Alaska Native/Indigenous People, Athabascan in the Spotlight

Caroline Tritt-Frank – Gwich’in Language Educator

Caroline Tritt-Frank studying by headlamp. Photo by Kenneth Frank

Caroline Tritt-Frank (Gwich’in) was recently named a 2020 Distinguished Alumnus Award winner through the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF)! I reached out to her to learn more about her and her accomplishments. UAF alumni are selected for the award based on meritorious service on behalf of UAF, distinguished accomplishments in business and professional life, or distinguished human service in community affairs. She is a lead teacher at the Fairbanks Native Association.

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UAF Announcement about 2020 UAF Distinguished Alumnus

“For this year’s UAF Distinguished Alumnus, Caroline Tritt-Frank ‘90, ‘01, the challenges faced while earning her degrees were extreme by any measure. She wore a headlamp to complete her correspondence courses because her family’s Arctic Village cabin didn’t have electricity at the time.

Online classes weren’t an option, so each of her professors mailed her lessons and assignments. Handing in homework meant either walking a mile each way to the post office or sending a fax one page at a time.

Tritt-Frank graduated from Mt. Edgecumbe High School in 1972. She earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Elementary Education in 1991 and a Masters of Education degree in 2000, both from the University of Alaska Fairbanks including her teaching certificate.

The first Gwich’in woman from Arctic Village to receive a graduate degree, Tritt Frank has spent the past forty years translating and transcribing, often teaching bilingual education in the Gwich’in language. She’s known for her work in immersion curriculum development. She’s taught in Arctic Village, Venetie, Circle, Fairbanks and Scammon Bay and has also served as principal.”

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Kenneth Frank and Caroline Tritt-Frank. Photo by Kenneth Frank

Caroline accomplished all this while she and her husband, Kenneth Frank, raised their family. She slowly but steadily worked toward her goal and looked at it as a job. She did it!

Caroline struggled through her education especially since English was her second language. Gwich’in was her first language, and she learned how to speak English through her education. She has continued to teach young people to speak and learn Gwich’in. Her dream is for someday all the children will speak Gwich’in and be able to live in two lifestyles…Gwich’in lifestyle vs. Western lifestyle.

“I am so glad I finish all my education with distance delivery courses, because I never miss out visiting all my precious elders and enjoy their knowledge, wisdoms and stories.” – Caroline Tritt-Frank (Gwich’in)

Caroline wants young people to realize how precious and important they are. She encourages people to pursue and continue their education. She was an alcoholic in her younger years, but beat it to make something out of her life. She says, “I know it is hard to work toward your goal, because there are so much drugs and alcohol in this world; but if you are determined to succeed, you have to try harder.”

Caroline hopes people follow in her footsteps, and she wants them to be recognized for their accomplishments. She has instilled the importance of an education in her children as well, and both of her daughters have earned degrees.

This is just a small part of Caroline’s life, but I know she has accomplished a lot. Caroline is also a member of the Di’haii Gwich’in Dancers.

The Di’haii Gwich’in Dancers performed at the 2019 First Alaskans Institute Elders & Youth Conference in Fairbanks. Photo courtesy of Kenneth Frank

It wasn’t too long ago when our people sewed, beaded, cooked and more by candlelight or kerosene lamp. People may not realize some of the challenges people from rural Alaska have to overcome when they are trying to pursue their education. I think Caroline made do with her circumstances at the time, and persevered and succeeded. What an amazing teacher, learner, wife and mother!

My good friend, Allan Hayton, also finds inspiration from Caroline, and shared the following.

“Tr’intsal dai’ Caroline diiginjik k’yaa geech’oołtin, ts’a’ gweedhaa tthak tr’injaa veeshroonch’yaa nilii. Leii naii goots’iinya’ ts’a’ vagwitr’it datthak geenjit gwiintł’oo hai’ vaiihjyaa nihthan. Caroline was our language teacher when we were little, and always had a happy upbeat personality. For all the many people she has helped, and all of her valuable contributions, I’d like to express my gratitude to her. She taught us by example, and always encouraged us pursue our education.” – Allan Hayton (Gwich’in)

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