, using the same criteria suggested above.

5.    Optional: If you have access to the Anchorage School District videotape about Elizabeth Peratrovich’s struggle for Civil Rights in Alaska, show it in class.  Alternatively, have students Google Elizabeth Peratrovich and share what they learn. Before showing the tape, provide historic and social context.  The action takes place in the 1940s during World War II.  Open discrimination is not only allowed, but actually written into the law.  Remind students that since Alaska was not yet a state in 1945, the Senate that is dramatized in the film is the Territorial Senate.  Point out that Elizabeth and Roy Peratrovich were Tlingits, members of the Alaska Native Sisterhood and Brotherhood, organizations that had been founded some 30 years previously to foster equal rights for Alaska Natives.

6.    After showing the tape, review Elizabeth Peratrovich’s story by asking:
a.    Why did Elizabeth Peratrovich become involved in the Civil Rights effort?
b.    What acts of discrimination did she personally observe?
c.    What did she do about it?
d.    How does the situation that existed in 1945 compare with life in Alaska today?
e.    How would students react if they found themselves in situations similar to those Elizabeth Peratrovich describes?

Apanuugpak: A Yup'ik Warrior

Apanuugpak: A Yup'ik Warrior

Apanuugpak was a great warrior during the "bow and arrow" wars, which occurred for many decades, ending about 200 years ago in the Yup'ik region of Southwest Alaska.

According to anthropologist Ann Fienup-Riordan, four separate continuing conflicts in the region were part of the wars. Most of the conflicts ended about the time that Russian explorers came to the area in the early 19th century, and before local history was written down. But Native elders in area villages still tell the historical narratives of the war passed on to them by their elders. The stories are filled with the exploits of Apanuugpak. There is no doubt that he was a great warrior, strong and cunning.

It is told that the war started when a child playing with a bone dart accidentally put out one eye of a visiting companion. When the father of the wounded boy was invited to carry out punishment. The enraged parent completely blinded the boy and in return the father of the first boy then killed the other man.

A cycle of revenge escalated among the villages, with new wrongs and old grievances perpetuating the wars. Surprise attacks were common as well as face-to-face combat. When opposing warriors met in the open, it was a fight to the death. Raiding parties might try to surround the community qasgiq where the men lived together, block the exits and set fire to the structure. No prisoners were taken, though one man of the vanquished might be spared and sent back to his village to tell of the battle. All boys in the losing village might be killed and the women and girls might be taken as slaves.

In these times, Apanuugpak was raised to be a warrior. The diet of boys raised to be warriors was regulated carefully, to help them grow to be light and agile. Apanuugpak's training was rigorous. Some stories say his grandfather would make him run to the top of Nelson Island (about 500 feet high). Then, he would receive just one drop of water from the tip of the feather of a snowy owl to quench his thirst. Then Apanuugpak was told to, roll over sharp mussel shells to toughen his body and mind.

Apanuugpak was a virtual "killing machine," according to oral tradition. He achieved victory through his superior strength, courage and ingenuity. Apanuugpak was invisible to his enemies, it is said, though he also had a loud voice, like a crane, that scared them. Arrows bounced off of him, perhaps because of his secret weapon, an armor of mussel shells.

His enemies say that a shaman in the Togiak area put a curse on Apanuugpak, who was turned into a rock as he headed back to his village after a raid. That rock can still be seen along the coast. However, Anna Kungurqaq of Nelson Island tells that he died the natural death of an old man while in a steam bath.

Three Leaders worksheet.

Ekeuhnick: Ancient Leader of the Inupiat

Ekeuhnick: Ancient Leader of the Inupiat

Ekeuhnick is a legendary leader of prehistoric times who taught the Inupiaq people how to live in the cold north of what is known today as Alaska. His name means "burns like something that was burning and went out," a synonym for a glowing coal. The leader's life is detailed in The People of Kauwerak, a 1972 book published with an oral account by an elder William Oquilluk of Point Hope and the oral history of his people as he had learned it from his grandparents.

When Ekeuhnick was born, the climate was warmer in Northwest Alaska. As a boy, he always helped older men and women. He grew strong and muscular, always a peaceful and friendly person that everyone liked.

As a young man, Ekeuhnick learned from the prophet Aungayoukuksuk that the climate would soon change and become very cold. The old wise man appeared to him at a clear mountain spring, where Ekeuhnick liked to come to watch the animals.

"I have chosen you to be a leader to your people who are living in many places," the wise man told him. "You must carry all you learn and repeat it to the people."

First, the prophet told him, the ground would shake, the mountain would erupt and all living creatures in the area would die. Next, the country would move away from the sun, and it would get colder and colder. The wise man told Ekeuhnick his people would need to find a new place to live far away, and learn to struggle and work together to survive. Aungayoukuksuk gave Ekeuhnick the Power of Imagination and Wisdom to help him lead his people.

When Ekeuhnick told his people what the prophet had said, they moved a short distance away to be safe from the eruption. The people were willing to believe Ekeuhnick because they had watched him since he was a small child they felt that he knew and understood things that they did not.

As the cold settled in, everything began to freeze and die. The plants, animals and people froze. But the families with Ekeuhnick went into a cave and built a fire to stay warm. People worked hard to keep the fire going and were afraid that if it went out they would not be able to start it again. The leader looked for a solution. He found a stone that could throw sparks, and discovered that twisting one end of a dry stick fast on the flat side of another would cause it to burn.

People did not wear clothes in those days and became very cold outside the cave. Ekeuhnick skinned some dead animals and put their fur on his feet and body. He thought about how to make the skins fit a human body, and used a very sharp piece of bone and some sinew to sew the skins together. He showed the others and they made clothes, too.

