March 8, 2017
Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has chosen five language teams to participate in its 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.
“We’ve made significant progress in language revitalization over the years, but we are still in a race against time to foster fluent, young speakers,” said SHI President Rosita Worl, noting most fluent speakers are elderly. “Through this program, we are pairing fluent speakers with serious language students, who will have ample time with their mentors. This approach will allow us to accelerate the pace at which the apprentices learn their Native languages.”
Five mentor-apprentice teams were chosen in Juneau, Sitka, Metlakatla and Hydaburg: In Juneau, Tlingit (Lingít) speaker Florence Sheakley (Kaakal.aat) will mentor Mary Folletti (Daaljíni) and Michelle Martin (Keiyákwch Yawu.á), and Paul Marks (Kinkaduneek) will mentor Kyle Demientieff Worl (Kaayák’w) and Michael Hoyt (Aak’wtaatseen & Gashax). In Sitka, Tlingit (Lingít) speaker Ethel Makinen Daasdiyáa will mentor Kassandra Eubank-Littlefield (Laakdu.oo) and Lakrisha Brady (Chookan). In Metlakatla, Tsimshian (Sm’algyax) speaker Sarah Booth (Goodm ‘Nluułgm Xsgiik) will mentor David Robert Boxley (Gyibaawm Laxha) and Kandi McGilton (Mangyepsa Gyipaayg). In Hydaburg, Haida (Xaad Kíl) speaker Cherilyn Holter (T’aaw Kuns) will mentor Andrea Peele (Sgaan Jaat) and Bonnie Morris.
The teams will meet weekly to immerse themselves in their respective languages over three years. Language learners will also enroll in language courses through the University of Alaska Southeast and work independently on transcriptions of language recordings and documents to build their fluency.
Sm’algyax apprentice David R. Boxley joined the program to become fluent in the language of his ancestors and to see the world from their point of view.
“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,” Boxley said. “We are reclaiming our birthright, and there is nothing more important that I will ever do.”
Xaad Kíl apprentice Andrea Peele said that for most of her adult life she has been involved with a Haida dance group, but she has felt a disconnect.
“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,” Peele said. “I am very excited for this opportunity to be a part of the Haa Shuká project and the revitalization of our ancestral language.”
As part of the project, SHI 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. The committee is made up of heritage language speakers and advocates Lance Twitchell (Lingít), Ben Young (Xaad Kíl), and Gavin Hudson (Sm’algyax). To encourage broad involvement, 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.
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.
Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research and advocacy that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars and a Native Artists Committee. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.
CONTACT: Rosita Worl, SHI President, 907.463.4844