GATHERING OF CULTURES – Dorothy Gordon holds year-old Marilyn De La Torre as they perform an entrance song Thursday at the B.J McGillis Gym during the annual Gathering of Cultures. A Tlingit dance group made up of several Sitka Tlingit dance groups opened the gathering. Mt. Edgecumbe High School’s student dance groups representing cultural groups from five regions of Alaska also performed. (Sentinel Photo by James Poulson)

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Daily Sitka Sentinel

Students Take Notes On Ecological Knowledge


Sentinel Staff Writer

A small group of juniors and seniors at Sitka High is learning about climate change this semester, in a class that focuses on traditional and Indigenous methods.

The Traditional Ecological Knowledge class, taught by Caitlin Woolsey, allows students to study the topic with an eye for local knowledge and ideas.

“It’s a science elective focused on non-western ways of knowing about science,” Woolsey told the Sentinel. “It’s funded by the Sealaska Heritage Institute, in Juneau. They have a grant dedicated to STEAM education – science, technology, engineering, arts and math. .... In western culture we divide all those things up and teach them in separate subjects. But in a lot of non-western cultures, all of those themes about knowing about the world are integrated into activities and ways of being with the land.”

Formerly a teacher at Blatchley Middle School, Woolsey now teaches STEAM at Sitka High.

A STEAM curriculum includes the arts in order to understand scientific or mathematical concepts otherwise included in a Science, Technology, Engineering and Math - or STEM - curriculum.

At the moment, the class of roughly a dozen upperclassmen is learning to integrate local knowledge into scientific study.

“Our essential question for this unit is how do we address climate change with local and Indigenous knowledge here in Sitka? And something that I’ve learned as I’ve gone through my education with earth systems and science education is that in a lot of places, and in Alaska, obviously, we’re feeling the effects of climate change,” she said. “And in the past, Western science hasn’t really acknowledged the value of local perspectives and the knowledge held by people who live with the land… (But) people who’ve lived here for generations can actually track these changes and know more than we do about climate change in their area. And so that’s one of the focuses in this unit.”

The class has taught junior Sunny McClenahan how rapidly the effects of climate change have become evident.

“Some important things that we’re learning in the class and this specific section… (are) the effect of climate change and how much humans can contribute or add to climate change, and how significantly we’re doing it in such a short span of time. That can affect everything,” McClenahan said after class last week.

Quinton Newsome, also a junior, said they’re learning about local history as well as climate change.

“We’re learning a lot about Tlingit history, and I see with the climate change unit how all of this kind of correlates and comes together,” Newsome said. “I feel like another important thing that we’re learning is ways to prevent it.”

Unlike most classes, the Traditional Ecological Knowledge includes groups from the community at large. Last week, the class included two lessons facilitated by Emily Pound, Community Sustainability Organizer at the Sitka Conservation Society.

Pound led the students in a discussion on how public policy is made in relation to the Tongass National Forest, specifically in regards to the 2001 Roadless Rule.

“I hope that they feel as though they are empowered, that by engaging in the public process, environmental advocacy is accessible,” Pound told the Sentinel after Wednesday’s class. “I think a lot of kids feel intimidated by it and feel like it’s not for them or that they don’t have power. I just really hope to amplify their voice and empower them.”

The students also heard from a number of former Sitka Conservation Society interns from Mt. Edgecumbe High School, including Mia Anderson and Lauryn Nanouk-Jones, as well as current intern and MEHS senior Ashley Rexford.

“The Conservation Society, through our youth development work, hopes to connect young people with opportunities as well as empower their voices so that they know that they can engage in the process,” Pound said.

Newsome described the prospect of engaging in the policy process as “scary. I don’t feel like we talk about that stuff enough.”

Along with SCS, Woolsey said the class has included input from Sitka Tribe of Alaska and the Sitka Native Education Program.

“We’ve covered why climate change is happening, how it’s different today than in the past. Because obviously, we have oral history about past climate change in Southeast Alaska when the Tlingit people first arrived and the inner channels like Chatham Strait were full of ice. And that was a totally different climate,” the teacher said.

Aspects of the class that link science with policy, she added, are an important part of the curriculum.

“What can we do about it? We actually have all the technology, all the knowledge needed to stop climate change today,” Woolsey said. “And that is what I really want students to walk away with understanding – that we can stop climate change. It’s not hopeless, and there’s a ton of things that they can do about it. And that’s why it was so powerful to have these other teenagers come in and share about ways that they personally have been advocating for policy changes.”

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At a Glance

(updated 9-12-2023)

By Sentinel Staff

The state Department of Health and Social Services has posted the following update on the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Alaska as of 8:57 a.m. Tuesday, September 12.

New cases as of Tuesday: 278

Total cases (cumulative) statewide – 301,513

Total (cumulative) deaths – 1,485

Case Rate per 100,000 – 38.14

To visit the Alaska DHSS Corona Response dashboard website click here.

COVID in Sitka

The Sitka community level is now "Low.'' Case statistics are as of Tuesday.

Case Rate/100,000 – 152.50

Cases in last 7 days – 13

Cumulative Sitka cases – 3,575

Deceased (cumulative) – 10

The local case data are from Alaska DHSS.






March 2004

Photo caption: Fire engines and ambulances shine in the sun outside the new fire hall Saturday during an open house. Hundreds turned out to look over the $4 million facility, which is twice the size of the building it replaced. It features a state-of-the-art exhaust system and much larger offices and a large training room.


March 1974

The Sheldon Jackson Museum will have a special showing of replicas of ancient Tlingit hunting weapons. The replicas were made by A. P. Johnson, a Tlingit  culture instructor and metal arts teacher at SJC.


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