Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Worl says shamanism still influential in Tlingit culture today

By Casey Kelly
Posted on November 18, 2013 at 5:54 pm
Category: Alaska Native CultureCommunityFeatured News,Spirit
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes, 12 seconds
The Tlingit people of Southeast Alaska no longer practice shamanism, but elements of it still exist in their culture today.
That’s according to Anthropologist
and Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl, who spoke Monday as part of SHI’s Native American History Month Lecture Series.
Worl says shamanism used to be a major component of Tlingit life. She says every clan had a shaman before Russian and American colonization largely forced the Tlingit people to abandon their traditional religion.
“Shamanism is generally associated with hunting, fishing and gathering societies that often migrate with seasons to follow their food sources,” says Worl. “To bring food, health and protection from evil, shaman seek connections with animal powers through their rituals.”
Worl says the shaman’s responsibilities included maintaining the well-being of the clan; acting as a military advisor; assuring hunting and fishing success; predicting future events; and curing illnesses. To do that they performed rituals designed to ward off hostile and dangerous spirits, and call upon good spirits to support the clans’ welfare.
Worl says Tlingits believed that great shaman traveled in both the physical and spiritual world, and that spirits chose certain people to be shaman.
“The majority of spirits with which the shaman makes his alliances are animals, animal spirits,” she says. “This reflects a widespread belief by cultures that practice shamanism that animals inhabited the world long before human beings and are essential to people because of the unique knowledge that animals possess.”
She says Tlingit clans last practiced traditional shamanism in the 1950s, but she argues it still pervades the rituals and beliefs of Southeast Alaska Natives today. For instance, Worl says Tlingits – including the late-Reverend Dr. Walter Soboleff – still believe that all objects possess some sort of spiritual essence.
“I’ve had meetings here in this room, where people like our spiritual leader, Dr. Soboleff, has pounded on the table and says, ‘Everything has a spirit! Even this table has a spirit!’” Worl says, pounding her own fist on the podium.
About 15 years ago at a clan conference organized by the heritage institute, Worl says several elders attributed modern social problems, such as alcoholism and suicide, to Tlingit societies being out of balance.
“In our society we have a number of practices to ensure both social and spiritual balance, and they were holding that we were out of spiritual and social balance, and this was the cause of the social illnesses that affect our society,” Worl says.
She says that discussion led to some of SHI’s most successful cultural programs.
Worl says the influence of shamanism on modern Tlingit life is perhaps most evident in the use of sacred objects and regalia in ceremonial acts, including memorial celebrations.
“When our ceremonial and sacred objects are brought out and the spirits are addressed or called upon in the same way as they were in earlier times,” she says.
Worl says many Tlingit elders are reluctant to discuss shamanism, perhaps due to the punishment Native people endured at the hands of colonizers for practicing their religion.
She says its unlikely traditional shamanism will ever be completely revitalized, but some Tlingits are looking at ways to incorporate more of the old practices in modern ceremonies.
The next talk in SHI’s Native American History Month Lecture Series happens Tuesday at noon. Professor Alan Boras of Kenai Peninsula College gives a lecture on “Salmon and Indigenized Orthodoxy on the Nushagak River.” The theme of this year’s series is Native spirituality.

View the full lecture online by clicking here.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Throwback Thursday - Historical Photo and Inland Tlingit

For this week's Throwback Thursday; our inland Tlingit friends. 

Photo taken at Carcross, Yukon Territory, circa 1900, showing Native individuals in regalia.