In the same way, the young leader observed everything around him to see how it could meet the needs of his people and used his imagination to help them create the first net for fishing, the first boat for crossing rivers, and the first houses for shelter.

The young man enjoyed his work; he didn't complain and tried to obey the directions given him by the wise man. "He saw that for the first time each man was necessary for the living of the whole people," Oquilluk relates. "The changed land meant everyone had to help each other in order to survive."


As the land continued to change, Ekeuhnick knew he must find a place for his people to live where they could find more to eat. For a year, he and another man, Seelameu traveled afar, observing and experimenting as they went, learning about the land, sharing ideas about how resources might be used. They figured out how to dry fish and created tools such as snares and spears for hunting.

When they finally found the right place, they returned to their people, carrying all of their new knowledge back with them, and led the people to the new land and a new way of living. This was the beginning of the Inupiat way of life as the ancestors described it.

Based on the story of Ekeuhnick as told by William Oquilluk in People of Kauwerak, Alaska Methodist University, 1973.

Read an excerpt about Ekeuhnick from "People of Kauwerak."

Elizabeth Peratrovich: A Leader for Our Times

Elizabeth Peratrovich: A Leader for Our Times

It is natural that a Tlingit woman would become one of the greatest leaders in Alaskan history. Tlingit culture is matrilineal, which means that children take their clan name, membership, and personal and cultural identity from their mothers. As a result, women are highly respected in Tlingit society, and expected to guide others along the proper path of personal and social action.

Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich, whose Tlingit name was Kaaxgal.aat, lived up to those expectations. She was a compelling equal rights advocate, the voice for social change and an opponent of civil injustices during the 1940s. Her willingness to accept a role as spokesperson during a landmark legislative hearing in 1945 ultimately decided the fate of all Alaskans.

Born July 4, 1911 in the island-fishing village of Petersburg, Alaska. Elizabeth was deeply rooted in her Tlingit heritage. Like her mother, she was of the Lukaax.'adi clan of the Raven moiety. But she was also heir to social injustices and racism, suffered by a people who had once ruled the land but had been relegated to minority status with the coming of Europeans and Americans. The situation was so bad that, before the passage of the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945, it was legal for businesses such as movie theaters, restaurants, and hotels to deny admission or service to Alaska Natives. Some businesses sported signs that read, "No dogs or Indians allowed."

Elizabeth's commitment to leadership derived from two sources. The first was her family, consisting of husband Roy and three children, Frank, Roy Jr., and Loretta. The second was pride in her Tlingit heritage. She was a devoted member of the Alaska Native Sisterhood (ANS), an organization created to bring social and economic equality to Alaska Natives. ANS and its brother organization, the Alaska Native Brotherhood (ANB) became actively involved in the political concerns of the Territory of Alaska, determined to eliminate discrimination and provide a better life for future generations.

Elizabeth Peratrovich was serving as ANS Grand Camp President when an equal rights bill was brought before the Territorial Legislature in 1945. She joined her husband Roy in the capital of Juneau, for the Senate hearing. Roy was scheduled to testify, but Elizabeth had planned merely to observe while seated in the gallery.

As the Senate began deliberating House Resolution 14, various senators spoke for and against the bill. One who outwardly opposed it asked, "Who are these people, barely out of savagery, who want to associate with us whites, with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind us?" The obvious division among the Senators provided hope to the Natives in attendance that a positive vote was possible.

But it wasn't until Elizabeth arose from her seat, placed herself next to the Senate President and spoke in a quiet but resolute voice that onlookers realized change was inevitable. Her intelligence, eloquence, and beauty were stark contrasts to the descriptions of "savages" heard earlier on the floor. She began, "I would not have expected that I, who am barely out of savagery, would have to remind the gentlemen with five thousand years of recorded civilization behind them of our Bill of Rights."

The impeccable timing of Elizabeth's presentation, though appalling to some of the senators, reverberated through the Senate and ignited the crowd. An awesome silence was followed by a wild burst of applause. Her convincing testimony, so impassioned, emotional, and genteel, was quickly followed by a vote of 11 to 5 in favor of the bill. A new era had begun for the Alaska Native people.

Elizabeth Wanamaker Peratrovich died on December 1, 1958 of cancer. She will forever be remembered for her role in the 1945 senate hearing and her name will stand as a symbol of courage and leadership for all Alaskans.

Standards and Assessments

Standards and Assessments

National Standards
•    Language Arts/English Standard 1: Reading for perspective
•    Language Arts/English Standard 2: Understanding the Human Experience
•    Language Arts/English Standard 7: Evaluating data
•    Language Arts/English Standard 9: Multicultural understanding
•    Language Arts/English Standard 12: Applying language skills
•    Geography Standard 4: Human systems

Alaska Standards
•    English/Language Arts Standard A: A student should be able to speak and write well for a variety of purposes and audiences.
•    English/Language Arts Standard E: A student should understand and respect the perspectives of others in order to communicate effectively.
•    Geography Standard D: A student should understand and be able to interpret spatial (geographic) characteristics of human systems, including migration, movement, interactions of cultures, economic activities, settlement patterns, and political units in the state, nation, and world.
•    History Standard A: A student should understand that history is a record of human experiences that links the past to the present and the future.
•    History Standard B: A student should understand historical themes through factual knowledge of time, places, ideas, institutions, cultures, people, and events.
•    Cultural Standard A: Culturally-knowledgeable students are well grounded in the cultural heritage and traditions of their community.
•    Cultural Standard B: Culturally-knowledgeable students are able to build on the knowledge and skills of the local cultural community as a foundation from which to achieve personal and academic success throughout life.

•    Fast write completion
•    Student participation in class discussion
•    Group assessment of the class presentation (see below for a rubric for this activity)
•    Leadership in Alaska Student Worksheet
•    Essay on personal leadership