“It’s not your nationality that counts as much as it is your character and your personality.” These were a teacher’s words of wisdom to CIRI shareholder Fiocla Wilson when she attended the Eklutna Industrial School for Natives at the age of 12.
The year was 1928, and many Alaska Native students who attended boarding schools like the one in Eklutna were permitted to speak only English. Even so, Fiocla was grateful to have the opportunity to learn skills like sewing and waitressing. And even today, her teacher’s words resonate.
At the age of 99, Fiocla is CIRI’s oldest shareholder; she will turn 100 on June 30. She now lives in a world where the government bestows grants on Alaska Native language preservation programs. In the book Our Stories, Our Lives (a publication of The CIRI Foundation), Fiocla marveled at how things have changed: “I said something to another girl at school in Russian, and it was overheard, and we both had our mouths washed out with soap! That’s how strict they were. Now [the government] is giving funds to get back our heritage.”
Fiocla has lived most of her life in Kenai, where she raised six children and helped her husband with his commercial fishing business until his passing in 1975. Today, she resides at Heritage Place in Soldotna and is an active member of the Kenaitze Indian Tribe as well as the Kenai Bible Chapel. She is proud to be a CIRI shareholder.