Educator makes case for Native spirituality

By Ed Schoenfeld, CoastAlaska News
Posted on November 13, 2013 at 5:28 pm
Category: Alaska Native CultureEducationFeatured News,Syndicated
Estimated reading time: 2 minutes, 15 seconds
Most Northern Native people have had their traditional spirituality squeezed out of them.
That’s according to Jana Harcharek, director of the North Slope Borough School District’s Iñupiaq Education Department.
She spoke Nov. 12 as part of the Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Native spirituality lecture series.
Harcharek told her audience that her culture, including its spirituality, was almost destroyed by churches and schools.
“As has been the case with many indigenous peoples across the world, the attempt through education was to assimilate the Iñupiaq into mainstream society. And a variety of methods were used, including the oppression of language, the oppression of spiritual beliefs, the oppression of song and dance, which resulted in varying degrees of success on their part,” she said.
That led to pressure on the school system to teach what many had lost.
“It’s their birthright to know their history. And as a school district, we had been depriving them of their history. And through the loss of our storytelling, we had been deprived them of our creation and origin stories,” she said.
Harcharek said about six years ago, educators decided to reach out. They traveled to North Slope communities to confer with elders. (Link to the North Slope Iñupiaq Education Department.)
“We were able to go back where we had been, before schools were ever established, before missions ever came to the arctic, and confer with our elders about how it is and what it is that we did to instill beliefs, to instill the sense of being a contributing member of society, before schools ever came,” she said.
An Iñupiaq education initiative was formed. It included a cross-generational panel that came up with what a young adult should know about their people’s spirituality, culture and history.
It also included contemporary Native history and roles in a modern world.
New curriculums were developed, and continue to be added to students’ class work.
Harcharek said that includes training for new teachers without an understanding of the culture.
The program has not been without controversy, since some see it as going against Christian values. She said that’s not the case.
“We’re not preaching – or teaching – kids how to be shamans. In the same way that in school we don’t teach children how to be a Catholic or a Muslim or a Hindu,” she said.
Harcharek said the program teaches students about traditional spirituality and they make their own choices.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013


Oct. 29, 2013 (Flyer)

November series will focus on spirituality

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will sponsor a noon lecture series to celebrate Native American Heritage Month in November.

The brown-bag lunch series will focus on spirituality, said SHI President Rosita Worl. Native spirituality is a topic that has come up in issues dealing with repatriation and other areas. SHI’s Council of Traditional Scholars has wrestled with how to bring the knowledge of shamanism into the modern world and to correct the many misconceptions about shamanism. Also, an Alaska court recently heard testimony on Yup’ik fishing and spirituality, said Worl, adding the timing for this discussion seemed appropriate.

“As a society, we still have a lot to learn about Native religion, Native spirituality. We’re hopeful that our lecture series is going to offer an insight into Native spirituality and Native religion,” said Worl, who also will give one of the lectures.

The lectures are sponsored by ConocoPhillips Alaska and will be held from 12-1 pm in the 4th floor boardroom at Sealaska Plaza in Juneau. Attendees are invited to bring their own lunches. The talks also will be videotaped and posted online.

Sealaska Heritage Institute was founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.

CONTACT: Rosita Worl, SHI President, 907.463.4844

12-1 pm, Sealaska Plaza, 4th Floor Boardroom (bring your own lunch)
Tuesday, Nov. 5
Spiritual Connections and Obligations: The Foundation of Tlingit Existence
Steve J. Langdon
Professor of Anthropology, University of Alaska Anchorage

The Tlingit cosmos is filled with spiritual presence, essences and powers that exist both within and beyond direct experience.  Tlingit life is fundamentally relational in that interactions with others establish the basis for existence and welfare.   All spiritual forms are attentive, sentient, and volitional and positive relations with them are essential.  These necessary relations must be based on respect, and violation of the principle of respect can threaten existence at many levels.  It is through the continuous circulation of respect – in thought and deed – exhibited in connections and fulfillment of obligations in various socially and ritually prescribed ways that Tlingit pursue a morality that will insure the continuity of existence.  The Tlingit cosmos is founded on the principle of relational sustainability – through appropriate respectful relations, the continuity of existence is maintained.

Tuesday, Nov. 12
Reclaiming Traditional Spirituality
Jana Harcharek
Director, Iñupiaq Education Department at North Slope Borough School District

Nuances associated with traditional spirituality continue to be oppressed as a result of Christian influences. In this presentation, Pausauraq Jana Harcharek will speak about efforts to effect change to make the discussion of traditional "religion" acceptable for purposes of setting the stage for the reclamation of traditional spirituality more widespread in the Iñupiaq region.

