Three Alaska Native Leaders

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?