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Yup'ik Spelling Bee Tests Students from Across the State

Judges discuss competition

2019 Statewide Yup'ik Spelling Bee for Beginners judges Rebecca Atchak, left, Freda Dan, and Lorina Warren discuss first round competition Saturday, April 13, 2019, at College Gate Elementary School. (Robert DeBerry/ASD)

More than a dozen students from seven villages and six districts including the Anchorage School District descended on College Gate Elementary Saturday, April 13, 2019 to showcase their ability to spell words like nasqetaa, cukaituq, and inarrnariuq during the 2018-19 Statewide Yup'ik Spelling Bee for Beginners.

Organizer and creator Freda Dan said the competitors, third through eighth grade, are spelling simple nouns mostly, that were used throughout the year at the school and district spelling bees. She said it boils down to a big set of words but manageable.

Dan said that the competition, which is now in its eighth year, came about as a way to introduce students to the written Yup’ik language and as a tool to teach Yup’ik spelling. With only 18 letters and some of those letters sounding similar, add to it that many of the words are difficult to pronounce, teaching to spell in Yup’ik can get hard.

2019nSpelling Be Competition Statewide Yup'ik Spelling Bee for Beginners competitor Richelle Phillip spells her word during Saturday's competition at College Gate Elementary. (Robert DeBerry/ASD)

Katie Tunuchuk, coordinator for the Yup’ik Immersion Program at College Gate Elementary, said the spelling bee has come a long way. “This is the biggest I have seen,” she explained, “The most participants.”

Tunuchuk said most would start at their school with a school wide spelling bee. From there she said they compete at the district level and then end up here in Anchorage for the state competition.

During Saturday’s competition, several rounds had to be used to break ties between the top four or five spellers. According to organizers, Saturday’s multiple tiebreakers is not something that has happened in the past. In previous years, the competitors had more misspelled words, which barely made for real competition.

This year was different said organizers. There had to multiple rounds in order to determine second and third places.

This year’s top Yup’ik speller,12-year-old Angniun Opriann Lomack, went to Akiachak School. This was her first time competing.

Chevak School’s Auna Friday took second and Akiachak School’s Allikaar Richelle Phillip took third.


Robert DeBerry