Monday, Nov. 18
Tlingit Spirituality and Shamanism in the 21st Century
Dr. Rosita Worl
President, Sealaska Heritage Institute

Although the Tlingit no longer have shamans, their traditional spiritual ideologies remain vibrant.  This discussion will review the traditional practices of shamans and focus on Tlingit spirituality and its manifestation in cultural objects including shamanic paraphernalia.  It will also assess the exchanges between the natural and supernatural as they continue to occur in the round of ceremonies which are held primarily in the Fall season and in memorial rites held throughout the year. 

Tuesday, Nov. 19
The Great Blessing of the Water: Salmon and Indigenized Orthodoxy on the Nushagak River
Alan Boraas
Professor of Anthropology, Kenai Peninsula College

The Nushagak Yup’ik are among the last of the world’s salmon cultures and spirituality is fundamental to their being. One of the enduring ceremonies of the Yup’ik villages of the Nushagak River is the Great Blessing of the Water. I will describe my observations of this remarkable ceremony during my visit in 2011 and relate it to the people’s fight to maintain a modern subsistence lifestyle in the face of proposed industrial mining.

Tuesday, Nov. 26
The Essence of Tlingit Spirituality
David Katzeek
Tlingit, Shangukeidí Clan Leader

Ldakát át ayakghwahéiyagu khudzitee, the spirit in all things. Since time immemorial the Tlingit people have practiced their beliefs with one of the most powerful words in the Tlingit language “yáa át wooné”, respect! This leads us into the way people would live, what they would learn, how they would learn, and how they would apply what they learned. This covered a wide variety of topics, starting with learning to listen, pay attention, and be still, which is important in respecting oneself. It is important to accept one’s intelligence and become responsible for it. Learning how to learn and applying the knowledge gained is important. To respect is the primary cornerstone of the Tlingit house of education and knowledge. Without education and knowledge it is difficult to respect oneself, family, others, community, environment and all creatures great and small.  This includes the water, the rivers, the ponds, the lakes, the streams, the rivers, the ocean, the seas, the trees, the animals, the rocks, the mountains, hills, and the creatures on the earth, the heavens, the sun the moon and the list goes on. This session will describe this process with songs and stories, names, and place names.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Ethel Montgomery Scholarship Fund for Alaska Natives Pursuing Museum Studies

The Friends of the Alaska State Libraries, Archives & Museum in conjunction with the Alaska State Museum in Juneau, has announced the availability of the Ethel Montgomery Scholarship. Applicants for the $2,000 scholarship must be enrolled in an Alaskan federally-recognized tribe and pursuing an undergraduate or graduate degree in museum studies.

The Ethel Montgomery Scholarship Fund was established in the 1990s to assist university-level Alaska Native students majoring in museum studies. Ethel Montgomery was one of the first docents at the Alaska State Museum. She was adopted into the Kaagwaantann Wolf Clan and became a very active member of the Alaska Native Sisterhood. One of her dreams was to help young Alaska Natives become curators and directors of museums that celebrate their cultures. The combination of her love for museums and for Native cultures contributed to the establishment of this scholarship.

Applications may be obtained by emailing Jackie Schoppert, Chair, Ethel Montgomery Scholarship Committee, at kaageesaak@aol.com (321-5652) or Marjorie Menzi, marjoriemenzi@msn.com (723-9156). Applications must be completed and mailed by Nov. 30, 2013, to the address on the application.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Austin Hammond tells Tlingit history at Lkhoot, Haines - Recording Placed Online

In Lḵoot, Haines, in the fall of 1986, Austin Hammond—Daanawáaḵ, Gunx̱aa G̱uwakaan—presented the at.óow of the Lukaax̱.ádi to demonstrate their sacred ties to the land. He told the history of how the Lukaax̱.ádi acquired the sockeye salmon as a crest, and how they came to own much of the Lḵoot area. He also showed the G̱eisán (Mt. Ripinsky) tunic, and spoke of the Haines totem pole which depicts Naas Shagi Yéil, Raven at the Head of the Nass River. Austin made a point that if we understand our history, then we are more capable of fighting for our rights. He implored the people to fight for their grandchildren. This presentation was documented by Nora Marks Dauenhauer—Ḵeixwnéi, also of the Lukaax̱.ádi. It is now available online.

