Sealaska Heritage

NEWS_SHI to sponsor lecture on historical significance of alpine cairns in Southeast Alaska

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Free event to be offered virtually

Jan. 22, 2021

(About the Lecturer) (Flyer)

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) will sponsor a free lecture this Tuesday on the historical significance of alpine cairns in the region.

The lecture, Alpine Cairns and Social and Environmental Change in Southeast Alaska, will be given by Dr. Thomas Thornton, dean of arts and sciences and vice-provost of Research and Sponsored Programs at the University of Alaska Southeast and affiliate professor at Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute.

Alpine cairns (Tlingit, xóowx’) — rock piles and stone nests — can be found throughout Southeast Alaska. Until recently, archaeology has had little to say about them. In 2013, a pilot study was carried out on a number of these formations at the 2000+ foot elevation level near Sitka. As part of the study, Dr. Thornton conducted oral history interviews in Sitka, Angoon and other communities and archival research on the cultural significance of alpine cairns in the region.

“My presentation will focus on the results of the oral history in relation to other sources of evidence concerning glaciation, flooding and alpine stacked rock features in the region, which have become touchstones of Indigenous history, adaptation and resilience,” Dr. Thornton wrote.

The talk, which is scheduled at noon on Tuesday, Jan. 26, is part of a lecture series this month that explores the origins and earliest presence of Indigenous populations and cultures in Southeast Alaska from traditional knowledge and various scientific perspectives.

All lectures will be livestreamed at 12 pm Alaska time on SHI’s YouTube channel, and available for viewing on YouTube any time after the livestream (no account required).

This program is provided under the Preparing Indigenous Teachers and Administrators for Alaska Schools (PITAAS) program and funded by the Alaska Native Education Program. The series is also offered as a one-credit course through the University of Alaska Southeast. Contact for more information. 

About the Lecturer

Thomas F. Thornton is dean of arts and sciences and vice- provost for Research and Sponsored Programs at the University of Alaska Southeast and interim co-director of the Alaska Coastal Rainforest Center. His research interests include Indigenous and local knowledge systems and human environmental interactions, the political ecology of sustainable development and resource stewardship in complex social-ecological systems, and human adaptation to environmental change in the North Pacific, especially Southeast Alaska. He has collaborated on a number of publications with SHI, including the landmark book Haa Léelk’w Hás Aaní Saax’ú: Our Grandparents’ Names on the Land, which documented more than 3,000 Indigenous place names and their locations in Southeast Alaska.

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: Amy Fletcher, SHI Media and Publications Director, 907.586.9116,