Language Summit: Voices of Our Ancestors
Sealaska Heritage will hold a regional Native language summit for the remaining fluent speakers of Lingít (Tlingit), Xaad Kíl (Haida) and Sm’algyax (Tsimshian) living in Southeast Alaska and among the Interior Tlingit who share clan membership with the coastal Tlingit.
The three-day summit, Voices of Our Ancestors, is scheduled Nov. 13-15 in Juneau. SHI will cover transportation and hotel costs for fluent speakers and provide lunches to participants. Alaska Airlines is offering a 7% discount on airfare to all other travelers from Nov. 7-21 Info: meeting name: Voices of our Ancestors Language Summit; code: ECMZ993. You may book a flight on the blackout days, which are Nov. 16-18, but the discount won't apply.
SHI has sent letters of invitation to fluent speakers. Fluent speakers living in Alaska who have not received an invitation should contact Ralphenia Dybdahl at email@example.com or 907.463.4844.
SHI’s board of trustees authorized the event after hearing stories about Elders who were having trouble finding other people to converse with in their Native language. Speakers are calling others on the phone just to hold a conversation in their Native tongue, said SHI President Rosita Worl. Just over 100 Lingít, Xaad Kíl and Sm’algyax speakers remain in the region and the Interior of Canada.
“Linguists have documented much of the grammar and vocabulary, and anthropologists have documented Native place names,” Worl said. “However, little has been done to document how people interact through Native languages, such as the movement of their hands and facial expressions.
“Through the summit, we can get glimpses into a world in which only Native languages were once heard. We can hear the multitudes of Native speakers conversing naturally and not just in an instructional voice and mode.”
The institute will videotape the summit and the footage will be available to language learners through SHI’s archives.
Haa Shuká Community Language Learning Project
Sealaska Heritage is sponsoring the Haa Shuká Community Language Learning Project, a new program designed to help revitalize the languages of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian in four Southeast Alaska communities.
Funded by a grant from the Administration for Native Americans, the program builds on SHI’s previous Tlingit language mentor-apprentice program, which ended in December 2016.
The new project pairs fluent speakers of Lingít (Tlingit), Xaad Kíl (Haida) and Sm’algyax (Tsimshian) with intermediate and advanced speakers in those languages to increase learner proficiency. Language mentor-apprentice teams will meet weekly to immerse themselves in their respective languages over the course of three years. Language learners will also enroll in language courses through the University of Alaska Southeast (enrollment will be paid by SHI) and work independently on transcriptions of language recordings and documents to build their fluency. Participating communities are Metlakatla, Hydaburg, Sitka and Juneau.
As part of this project, SHI has established a Southeast Regional Language Committee to provide guidance for the language teams and to help integrate the project with existing initiatives across the region. SHI will also work with the committee and regional groups to organize monthly language events and biannual immersion retreats in each partner community that will be open to the public. Project partners include the Sitka Tribe of Alaska, the Haayk Foundation, and Hydaburg City School District.
SHI’s Haa Shuká Community Language Learning Project is the most recent in a series of initiatives that SHI has implemented since the late 1990s to help document, preserve and revitalize Southeast Alaska Native languages. Though significant progress has been made in that time, most fluent speakers are elderly, and the need for projects such as this one remains urgent.
For more information, contact project coordinator Jill Meserve at Jill.Meserve@sealaska.com.
Mentor—Florence Sheakley Kaakal.aat
House: Geisán Hít
Child of: Chookaneidí
- Mary Folletti Daaljíni
House: Gooch Hít
Child of: L'uknax.ádi
Statement: I want to continue learning and teaching our language in any arena available and am grateful for this opportunity to learn side by side with a peer and from a fluent speaker.
- Michelle Martin Keiyákwch Yawu.á
House: Yéil Kúdi Hít
Child of: Chookaneidí
Statement: The time is now to learn our native languages, which embodies who we are, making the connections to our ancestors, traditions and culture!