Austin Hammond (1910 – 1993) was one of the most deeply respected and admired Tlingit Elders of his time. Austin was deeply committed to instructing about Tlingit knowledge and motivating Tlingit people to fight for their rights. The people whose lives he impacted—which includes people all over Alaska and beyond—continue to talk about Austin’s legacy and to try to embody the knowledge and values that he shared.

This recording is from the Sealaska Heritage Institute Operational Recordings collection. This recording was placed online as part of an Institute of Museum & Library Services grant.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

SHI welcomes Archives Intern Mary Brooks

SHI welcomes Archives Intern Mary Brooks! Mary moved to Alaska from Colorado and enrolled in college in 2008. She received her B.A. in Social Sciences and interned with SHI last year. She is presently admitted to San Jose State University Masters in Archives and Records Administration program.

Mary says her goals are "to deepen knowledge of cultural heritage through examination of the varied and rich sources of information that come to the archives from many sources; catalog and protect the information for posterity; and determine appropriate avenues and facilitate pathways of said information for consumption by individuals and institutions. Presently the archival work that I am doing at SHI is a continuation of, if you will, a deepening of my knowledge of Southeast Alaskan Peoples with an eye on how technology can assist the Peoples, especially the youth, in coming to a fuller and more experiential understanding of their cultural heritage."

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


A California collector of Native art has donated an old spruce root hat likely made by a Haida weaver to Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI).

The hat is dated to 1900 or earlier and is believed to be of Haida origin because it has a “frog’s back” design—a recognizable Haida weaving method that was incorporated to make pieces feel bumpy, like a frog’s back. The donor, former Alaskan Monica Wyatt, first saw the hat in August at the Flury & Company gallery in Seattle.

“I was transfixed. I couldn’t stop looking at it,” Wyatt said. “But it was too fine a piece for just me to have.  I’ve collected contemporary pieces that make me happy, but there’s no way I could feel good about having a cultural piece with only me here to appreciate it.  So I left the gallery.”

But she didn’t get far. The hat called her back.

“The more I looked, the more I was moved by the quiet beauty of the hat and the obvious skill of the person who had woven it.  And someone had worn the hat.  I imagined the people living in the misty forest.”

It was at that moment Wyatt had the idea to buy it and donate it to SHI. Wyatt, who grew up in Fairbanks and lived in Anchorage for seven years, visited the institute in May and was aware of the groundbreaking for the Walter Soboleff Center in Juneau.

“It just came to me in a flash that this was where the hat belonged.  I’m not an expert or a scholar, but I was fairly confident that this was a special hat, so I bought it.”

SHI President Rosita Worl said she is humbled by the generosity of Wyatt’s gift, which cost almost $5,000.

“She paid a significant amount of money to return this remarkable hat to the Native people of Southeast Alaska,” said Worl, noting it’s clear upon examining the piece that the weaver was highly skilled. “We are so grateful for this. Now our weavers will be able to learn this technique by coming to us and studying the hat.”

SHI employs a professional staff to care for collections. The Walter Soboleff Center, which broke ground in August, will have a state-of-the-art facility for ethnographic collections, archives, a library and research.

