FIRST EASTER –  Eight-month-old Penelope McGill sits on the Easter Bunny's lap during the annual U.S. Coast Guard Spouses' and Women's Association of Sitka's Rainy Day Bazaar Saturday. Weekend Easter events include the Community Easter Egg Hunt at Pioneer Park, hosted by Elks, Moose and Legion Halls at 1 p.m. Sunday. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

Clans Give Views On Events of 1867

Sentinel Staff Writer
    The “Sharing Our Knowledge” Conference of Tlingit Tribes and Clans wrapped up today after a weekend that focused on the theme “Our History, We Are Healing Ourselves.”
     More than 200 people attended the Conference. Events ranged from dozens of workshops and presentations at the Sitka Fine Arts Campus to a ceremony in downtown Sitka on Sunday that commemorated the loss of Tlingit land in 1867.
    The event’s timing before Alaska Day was no coincidence. Conference Executive Director Gerry Hope said that for the past 20 years he has wanted to organize a Tlingit gathering that coincided with Alaska Day.
    The idea first occurred to Hope when he became president of the Alaska Native Brotherhood Camp No. 1 in 1999. 
    “Within the Native community, I heard pain, frustration, and anger.” Hope remembers some neighbors talking about Alaska Day: “‘Why should we be in the parade? What are we celebrating?’”
    “There’s an underlying truth about having land, language, culture, resources, and food severely restricted and we’re left with—what?” Hope said. “We need to at least start that discussion.”
    Some of that discussion began publicly on Sunday, when members of the Kiks.ádi clan gathered at the foot of Castle Hill, called Noow Tlein in Tlingit. Prior to Russian arrival, it was the site of Kiks.ádi clan houses.
    Dionne Brady-Howard led a group of about ten in a sorrow song and a discussion about the hill’s significance. One singer carried the bronze peace hat given by the Russian American Company, and Gerry Hope carried a clan hat from his mother’s Sik’nax.adi clan as a symbol of support.
    Dionne Brady-Howard said this was the first time they had marked the Treaty of Cession with a Tlingit ceremony. She acknowledged that some Sitkans with Tlingit heritage regularly join the Alaska Day festivities.
    “Not to detract from that, but we are basically celebrating when we lost our land.”
    Brady-Howard said this is also the first year that the Alaska Day organizing committee sought to incorporate Tlingit perspectives. The committee invited her and others to participate on Wednesday, but Brady-Howard says she’s not sure whether to accept.
    “I can see why the people who received this vast land would celebrate it,” she said. “But for us, it marks the selling of our land. It’s something we go through every year.”
    The theme of healing - and renewal - permeated the conference throughout the five days since it started on Friday. At a workshop on languages, participants said much of their healing has come from learning and teaching Native languages.
    Alfie Price shared his experience of gathering Sm’algyax (Tsimshian) learners in Juneau.
    “I never intended to be a language guy. I’m a bookworm. I thought I was going to be rocking out and playing video games”, he laughed.
    But instead, at age 48 he decided to relearn the language he had heard growing up in Metlakatla. There are only six fluent speakers of Sm’algyax in the world. Price also attends Haida and Tlingit classes.
    “Our language informs our worldview and teaches us how our people saw the world,” Price said. “It’s not just yet another way to say ‘Hi, how are you?’ In Sm’algyax we greet each other by saying ‘How is your name?’”
    Price started an Instagram account for his language learners’ group to document words and to recruit learners from afar. Now, people of Tsimshian descent Skype into their weekly meetings from California and North Carolina.
    Tlingit language teacher Selina Everson remembered how Sheldon Jackson High School, despite its reputation for providing a strong education, punished her family members for speaking Tlingit.
    “Deep in my heart I carry the hurt that they were trying to westernize us, after 10,000 years of civilization,” Everson said. She then congratulated her young students in the room, who have worked with her for years through the Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Mentor-Apprentice program.
    Other elders shared medicinal recipes and stories in Tlingit, which Everson’s students recorded for the conference’s archives. Recipes included spruce pitch for healing cuts and a tonic of seal grease and warm salt water to flush out stomach infections.
    A group from the Tlingit village of Teslin, in the Canadian Yukon, also attended the workshop. As the participants introduced themselves, one woman stood up and said, “It’s good to finally be here and see your faces. I feel like I’m finally home.”
    The conference ended this afternoon with a panel at Mt. Edgecumbe on Russian, American, and Alaska Native perspectives on the Treaty of Cession. Videos of the event will be shared on the conference’s website next year:

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