Sealaska Heritage Institute’s first education conference continued Friday at Juneau Douglas High School with a welcome address by Sealaska CEO and President Anthony Mallott and a keynote speech from national education consultant and author Zaretta Hammond.
Breakout sessions led by keynote speakers and others continued throughout the afternoon.
In his welcome, Mallott gave attendees an overview of the four core cultural values as articulated by Sealaska’s Council of Traditional Scholars in the 1980s and described the ways those values have been translated into a business model for Sealaska. The four values are Haa Aaní (Our Land), Haa Shuká (Our Past, Present, Future), Haa Latseen (Our Strength, Leadership), and Wooch Yax̱ (Balance, Reciprocity and Respect).
“These are all translatable into global values that you don’t have to be Tlingit, Haida, or Tsimshian to understand,” he said. However, they are also deeply tied to this part of the world and to 10,000 years of continuous history.
Speaking after Mallott, Hammond said traditional cultural values like those articulated by the Council of Traditional Scholars line up with the latest research about the brain.
“They were neuroscientists before there was a name for it,” she said. “This is what keeps human beings healthy.“
Culturally responsive teaching involves finding ways to honor the cultural values that a diverse student population brings to the classroom.
“Culture is the software to the brain’s hardware,” Hammond said. “Everybody’s brain has actually been programmed.”
Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students, provided attendees with many different ways to approach their work in education – through an understanding of the brain; through cultivating trust with students; through a more nuanced, less generalized view of the word culture; and through an awareness of the concepts of collectivism and individualism.
“Our job is to bring more collectivism into the classroom,” she said.
Unlike many cultures, the dominant narrative in the US is individualist – in fact, the US is the most individualist country in the world, making educators’ jobs that much harder, Hammond said. But an awareness of that narrative is one step on the path.
“This is how we move forward. You are the strategy.”
Thursday afternoon, attendees heard from another member of the Mallott family, Mallott’s father, Alaska Lieutenant Governor Byron Mallott. Lt. Governor Mallott, a Tlingit Raven of the Kwaash Kee Ḵwáan Clan, led his listeners on an eloquent journey through time, tracing his and his family’s experiences in Southeast Alaska, beginning with his grandmother’s life in Yakutat.
“We lived in a way that was flowing from, uninterruptedly, generations of those who had lived in the same place, back and back and back,” he said.
As a child of 6 or 7, Mallott said, he took that world and that way of life for granted. But as he grew up, and his grandmother’s generation watched their way of life begin to disappear, he received confusing messages from his mother, who presented him with the “loving lie” that he had to give up the life he knew in order to be successful in the Western world. That message went against everything else she had taught him, he said, and it took him a long time to figure out what she meant.
As he looks ahead to the next 50 years of Alaskan history, Mallott said he dreams of “redeeming” his mother’s life.
“I want to be able to redeem my mother’s life. I want to be able to, 50 years from now, know that my children, my grandchildren, as we say ‘know who they are.’ That they’re proud to be of a clan. … That they have a powerful sense that there are others to whom they are connected and that that connection is real. That they are able, at least to some degree, speak our languages. That our art is still rich and beautiful and able to be traced to the time from which it began … That we remain who we are, deep in our souls.”
Mallott said the work being done at SHI’s education conference was important, powerful and real and gave him hope that his dream is possible.
“In this room there is a step — a meaningful one, a palpable one, a demonstrative one — toward that Alaska 50 years from now that I dream about when I dream about my grandchildren,” Mallott said. “The kind of interaction that’s taking place here, your commitment to take days out of your lives to learn, to share, to embrace the notion that’s alive in the pages of this (conference) booklet, gives me incredible hope for the future of my grandchildren.”
SHI’s education conference, “Our Cultural Landscape,” was organized by Education Director Jackie Kookesh, with co-organizers Angie Lunda and Carmen Mastronardo Katasse.
It runs through Saturday.
(Photos by Nobu Koch)