Sealaska Heritage Institute was founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Clarence Jackson tells a story about respect and Tlingit values

SHI has placed online a recording of Tlingit Elder and leader Clarence Jackson of the Tsaagweidí clan relating a story about respect and Native values embodied in the historical relationship between the Chilkat people and the Tsimshians of Naas River. 
On February 26, 2003, Clarence Jackson told his nephew Todd Antioquia a story about respect and Native values. The story, told first in Tlingit and then in English, is about how precious abalone earrings were exchanged between the people of the Jilḵáat, Chilkat area, and the Tsimshian people from Naas, the Nass River area. The story tells of how Tlingit and Tsimshian people treat each other with courtesy and respect; how we remember departed loved ones through objects they once owned; and how we recognize and commemorate our achievements and major events. This recording can be viewed online.
Clarence Jackson (Asx̱’aak, G̱astín, Daanaawú, Tá G̱ooch) was a deeply admired Tlingit Elder of the Tsaagweidí clan from Kake, Alaska. He was also an important political and business leader, serving as a Sealaska Corporation board member from its inception in 1972 to his death in 2013; and serving as the President of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indians of Alaska from 1972 – 1976. Clarence Jackson is remembered for his deep Tlingit knowledge, for integrating Tlingit cultural values into modern affairs, for his special ability to express Tlingit values and cultural concepts through stories and discourse, and as a beloved Elder.
This recording is from the Tlingit Oral Histories, Oratory and Events Recordings Collection from Sealaska Heritage Institute's archives. This recording was placed online as part of an Institute of Museum & Library Services grant.

Thursday, August 8, 2013


Alaska Native ethnographic collection to be displayed, explained

“Copper Totem” by Preston Singletary will be featured at the viewing. Photo by Russell Johnson. For high resolution image contact Kathy Dye, kathy.dye@sealaska.com; 907.586.9189Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will sponsor a public viewing during the Santa Fe Indian Market in its continuing effort to familiarize collectors with Northwest Coast art—some of the most distinctive and unique art in the world.

The event will include a display of the institute’s ethnographic collection and staff will be on hand to explain the pieces’ significance to Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures—especially why some objects are considered sacred.

“We have great ethnographic collections and we’re just going to be selecting a few pieces,” said SHI President Rosita Worl. “Some of them have sacred dimensions to them and we want to explain to the people that ‘Yes, we do have art but it has this cultural meaning as well.’ ”

The event is scheduled 2-4 pm, Thursday, Aug. 15, at the Gallery Room of the Eldorado Hotel located at 309 W. San Francisco St. near the market. The event is free. Shortly after the public viewing, SHI will hold a private reception, which will be co-hosted by the renowned Tlingit glass artist Preston Singletary.

This is the third year SHI has brought Alaska Native art and culture to the market, though the institute will not sponsor a dance group and artist tables this year due to a lack of funds. SHI is sponsoring an event on a smaller scale to maintain a connection with the market’s collectors, Worl said.

“We felt it was really important to go to Santa Fe to maintain continuity and to have a presence in the center of Native American art that attracts people who love and prize Native art,” said Worl, noting the viewing will include old and contemporary pieces.

The institute is trying to create an annual art market on a similar scale in Juneau, Alaska, where SHI is located, and staff will continue to learn how the Santa Fe market operates on this trip. SHI also is sponsoring its first art auction in February, and staff has been preparing by observing the Santa Fe art auction held during the market. SHI’s Tináa Art Auction will be held in Juneau and include pieces by some of the biggest names in Northwest Coast art. In addition, SHI sells Northwest Coast art through its store, Jinéit, and proceeds fund the institute’s educational programs for Native people and the general public.

The Santa Fe Indian Market over the past 90 years has been instrumental in creating worldwide demand for Southwest Indian art. The two-day market, scheduled Aug. 17-18, is operated by the nonprofit Southwestern Association for Indian Arts (SWAIA), which invited SHI to participate. The market draws nearly 100,000 patrons.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private, nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.

