Tlingit clan conference convenes in Juneau

Sharing Our Knowledge: A Conference of Tlingit Tribes and Clans” starts Thursday at 8:30 a.m. at Centennial Hall in Juneau. About 400 people are expected to attend.

The clan conference is a gathering of elders and academics, tradition bearers and students. The concept of the event, which started in 1993, came from the late Tlingit scholar Andrew Hope III.

Download Audio

Della Cheney and Percy Kunz at the 2013 Conference of Tlingit Tribes & Clans. (Photo courtesy Peter Metcalfe)
Della Cheney and Percy Kunz at the 2013 Conference of Tlingit Tribes & Clans. (Photo courtesy Peter Metcalfe)

“In many ways there was a power imbalance where our stories were being told, our culture was being talked about, our people were being talked about, and the people had very little control over that. They had very little way to exercise their voice and to share who they really are. And so it was the idea that we come together as equals,” Hope’s son, Ishmael Hope, said.

The first clan conference was in Haines and Klukwan and the event continued taking place around Southeast Alaska through 1997. It was revived in 2007 and now takes place every two years.

Hope is looking forward to hearing from the elders.

“Our elders have a vast library of knowledge, things to share, and we still have our elders. