Nome’s Josie Bourdon honored by Alaska Legislature
By Julia Lerner
Josephine Tatauq Bourdon, a lifelong Nome resident, received a commendation from the Alaska State Legislature this week for her long career in education and her commitment to teaching Inupiaq language and culture in the region.
“The members of the Thirty-Second Alaska State Legislature commend Josephine Tatauq Bourdon for the over thirty years of public service educating the children and people of the Bering Straits Region,” the citation says. “They express their sincerest gratitude and wish her success in her future endeavors.”
Bourdon, a retired Nome Elementary School teacher, spent several decades in the classroom, where she taught regular classes before transitioning to the cultural studies classroom, where she spent the last five years of her teaching career.
“Teaching Alaska Native cultures, specifically Inupiaq, to third through sixth grade was really, really rewarding,” Bourdon told the Nugget. “The focus is on Alaska Native culture, specifically Inupiaq culture, language, season, food, weather, everything about Seward Peninsula life as we know it.”
Bourdon said she and her colleague planned lessons exploring Inupiaq traditions and culture, and also included language lessons throughout.
“Connecting the student to who they are really grounds them to how we appreciate the land and what we are given from the land,” she said. “Even though our summers are so short, there is so much that we’re always thinking about. It’s a very important piece to cultural studies teaching. It just connects the student to the land and how we use it. It’s a part of their life.”
Growing up in Nome, Bourdon found that Inupiaq was not “readily spoken or taught in regional schools,” according to the commendation. Inside and outside of her classroom, Bourdon introduced projects and activities to promote the language, including KNOM radio spots, the Inupiuraqta! Let’s speak Inupiaq! column in The Nome Nugget and at University of Alaska Fairbanks Northwest Campus workshops.
Despite retiring in 2018, Bourdon remains “just as busy as ever,” she said.
“I was fortunate to teach at Northwest Campus several workshops, and just recently Annie Conger and I taught a class for school teachers on how they can implement the Inupiaq language to improve their pedagogy, improve their connection to our town, so that they can connect to their students,” Bourdon explained. “That was really rewarding.”
In addition to Northwest Campus courses, Bourdon worked on a dual-credit course option for students at the Nome-Beltz High School.
“One thing I’m noticing with young adults, and even young high school students too, is the innate curiosity and wanting to learn Inupiaq,” she said. “Regardless of where we are, in Nome or in a village, there is so much more that we can be providing. Just the willingness to keep speaking the language, we can provide so much more opportunity that meets our individual town or villages.”
“Josephine’s passion is to promote and revitalize language and culture through various projects like the ‘Inupiuraaglutakupiamik imigluta’ at the Katirvik Cultural Center,” the citation said. “When she is not teaching, Josephine is leading the Inupiaq Choir at the Community United Methodist Church and supporting her community as a member of the Sitnasuak Native Corporation’s Elders Committee.”
Bourdon said she was surprised, but humbly honored to receive the state legislature’s citation. “I’m humbled that somebody sees that my efforts in education and my efforts to teach other people Inupiaq is valued through another’s eyes,” she said.
Bourdon received her citation at the June 14 Nome Common Council meeting in Nome.