Parnell's board reappointments include Juneau's Zachary Jones and Ben Brown


On July 1, Gov. Sean Parnell announced appointments to five state boards. Two local men, Zachary Jones and Ben Brown, were on his list of reappointments.
Jones was reappointed to the State Historical Records Advisory Board. He is the archivist and collections manager for the Sealaska Heritage Institute and an adjunct instructor of history at the University of Alaska Southeast. Before coming to Alaska, he worked in the Rare Books and Manuscripts Department at the Swem Library, College of William & Mary in Virginia. He holds a master’s degree in comparative history from the College of William & Mary, received a certificate
of advanced studies in archives and records administration from the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, and is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in Native American history from the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Jones has been reappointed to a seat representing Native American record-keeping.
Also reappointed was Fairbanks resident Dennis Moser, head of Alaska and Polar Regions Collections and Archives at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Elmer Rasmuson Library. He has been reappointed as a representative of UAF.
The State Historical Records Advisory Board reviews project requests, grant applications and conducts reviews and planning for statewide needs relating to records management and historical documents.
Juneau resident Brown was reappointed to the Alaska State Council on the Arts. Brown, a company member at Perseverance Theatre, is an attorney and member of the Alaska Commercial Fisheries Entry Commission. He previously worked with Baxter, Bruce & Sullivan, and currently serves on the board of directors for the National Assembly of State Art Agencies and on the board of Alaska Public Media. He has been reappointed to a public seat.
Also reppointed were Aryne Randall of Wasilla, and Kesler Woodward of Fairbanks.
Randall is a district manager for Wells Fargo Bank, and Woodward is an academic affiliate at the University of Alaska Museum and a professor emeritus of art and northern studies at UAF. Woodward, who formerly worked at the Alaska State Museum, was awarded the first-ever Alaska Governor’s Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts.
The mission of the Alaska State Council on the Arts is to enrich the cultural life of the state by encouraging and supporting excellence in the arts, provide opportunities for every Alaskan to experience the arts, promote the practice and enjoyment of the arts in Alaska, and guide the development of the arts throughout the state.
In addition to the State Historical Records Advisory Board and Alaska State Council on the Arts, Gov. Parnell announced appointments to the Alaska Police Standards Council, Local Boundary Commission and Prince William Sound Oil Spill Recovery Institute Advisory Board.
For more, visit gov.alaska.gov/parnell/press-room.html

Monday, June 17, 2013

SHI 2013 Visiting Scholar to research sustainable eco-tourism businesses

SHI welcomes our 2013 Visiting Scholar, Paphaphit Wanasuk of Oxford University, who is studying toward an MSc in Environmental Change and Management. She is conducting research for her master dissertation project, entitled “Can sustainable eco-tourism businesses be realized through local social entrepreneurship in Alaska Native communities, and if so how?” The goal of this research is to assess if a pathway to the sustainable eco-tourism businesses through social entrepreneurship approach can be achieved in Alaska. The theory of sustainability will be used to develop sustainable eco-tourism business practices in which she plans to extend the interpretation of sustainability concept with a bioregional and cultural perspective. Furthermore, she is also interested in researching the collaborative, networked social enterprise initiatives among tribes, corporations and local businesses to achieve optimal benefits from indigenous tourism in the region to enhance the sustainability and cultural diversity values. (Abstract) (Letter of Invitation)

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Archival recording of Tlingit peace ceremony recorded in 1980 at Haines, Alaska posted online.

SHI has posted online an archival recording of a peace ceremony recorded in August of 1980 in Haines, Alaska. On that day, Austin Hammond (Gunx̱aa G̱uwakaan, Daanawáaḵ), clan leader of the Lukaax̱.ádi, gathered together the Tlingit and non-Native community to protest the mistreatment of the land and people of his ancestral homeland of Lḵoot, Haines, and to lead a G̱uwakaan Ḵoo.éex’, a Peace Ceremony. According to the film Haa Shagóon (Kawakey, 1981), Austin requested that “the peace rock, or ‘Deer Rock,’ G̱uwakaan Teiyí, broken into pieces by road builders, be made whole; that the fish weir be removed; that our sacred burial grounds be protected so never again will the bones of our ancestors lay scattered and disturbed; and we ask that we may lawfully catch salmon for our subsistence in this river, a heritage denied to us that is rightfully ours." The audio recording can be heard by clicking here.

This recording, which provides spoken Tlingit language content, followed by an English translation, is made available for study and research purposes, and especially for Tlingit language learners and teachers.

This recording and photograph was donated to SHI by Nora Marks Dauenhauer and Richard Dauenhauer.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private, nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.

