Photo Essay: A summer of learning and culture
Youth from across Southeast Alaska and beyond participate in SHI's summer programs
This summer provided many opportunities for our youth in the region. Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) held five camps aimed at providing cultural activities for youth of all ages throughout Southeast Alaska.
Students in SHI’s camps are able to meet others and make friends who come from a variety of communities in Southeast Alaska, as well as Anchorage, Seattle, and even California. They receive hands-on training in Native art practices and learn more about core cultural values such as Haa Latseen – strength of body, mind, and spirit. The knowledge students gain in these camps then makes its way back to their home towns, making students and their communities stronger while having fun in the process.
Opening the Box: Math and Culture Academy – June 17-25
SHI’s culture-based camp, Opening the Box, used Native art practices such as basketry, weaving, and canoe-making to translate existing cultural knowledge into learning math. This year, 47 middle school students participated in the camp. Of those students, 21 came from communities outside of Juneau, including Angoon, Hoonah, Hydaburg, Craig, Yakutat, and Klawock.
Opening the Box also provided opportunities for students they would not otherwise have had through travel, food, and housing scholarships. Scholarships were available for all participants in the camp.
Tne parent of a camp participant, Lillian Woodbury, told SHI staff member Nancy Barnes she was grateful kids such as hers have the opportunity to attend cultural camps like this. She did not have that opportunity growing up and her daughter gained a lot through the camp.
“Not only are they merging math with culture,” said Woodbury, “they are grooming young leaders for our people. Friendships are forged that last a lifetime.”
Students created their own paddles, sanding the rough edges of the wood until they were smooth.
Many of the students did not know anything about creating Northwest Coast art or dancing prior to the camp, according to Barnes.
By the end of the camp, students danced for the closing ceremony wearing cedar bracelets they created with weavers Della Cheney and Pam Credo-Hayes, carrying the paddles they made with Ronnie Fairbanks, and singing songs.
“You could just see the pride in those kids. It was an emotional thing,” Barnes said.
Latseen Northwest Coast Art and Leadership Academy – July 5-16
SHI’s next camp of the summer was the Latseen Northwest Coast Art and Leadership Academy. Through this camp, Alaska Native high school students took part in culturally-based education and leadership training in order to be successful in their future academic and personal endeavors.
A total of 36 students attended this camp from many communities, including Angoon, Craig, Juneau, Klawock, Metlakatla, Sitka, Yakutat, Anchorage, Fairbanks, Washington, and California.
The 12-day camp included college preparatory classes, studio art sessions, and other activities. Tlingit and Haida weaver Deborah Head taught the basics of Northwest Coast basket design, Alison Marks taught Northwest Coast formline design, Ronnie Fairbanks led a Northwest Coast carving workshop, and Native Youth Olympics coach Kyle Worl presented various NYO activities.
During the camp, students visited SHI’s vault, where they viewed recent donations of a collection of baskets and a Chilkat robe.
Additionally, SHI President Rosita Worl and Sealaska Board Chair Joe Nelson spoke about leadership to the students in SHI’s clan house.
Nelson encouraged the students to consider career decisions that would serve their communities, such as getting their Ph.D.s or studying traditional art forms and the ways those art forms connect to cultural values. He also reminded them to bring others along as they move forward.
“You are not alone in anything you do,” he said, touching upon the cultural value of Haa Shuká – honoring past, present, and future generations in one’s actions.
“My favorite part of camp was seeing my art in all four classes progress as the week went on and feeling like part of a group, even though all the campers came from different places, when we sang and danced,” said one student in the camp.
The last day of camp, the students and their families celebrated with a banquet. Showcasing their new knowledge, students performed songs and dances learned during the camp and wore the painted leather aprons they created with instructor Alison Marks.
“This whole camp I am sure has been life-changing [for my daughter],” said parent Susan Patrick, “from thinking about life in her roommates' village to seeing Alaska to persevering and meeting new people to being back in the place her parents and grandparents lived.”
Gumboot Camp – July 16-20 in Hoonah and July 23-27 in Juneau
As a part of SHI’s Baby Raven Reads program, Gumboot Camp prepared Alaska Native children ages 4 and 5 for kindergarten through culture and place-based learning and by providing an introduction to the school environment.
SHI partnered with Huna Heritage Foundation to hold Gumboot Camp in Hoonah. The Juneau camp was held the week after the Hoonah camp. Both camps used hands-on activities to promote a love of learning through culture and community.
Kids learned about the anatomy of salmon as one of their camp instructors dissected the fish for them.
Using their plastic prongs, kids picked up fish eggs, eyeballs, fins, gills, and more. Before the salmon was dissected it was used to create salmon prints.
Each day a story was read or told to the children. In Juneau, Alison Marks read SHI’s Baby Raven Reads book Shanyáak'utlaax: Salmon Boy in Lingít.
In addition to learning about salmon, the kids learned about boat safety. To step onto the wooden boat they had to wear life jackets. Once on the boat, kids tried fishing for salmon with mock fishing poles.
For the closing ceremony, the groups of 4- and 5-year-olds performed songs for their parents with guidance from a camp instructor. Afterwards, each participant received a certificate for their participation and a backpack with supplies to be used in kindergarten.
Latseen Hoop Camp – July 31-August 3
SHI’s summer camps concluded with its annual Latseen Hoop Camp, a free program for students in Juneau entering grades 6-12, funded partly through the City and Borough of Juneau. The camp combined teaching basketball skills with the four core cultural values.
Students received coaching from AAU/NCAA certified coach Bob Saviers, who was also a former coach at Dzantik’i Heeni and Floyd Dryden middle schools. Saviers is one of the originators and current coach of Hoop Time in Juneau, which offers student athletes the opportunity to play basketball in a competitive yet supportive environment.
Former professional basketball player Damen Bell-Holter visited the camp, sharing his words of wisdom and experience. Bell-Holter, a Haida Eagle of the Kaachaa Dii clan, grew up in Hydaburg and eventually went on to play Division One college basketball and professionally in the United States and Europe.
Through his work as Sealaska’s Director of Community and Youth Programming and partnership with organizations such as SHI, Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium, and Tlingit and Haida, Bell-Holter now works on giving back to his community.
One component of the camp incorporated learning Tlingit through an interactive workshop taught by Ricardo Worl, Jr. The students in this camp were not all Tlingit, but through teaching Tlingit and cultural values, understanding between cultures was fostered among students.
Rosita Worl visited the students at the camp, offering words of encouragement for their future.
To promote a healthy body, mind, and spirit, Hoop Camp is an outlet for students to have an active lifestyle and build community using basketball, a central sport in many communities in Alaska.
Gunalchéesh, Háw’aa, T’oya̱xsn. Thank you. We are grateful for all who participated in our camps over the summer. To help perpetuate Southeast Alaska Native cultures, we hold these camps as a way for youth to learn about their culture and be successful in school and beyond.
Good luck in the upcoming school year and look for the signups for our camps next summer.
Written by Sealaska intern Lyndsey Brollini. Photos by Lyndsey Brollini and Nobu Koch.