Nome students learn cultural values while ice fishing

Sixteen was the magic number this week as 16 Nome Elementary School students in Sandi Keller’s cultural education class braved minus-16-degree temperatures to ice fish at the small boat harbor. They were there to learn the meaning of giving back to elders.

Ice fishing, or manaqing as it’s known in the Yu’pik language, is a tool Keller uses to teach her students about sea ice, ecology and subsistence fishing.

After each ice fishing session, as part of teaching cultural knowledge and respect, Keller’s students bring their catch to the local senior center to share with elders.

One of the students on the ice Wednesday was 2nd grader Kanon Lewis. He explained why he likes to fish for the elders in Nome.

“To be kind and nice,” Lewis said. “It’s important to me because I like to share, and I like to catch fish.”

Keller shared the real world lessons each student is taught when on the ice.

“They’re learning the traditional way of providing food on the table,” Keller said. “Today’s catch is going to go to the elders which is also an Inupiaq value as well.”

While there were only 16 students on the ice this week, Keller says hundreds of students at NES were able to make manaqing sticks this school year.

“All of them, about 330 students, made manaq sticks, ice fishing sticks, and they made them themselves,” Keller added. “They measure the wire, they counted the fishing line 25 times to get roughly around 20 feet of line.”

Briana Piscoya’s son Ethan Piscoya was on the ice on Wednesday. She says she encourages the lessons learned while ice fishing, and one in particular.

“I think this is really wonderful for them to be out here ice fishing, and outdoors,” Piscoya said. “I also think it’s a great thing for patience, which we are all learning right here.”

The class has taken part in ice fishing numerous times each school year.

Keller, the cultural educator at Nome Elementary School, is set to retire later this year after 17 years as an educator. 

Image at top: A Nome Elementary School student ice fishes at the small boat harbor on Wednesday, April 5. Photo by Greg Knight/KNOM (2023)