- Mentor—Paul Marks Kinkaduneek
House: Yéil Hít
Child of: Chookaneidí
Bio: Paul learned Lingít from his parents and family. Paul also participated, as a mentor, in Sealaska Heritage’s “Bridging Challenges to Fluency through Partnerships: A Tlingit Mentor Apprentice Language Program”.
Statement: Paul believes that it is important that we learn from our ancestors and honor them. It is most important that we learn from our ancestral true language and give honor to ancestors. When we honor our ancestors, we honor our future generations and ourselves.
- Kyle Demientieff Worl Kaayák’w
House: Yéil Hít
Child of: Shangukeidí
Bio: Kyle studied Anthropology and Alaska Native Studies at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Kyle co-teaches a Lingít language course at UAA with elder Shirley Kendall and coaches Native Youth Olympics in the Anchorage School District. Kyle is moving to Juneau to continue his commitment to learning and revitalizing the Lingít Language.
- Michael Hoyt Aak'wtaatseen & Gashax
House: Teey Hít
Child of: Kiks.ádi
Statement: I believe language is a means of connecting, relating, and understanding the world around us, whether it’s our communities, lands, culture, and history. I think language will also be a vital part of our future, especially in how it helps us continue to make these connections, which means language education is vital. As a teacher and cultural specialist with the Juneau School District, I want to make the next step in my own language abilities so I can be a better teacher, and Haa Shuká will help with that goal.
Mentor—Ethel Makinen Daasdiyáa
House: L'ook Hít
Child of: Kaagwaantaan
Bio: Ethel has been sharing her cultural knowledge to ensure that the culture would never die. Ethel worked as a Cultural Instructor for over 20 years with the Sitka Native Education Program. Ethel helped develop many of the materials used to teach the Lingít language and was a part of a number of transcription and translation projects. Ethel has attended and presented at numerous workshops and conferences. Ethel feels fortunate to have worked with and learned from many of the elders who are no longer with us.
Kassandra Eubank-Littlefield Laakdu.oo
Child of: L’uknax.ádi
Bio: Kassandra moved to Sitka when she was five or six years old and has been living there since. She has been studying the Lingít language with encouragement and instruction from her mother Roby Littlefield and their teacher Daasdiyáa, Ethel Makinen. Kassandra has participated in Lingít Language immersion retreats, language teacher conferences, and teaching and learning techniques. Kassandra is looking forward to this program to increase her learning and speaking abilities and to learn new ways to share with others. Kassandra has always felt enriched and encouraged after participating in language gatherings.
Lakrisha Brady Chookan
Child of: Kiks.ádi
Bio: Lakrisha grew up in the Sitka Native Education Program (SNEP) and graduated in 2010. Currently, she is the Cultural Specialist at Wooch.een Preschool, a culturally-responsive preschool program that operates in collaboration with Sitka Tribe of Alaska (STA), the Sitka School District, and Central Council Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska Head Start. Lakrisha hopes to enrich students’ lives with Tlingit language and culture the way that the elders had done for her.
Mentor—Sarah Booth Goodm 'Nluułgm Xsgiik
Statement: "I just feel it's really important. I've been worried about the language and I want to do as much as I can while I can to teach it. It scary because of how fast it’s disappearing."
David Robert Boxley Gyibaawm Laxha
Child of: Laxsgiik
Statement: I want to become fluent in the language of my ancestors and be able to see the world from their point of view. Then we can pass it on to my people and help restore the rightful pride and identity that all Tsimshian should have through knowing who they are. We are reclaiming our birthright and there is nothing more important that I will ever do.
Kandi McGilton Mangyepsa Gyipaayg
Statement: I’m extremely grateful to Sealaska Heritage Institute for recognizing the importance of Sm’algyax; investing in our community; and holding these four communities, speakers and learners up to create a stronger, united Southeast Alaska. Lu’aam goodu nwil Da’ałga dm di hoksgu a hałelsa gwa’a! I am happy that I can be a part of this work!
