The Juneau Public Library system is collecting Alaska Native stories on educational experiences as part of an oral history project.
In this edited interview, Leonora Florendo speaks with her mother 88-year-old Nora Marks Dauenhauer, who left school in sixth grade but went on to become a prominent Tlingit scholar, poet and writer. She’s published many books with her late husband Richard Dauenhauer as well as her own.
Leonora Florendo: Did you go to school in Douglas?
Nora Marks Dauenhauer: Yes, I went to Douglas school after I was in fourth grade, I think. We got bused over from Juneau. I got picked up at the end of the bridge and we were taken over to Douglas.
Leonora Florendo: And the school is where the Montessori School is now. That was the government school.
Nora Marks Dauenhauer: These teachers were paranoid. They’re afraid that my hair might have bugs, so they sprayed every one of our hair and clothes with kerosene. At sixth grade I dropped out. That was no good for me. It does something for your self-esteem being a kid and having somebody spray you because you might be full of bugs, although I didn’t have any.
Leonora Florendo: I know you worked as a fish slimer, as a shrimp picker, a crab shaker, ‘cause I’ve done those things, too.
Nora Marks Dauenhauer: Chamber maid…
Leonora Florendo: At the Baranof. Oh, and you did housekeeping for people in the community
Nora Marks Dauenhauer: Oh yeah. I went from house to house.
Leonora Florendo: You taught at Juneau High School for a while. You were teaching Tlingit.
Nora Marks Dauenhauer: Yes, there was 14 in my class. Two of them were non-Tlingit. They still come and say hello and we talk.
Leonora Florendo: And they let you go because you weren’t certified.
Nora Marks Dauenhauer: I got halfway through the school teaching and then I got called by the principal and she told me that I am no longer going to teach and that was it.
Leonora Florendo: You got your GED.
Nora Marks Dauenhauer: I went to GED because working with the high school kids I discovered that I needed help.
Leonora Florendo: And then you went to college.
Nora Marks Dauenhauer: I majored in anthropology and some students asked me, “What are you going to do with anthropology? You’re going to study yourself?” And that’s exactly what I did. I worked on my language. People thought of Tlingit as being simple and your stepdad Dauenhauer discovered it’s one of the hardest languages he’s ever encountered. Dick and I have numerous books. I haven’t counted lately.
Leonora Florendo interviewed Nora Marks Dauenhauer at the Juneau Public Library downtown in July. Their conversation was recorded as part of the national oral history project StoryCorps.
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