This project was made possible through a grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Tlingit Saanyá Khwáan elders Bessie and Henry Denny speak on Tlingit history, 1966.

Sealaska Heritage Institute has just posted a recording of Tlingit elder Bessie Denny (1870–1973) telling stories in the Tlingit language with her son Henry Denny Jr. (1902-1979, Tlingit names Asdax̱aay, Gitx̱wán, and G̱ashéiḵsh IV) translating into English, recorded at Saxman, Alaska, February, 1966. (click here to hear the recording) This was a recording prepared for public use by and at the Alaska Native Brotherhood Grand Camp Convention in 1966. Bessie tells the history of the Saanyá Kwáan, the people of Cape Fox, which comprises the Neix.ádi, Kiks.ádi and the Teikweidí clans. She tells of the migration routes, place names and acquisition of crests. The stories are significant for the storytelling and capable translation of two master storytellers of the Cape Fox area in Bessie and Henry Denny; for an example the deep history of traditional Tlingit people’s connection to a place, where there is history and life in everything; and for an early recording of a master storyteller and historian in Bessie Denny.

The most well-documented Tlingit speakers were born from the 1890s and after. The texts transcribed and translated by the ethnographer John Swanton in Tlingit Myths and Texts (1909) represent part of the small handful of documentation from Tlingit speakers born earlier than the 1890s, and the oldest speaker from the modern era includes texts from Sally Hopkins (Sx̱aastí) documented in Anóoshi Lingít Aaní Ká: Russians in Tlingit America (2008, Dauenhauer), who was born in 1878. 

The recording presented here represents an earlier dialect than much of the extant documentation of Tlingit Elders. It is a rare recording from the older generation of Tlingit speakers, told in masterful detail and with brilliant visual acuity by Bessie Denny, and expertly translated by her son Henry. This recording was also selected especially for use by Tlingit language learners and teachers.

This recording was donated to SHI by Bessie Denny’s great grandson, Bruce Kelley.

This recording was made available online from a grant project supported by the Institute of Museum & Library Services (IMLS).

Photo credit: Images of Henry and Bessie Denny. Courtesy donor Bruce Kelley, now in SHI’s archival photograph collection.

Tlingit artist Nathan Jackson speaks on Northwest Coast art, 1974.

Sealaska Heritage Institute has recently made publicly available a documentary produced in 1974 on Tlingit artist Nathan Jackson, as he was commissioned to carve a wall screen for Harvard University's Peabody Museum. Narrated by SHI President Rosita Worl, the documentary showcases aspects of Northwest Coast art from the perspective of master artist Nathan Jackson. This video is from the Rosita Worl Collection, and can be accessed by clicking here.

Photo credit: Nathan Jackson reviewing Tlingit art objects at the British Museum, photograph by Zachary R. Jones.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Assignment Alaska--Tlingit Language Lessons

By Eric Sowl

Let’s learn language is a ten-part series of Tlingit language lessons. “They are some of the earliest video production language learning tools among the Tlingit,” said SHI Archivist Zachary Jones. The whimsical looking lessons were produced in 1969 by the Juneau Indian Studies Program.“They are teaching the greetings, it teaches colors, numbers and there’s lots of repetition in there and we know that we all learn language by hearing it first,” said SHI Education Specialist Linda Belarde. “You can hear the rhythm and you can hear the tones and you can hear how words are put together.” Simple lessons by very plain puppets but just as valid today as they were over 40 years ago. “They’re a great resource whether the student is a young child or perhaps a university student,” Jones said…(more) (Let’s Learn Language)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tlingit Language from the Archives of Sealaska Heritage Institute

The Sealaska Heritage Institute has approximately 5,000 recordings that concern the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian people, which are open to the public for research and educational purposes. Recently the Sealaska Heritage Institute partnered with the Alaska State Library’s Historical Collections Department to migrate ten rare format Tlingit language recordings (on Videotronic Super 8 Cartridges) to modern and digital format. These language recordings were originally developed in 1969 through the Juneau Indian Studies Program and consist of ten Tlingit language lessons and use of hand puppets to narrate the language lessons. The Tlingit speakers are Johnny Marks (1943-2009) and Eva Marks (1952-1981). These recordings have now been placed online and can be used for language education.