Hydaburg (Xaad Kíl)
Mentor—Cherilyn Holter T'aaw Kuns
Bio: Cherilyn was honored to work with Claude Morrison, Anna Peele, Woodrow Morrison Sr., Charles Natkong Sr., Viola Burgess, and Alma Cook. Cherilyn is currently teaching at Hydaburg City School K-12. Cherilyn believes it is her responsibility to learn all she can about her culture and to share all she has learned.
Andrea Peele Sgaan Jaat
Child of: Eagle Frog Sculpin
Statement: For most of my adult life I have been involved with a Haida dance group from Seattle, WA. Without knowing Xaad Kíl, I feel like I am missing out on the true meaning of what our songs, stories, history and traditions are about, let alone creating new ones. I am very excited for this opportunity to be a part of the Haa Shuká project and the revitalization of our ancestral language.
Crest: Double Headed Eagle
Child of: Raven
Statement: I grew up in Hydaburg and had the privilege of knowing all our great elders from Hydaburg, Alaska. Being selected to learn Xaad Kíl will be a journey in building my knowledge in my Native heritage. I am looking forward to learning and listening to the language of my ancestors.
Lance X’unei Twitchell grew up in Skagway and now lives in Juneau. He is of Tlingit, Haida and Yup’ik heritage and carries the Tlingit names X’unei and Du Aani Kawdinook and the Haida name K’eijáakw.
Twitchell is currently an Assistant Professor of Alaska Native Languages at the University of Alaska Southeast and has been teaching the Tlingit language since 2004. He is also a doctoral student of Hawaiian and Indigenous Language and Culture Revitalization at Ka Haka ʻUla o Keʻelikōlani College of Hawaiian Language at the University of Hawaiʻi at Hilo. His studies are in creating safe language acquisition spaces and achieving revitalization through counterhegemonic transformation, which means a rejection of external definitions and fragmentation and a promotion of the thought world of the ancestors of language movements. He recently completed a Tlingit language workbook based on the teachings of Richard and Nora Dauenhauer, scheduled for release through Sealaska Heritage in early 2017. His grandfather, Silas Dennis Sr. of Skagway, was his first teacher.
Gavin Hudson was born and raised in Metlakatla. He graduated from college in Seattle in 1998 and moved back home in 2010. His Tsimshian name is Huk Tgini’its’ga Xsgiik and he is a member of the Laxsgiik Eagle Clan.
Hudson is one of three founders of the Haayk Foundation, along with David R. Boxley and Kandi McGilton. The nonprofit’s mission is to preserve, promote and revitalize Sm'algyax, Ayaawx (traditional Tsimshian values and protocol), Adaawx (true history), and Luulgyit (validating cultural practice) in order to cultivate a positive and healthy identity for the people of Metlakatla. Although he is not yet a fluent speaker, Hudson has logged hundreds of hours working with fluent speakers and is proficient in reading, writing, and transcription in Sm'algyax.
In 2016, as Project Coordinator for the Tsimshian Education Achievement Model grant project, Hudson helped to create the Wap Lip Algya̱g̱m House of Our Language 0-3 Years Sm'algyax Curriculum. Hudson is also a Tribal/City Councilman at Metlakatla Indian Community.
Benjamin Young was raised in Hydaburg and now lives in Ketchikan. His Haida name is K’uyáang. He is a Raven of the Yahgw’láanaas Clan.
Young learned X̱aad Kíl from his grandfather, Claude Morrison Kúng Skíis, a respected Haida elder who lived to the age of 100. As a teenager, Young taught his first language classes at SHI’s Latseen Leadership Academy. Through other language projects and programs, Young has worked with elders Woodrow Morrison, Alma Cook, Annie Peele, and Erma Lawrence.
Over the years he has also been influenced by linguist Dr. Jordan Lachler and Gwich'in instructor Hishinlai' Peter.
Young graduated from Butler University with a degree in secondary education and began teaching in 2014. He has had many additional roles in language revitalization such as language mentor, researcher, and curriculum developer. Young has also served as a cultural specialist with SHI, the Xaadas Kíl Kuyaas Foundation, and the Ketchikan Indian Community, among other organizations.