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Students practice subsistence skills in the classroom at Chief Ivan Blunka School in New Stuyahok

Audrey Panamarioff.


In Bristol Bay communities, subsistence is one feature of daily life that has stayed consistent during the pandemic. Now, it’s part of the school’s curriculum.

Communities around Bristol Bay have endeavored to protect their residents from COVID-19 for almost a year. The Chief Ivan Blunka School in New Stuyahok was among the many schools that shifted to a mix of in-person and distance learning as a safety precaution. The school decided to use that change as an opportunity to incorporate subsistence into the classroom.

Senior Audrey Panamarioff is one of the students in the subsistence class, and she said it’s a great way to learn about and practice subsistence skills.

“I feel very grateful to have our way of living as an option in our school,” she said. “I learn something new every time that I’m in this class, and I think that this class gives opportunities to students who can’t or aren’t able to go out at home.”

Another student, junior Gusty Blunka, Jr., said he appreciates the opportunity to share stories and learn more about his culture.

“I’m hoping to learn more about what our people do and maybe even live the stories that we were told,” he said. “Then one day, tell my stories, teach, and help others by passing on what was passed on to me.”

Fourteen high school students meet twice a week. They have longer class periods due to block scheduling because of the pandemic. The class is an elective, and it counts towards the students’ Yup’ik studies. Josh Gates, one of the teachers, said the class was a silver lining in a difficult year.

“Well COVID has been a real inconvenience with an exception of making the schedule work out great for a subsistence class,” he said. “An hour and 45 minutes is enough time to go outside and go ice fishing, or today, we’re going to go haul wood.”

Gates said the class is another way for students to learn and practice a wide range of skills related to subsistence.

“The obvious ones are knowing how to properly use a chainsaw or knowing how to make an ice fishing pole, knowing how to tie a fishing hook,” he said. “But the less obvious ones are how to maintain your tools and machines that are necessary for those subsistence activities.”

Sophomore Maximus Gust said the timing of the class lines up well with the activities he’s interested in.

“The timing fits perfectly with what we do in subsistence,” he said. “Whether it’s from going out on the regular days or making something in the shop on the shorter days.”

Principal Robin Jones said the school has gotten positive feedback from the families.

“I think that the community has been overwhelmingly supportive of any of the classes we teach that help the students grow closer to the Yup’ik culture,” she said. “And we’ve even had the opportunity to involve a lot of our Elders, parents, and community members in the classes.”

Jones said the class is a way to better align the school’s curriculum with the community’s traditional lifestyle, and she’s elated by the students’ participation.

“Nothing makes me prouder as a principal than to see how eager students are to share stories and pictures of their hunts with me, because they know I will be so incredibly proud of them.” she said.

Maximus Gust and family, Chief Ivan Blunka School Subsistence Spotlight for January 2021.

Contact the author at or 907-842-2200.