Posted By:
Kathy Dye
Kathy Dye
Published On: June 14th, 2023

Honors given during SHI’s 2023 Culturally Responsive Education Conference

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) awarded 10 educators from Alaska and Washington for their distinguished service today at its 2023 Culturally Responsive Education Conference.

Seven educators were given SHI’s Distinguished Educator Award, which recognizes educators who intentionally weave cultural knowledge throughout their lessons and classroom and use approaches that reflect Native students’ identity and values through place-based and culturally relevant practices, while reinforcing students’ capabilities of extraordinary academic achievements.

Two people were given SHI’s Community Educator Award, which recognizes that production of knowledge is not limited to the classroom but can occur anywhere. The award celebrates achievements in teaching that honor SHI’s values of cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through community outreach or as public service.

One person won SHI’s Distinguished Leadership Award, which recognizes outstanding leadership at a school, district or community level that exemplifies collaboration, and co-creation of environments that are safe, yet challenging, where success is defined through learning and meaningful mentorship.

The awards are a way to recognize educators who are outstanding in their field and who are making an extraordinary difference in people’s lives, said SHI President Rosita Worl.

“We know excellent teachers are indispensable to our society, but how often do we tell them so? These awards are our way of saying that we see and appreciate the difference they are making in people’s lives,” Worl said.

Distinguished Educator Awardees

The following educators won SHI’s 2023 Distinguished Educator Award:

  • Marnita Coenraad of Juneau: Coenraad is a writing project specialist with the Juneau School District who is leading the way to incorporate the latest culturally responsive curriculum aimed at improving elementary student writing skills and spearheading culturally responsive professional development for three instructional coaches and 12 teachers.
  • Naomi Leask of Metlakatla: Leask is a teacher of Tsimshian Native Studies and Sm’algya̱x at Metlakatla High School who has an outstanding talent for teaching culture, harvesting and cedar bark weaving and sharing the way of her ancestors as she was taught by her grandma, Ruth Booth. She cares about her students and what she teaches makes people happy.
  • Jennifer McCarty of Metlakatla: McCarty is a preschool teacher at Annette Island School District who has taught many students during her 19-year tenure as an educator in Metlakatla. She is actively involved in learning Sm’algya̱x so she can teach her students. She is active in the community by leading the children’s dance group and is a leader in the 4th Generation Tsimshian Dancers group.
  • Jill Meserve of Juneau: Meserve is a teacher at Haa Yoo X’átangi Kúdi, a Tlingit language immersion nest at the Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska (Tlingit and Haida). She has been instrumental in cultivating a school-wide culture of collaboration, where teachers work together to share ideas and best practices. She is a Tlingit artist who has also made a significant impact on the broader community.
  • Virginia Oliver of Wrangell: Oliver is a Tlingit language instructor with the Wrangell Public School District with a wealth of knowledge about Tlingit culture in Wrangell. She is a beacon for youth in Wrangell looking to learn more about their culture.
  • Donna May Roberts of Shelton, Washington: Roberts has been promoting and teaching the Tsimshian language for many years. She has produced dictionaries and other resources and never passes up an opportunity to help anyone learn the language and customs of the Tsimshian.
  • Charlie Skultka Jr. of Sitka: Skultka is a Haida artist and educator. He is valued for his traditional knowledge and is an enthusiastic educator specializing in teaching art and culture to students from preschool through to high school and beyond. He has tirelessly and consistently dedicated his time to education, including in the areas of Northwest Coast formline design, carving, engraving, weaving, carpentry, harvesting and processing. He is driven and motivated to direct his knowledge toward educating and contributing to the community.

Community Educator Awardees

The following educators won SHI’s 2023 Community Educator Award:

  • Naomi Michalsen of Ketchikan: Michalsen is a Tlingit plant expert who shares her Indigenous plant knowledge with others. She has worked with teachers to support field trips where students learn to harvest and process plants.  She has extended professional development via Zoom, supported teachers’ curriculum development and modeled and shared knowledge.
  • Darren Snyder of Juneau: Snyder teaches through the University of Alaska Fairbanks Cooperative Extension Juneau District. He has worked on many different projects with the community and in many diverse organizations. His input on the South Douglas West Juneau Area Plan Steering Committee exemplifies values in protecting land inclusive of recognition of traditional­­ ownership for Mayflower Island and promoting community gardening for local food independence. He has worked on many educational projects, including through Tlingit and Haida and SHI’s STEAM projects. 

Distinguished Leadership Awardee

SHI gave its Distinguished Leadership Award to Dr. X’unei Lance Twitchell of Juneau. Twitchell is a professor of Alaska Native Languages at the University of Alaska Southeast who has worked tirelessly to revitalize the Tlingit language. He also has been instrumental in teaching the language and in developing materials to learn Lingít.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research 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, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.

CONTACT: Kathy Dye, SHI Communications and Publications Deputy Director, 907.321.4636, kathy.dye@sealaska.com.

Caption: Group photo of the awardees who attended SHI’s 2023 Culturally Responsive Education Conference. From left: Naomi Leask; Jennifer McCarty; Donna May Roberts’ granddaughter, Megan Roberts, accepting on Donna’s behalf; Charlie Skultka Jr. and Naomi Michalsen. Photo by Stacy Unzicker, courtesy of SHI. Note: Media outlets are permitted to use this image for coverage of this story. For a higher-res image, contact kathy.dye@sealaska.com.

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