The first recording from this set of language lessons, Lesson 1: What’s Your Name?, can be viewed by clicking here. (The remaining lessons are available through the link.) These recordings are just a sample of those found in the Sealaska Heritage Institute’s archival Juneau Indian Studies Recordings Collection, as well as the overall collections of the Institute.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private, nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.

Photo credit: Photograph of Johnny Marks, photo by Richard Dauenhauer.

Note: Copyright permission to use these films by Sealaska Heritage Institute was granted by the Belo Corporation, owner of the former King Broadcasting Company, in 2012.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Historic Ketchikan Photograph

Today Sealaska Heritage Institute Board of Trustee Chairperson Marlene Johnson generously donated a historic photograph to Sealaska Heritage Institute’s archival collection. The photograph, previously held by Johnson’s late mother, captures a funeral scene in Ketchikan, undated. Photographer text on the bottom right-hand corner reads “Indian funeral.” In effort to document the photograph more fully, Sealaska Heritage Institute would welcome any community knowledge about this photograph, including the individuals present and the clan regalia shown in the image (such the clan hat).

Note: Edward Marsden (1869-1932) is identified as standing directly behind the top coffin, and on the right (wearing glasses, with mustache). 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Wallace donates recordings to SHI

Today Brian Wallace donated five reel recordings to our Institute, originally recorded in the 1960s by his late father Amos Wallace. Brian has been placing his father’s historic papers, art, and recordings in our collection to use for educational purposes. Gunalchéesh, Brian!

Monday, March 18, 2013

New Zealand Fulbright Scholar Visits SHI

SHI welcomes Eruera Tarena of New Zealand. Eruera is visiting on a Fulbright scholarship to study and better understand how Sealaska Corporation and SHI operates. He is studying how his own indigenous community’s Corporation (implemented with a New Zealand land claims settlement legislation circa 1998) functions and what other indigenous groups with similar situations have done to implement cultural values within a Western imposed corporate structure.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Welcome to a volunteer

Jaleen Herron of Bethel, History emphasis undergraduate from Gonzaga University, is visiting SHI this week to volunteer and research with the Archives Department. Welcome, Jalene!

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Anti-Discrimination Act

Today many Alaskans are aware of Tlingit woman Elizabeth Peratrovich (1911-1958) and the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945, Alaska's legislation that made it illegal to discriminate on the basis of race. February 16 is a state holiday, Elizabeth Peratrovich Day, in her honor and for her work toward the Anti-Discrimination Act. It's an important day and event to remember, along with the work of many individuals of and before her day across the state, and especially those of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood, that worked toward the legislation that was eventually passed as the Anti-Discrimination Act.

In 1988 Elizabeth Peratrovich's widower Roy Peratrovich spoke at length about his life, their work toward the Anti-Discrimination Act, and aspects of Alaska Native life. In 2011 this interview, found in SHI's archival collections, was transcribed by Ishmael Hope and placed online for educational purposes. This interview gives context and first hand information on these important events of the past. This four-part interview can be read by clicking here, with Part II, containing specific language about the Anti-Discrimination Act of 1945. A special thanks to Ishmael Hope for placing this online, furthering education, and sharing with SHI.

Elizabeth Peratrovich's high school yearbook photograph.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School visits Sealaska Heritage Institute

Today SHI welcomed nearly 60 teachers and staff from Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School as part of the school’s place-based, culturally relevant in-service day. This is one of several public programs SHI offers to educators and others interested in Native culture. Staff gave tours of Sealaska Plaza and SHI’s archives and an overview of our free online educational resources. 

In this photo, SHI Archivist & Collection Manager Zachary Jones shows teachers materials from SHI’s collections that document the history of Indian education in Southeast Alaska, from the historic boarding school experience to more recent Self-Determination educational reform actions by the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian. To learn more about SHI’s collections see