BETHEL, Alaska — A court interpreter in Alaska is the first certified in the Yupik language by the National Center for State Courts.

Crystal Garrison has spent the last 15 years working at the Alaska Court System in Bethel and scored a 93 on the court interpreter written exam, reported KYUK-AM (

Yupik, an Alaska Native language, is the primary language in the Yukon Kuskokwim Delta, where it is spoken by about 10,000 people.

Garrison largely spoke Yupik growing up in Eek, a small village, before moving to Anchorage at 10 years old and enrolling in an all-English school.

“The first friend I made, she was Caucasian, she’s still one of my best friends to this day, but I remember talking with her, and just speaking very basic English to her, and she wouldn’t make fun of me, but she’d say, ‘What’s wrong with your English?'” Garrison said. “Or, ‘What’s your accent?’ She thought it was different, and to me I wasn’t speaking any different than she was.”

Garrison says saw defendants grapple with the language barrier.

“I saw a lot of defendants not being able to express or communicate with the people that they needed to for a better outcome for them,” she said.

She started working toward certification with the help of Self-Help Services director Stacy Marz and other court system officials.

“First I try and figure out exactly what they’re there for, and usually they’re in some type of distress or worrying about something when they come to the court,” Garrison said.

She said she wants to teach more Yupik speakers to be interpreters.

Marz is working with a team to create a Yupik glossary of legal terms, including descriptions of phrases that do not have direct translations.

“I remember when we were talking about the phrase in English: domestic violence protective order,” Marz said. “It took, I think, over two hours to come up with analogous language in Yup’ik to describe that.”

Information from: KYUK-AM,