Second in importance to the conversion of Native Alaskans was their education. On the founding of the first Russian colony on Kodiak Island in 1784, a school as well as a church was immediately established. Significantly, the school, supported by the Russian American Company, was bilingual, with studies in Russian and Kodiak (Eskimo). Bilingualism and the close connection between commerce and education were to be hallmarks of the educational system throughout the Russian American era and well into the American period.

Undoubtedly the greatest educator in Russian America was Father Ioann Veniaminov, later Bishop Innokentii, who devised an alphabet for the Aleut language, expanded the educational system, and insisted that priests learn Native languages and customs. In 1841, he established the ecclesiastical seminary at Novoarkhangelsk (Sitka), which included coursework in Latin, trigonometry, navigation, medicine, and six years of Native languages. Local parish schools offered reading, writing, and arithmetic, Biblical history, penmanship, music, and, at times, as many as four languages simultaneously: Russian, Old Church Slavonic, English, and a Native language. Indeed, the stories of the many remarkable graduates of the Church system, mostly Creoles like the priest Iakov Netsvetov and the explorer-soldier Alexander Kashevarov, are among the most moving in the history of Russian America.

The Russian American tradition of bilingualism is often contrasted with the American system, dominated by the Presbyterian minister Sheldon Jackson. Appointed the first Federal superintendent for public instruction in 1885, Jackson decreed that only English could be taught at schools. His antagonism toward the "Greek" church prevented his recognizing the unusual success of the bilingual Russian program, whose effects are still evident today.

  • Photograph copyprint, cropped. Alaska, Yukon River. Children of Holy Cross Mission. Carpenter Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (64)
  • Holograph letter. To the Novoarkangelsk Ecclesiastical Consistory from Innokentii, Bishop of Kamchatka, February 16, 1844, p.l. D88, Alaskan Russian Church Archives, Manuscript (65)
  • Manuscript document. To his Eminence, Innokentii, Bishop of Kamchatka, Kurile and Aleutian Islands from the Governor of the Russian Colonies in America, December 1, 1841, p.1. D346, Alaskan Russian Church Archives, Manuscript Division (66)
  • Manuscript report. Superintendent of the Unalaska School to the Russian American Company, Unalaska Office, "Document 45," January 11, 1840 - September 1, 1841, [pp. 26-27]. D56, Alaskan Russian Church Archives, Manuscript Division (67)
  • Manuscript menu. Menu for students of the Sitka Orphanage for the week 12 to 18 October 1897. D346, Alaskan Russian Church Archives, Manuscript Division (68)
  • Manuscript book. [Psalm Book], inside front cover; pp. 35 (verso), 36 (recto). D341, Alaskan Russian Church Archives, Manuscript Division (69)
  • Manuscript document. Record of Fox Aleuts who are able to read books as of 1 January 1844, compiled by Reverend Grigorii Golovin, pp. 1-3 (1 photocopy). D30, Alaskan Russian Church Archives, Manuscript Division (72)
  • Manuscript record. School journal; given by the Alaska Ecclesiastical Consistory to the parochial school of Nushagak Sts. Peter and Paul Church, for 1897, compiled by Reverend Vladimir Modestov and assistant Vasilii Kashevarov, pp. 142-143. D191, Alaskan Russian Church Archives, Manuscript Division (73)
  • Color map. General Chart of Alaska to Accompany Reindeer Report by Sheldon Jackson, LL.D. General Agent of Education in Alaska, 1904. Baltimore: A. Hoen & Co. TC Alaska Education 1904 Jackson (74)