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Timeline / Renewing Native Ways / 1976: Alaska Native high school students sue Alaska State

1976: Alaska Native high school students sue Alaska State

Molly Hootch, a 16-year-old from the Yukon River village of Emmonak, and Anna Tobeluk, an 18-year-old from the 400-resident village of Nunapitchuk, sue Alaska for failing to provide local high schools in predominantly Alaska Native villages. Tobeluk argues that the state is discriminating against Alaska Native students and contributing to dropout rates. In October, the signing of the Tobeluck Consent Decree commits the state to provide high schools in Alaska Native villages. Eventually 105 high schools open.

Before the Tobeluk Consent Decree, the state of Alaska relied on Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding schools, notably Mt. Edgecumbe High School in Sitka. Alaska Native students attended Mt. Edgecumbe or other BIA boarding schools in Oregon, California, or Oklahoma, or boarded with families in Alaskan cities. Like Molly Hootch, many of the students were treated as servants by white families with whom they boarded while attending public high schools.

Native Rights

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Students boarding a Wien Air Alaska plane at Shungnak, Alaska, to attend schools in Fairbanks or Juneau, ca. 1945–1968. Each fall nearly 600 students from the Alaskan arctic were gathered from 40 remote villages and fishing camps because there were no local high schools.

Courtesy Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks

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A contemporary photograph of Molly Hootch Hymes (center) listening to an Alaska Teaching Justice Network program. In 1972, when she was a teenager, Hootch was the lead plaintiff in a suit against the State of Alaska for failing to provide local high schools to children in Alaska Native communities.

Courtesy Anchorage Daily News/Landov Media