Tlingit Clan Conference Focuses On Language

Clan leaders wear traditional regalia during the 2012 Clan Conference in Sitka. Photo courtesy of Peter Metcalfe.
Clan leaders wear traditional regalia during the 2012 Clan Conference in Sitka. Photo courtesy of Peter Metcalfe.

Scholars and culture-bearers gather in Juneau this week for a clan conference focusing on Tlingit knowledge and traditions. It runs Wednesday night through Sunday morning at the capital city’s Centennial Hall.

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The event is called “Sharing Our Knowledge.” It includes dozens of workshops and presentations.

Juneau’s Peter Metcalfe is one of the organizers.

“There’s both academic presentations as well as non-academics who might be Tlingit speakers or might be artists. Otherwards, people who aren’t necessarily credentialed academically but have deep knowledge of the topic or subject and can speak knowledgably about it,” Metcalfe says.

Sessions include linguistics, archaeology, art and music, Alaska Native history, museum studies, indigenous law and traditional ecological knowledge.

The clan conference theme is “Our Language is Our Way of Life.” (Link to the conference website.)

Sitka’s Gerry Hope, the conference’s executive director, says the language is disappearing.

“And it was a concern of one of the organizing committee members that a number of elders are passing away. And we need to be able to talk to them while they’re here,” Hope says.

The theme is also evident in sessions on building a Tlingit library, regional language programs and a Tlingit spelling bee.

Hope points to sessions on gathering Tlingit phrases to use with children and bringing Tlingit into the home.

“I have a strong belief that language in the home is something that is often overlooked,” he says.

The conference charges a registration fee, with a day-pass option. Discounts are available for students and seniors. (Link to the conference’s Facebook event page.)

Metcalfe says it’s for more than just tribal members.

“The best part about it from my point of view is you can walk into or out of a workshop and you’ll feel welcome and understand what’s going on, with the exception perhaps of some of the Tlingit language workshops that are happening,” he says.

The Tlingit clan conferences began about 20 years ago under the leadership of the late Andy Hope III. After a 10-year pause, they resumed in 2007.

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Ed Schoenfeld is Regional News Director for CoastAlaska, a consortium of public radio stations in Ketchikan, Juneau, Sitka, Petersburg and Wrangell. He primarily covers Southeast Alaska regional topics, including the state ferry system, transboundary mining, the Tongass National Forest and Native corporations and issues. He has also worked as a manager, editor and reporter for the Juneau Empire newspaper and Juneau public radio station KTOO. He’s also reported for commercial station KINY in Juneau and public stations KPFA in Berkley, WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and WUHY in Philadelphia. He’s lived in Alaska since 1979 and is a contributor to Alaska Public Radio Network newscasts, the Northwest (Public Radio) News Network and National Native News. He is a board member of the Alaska Press Club. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, he lives in Douglas.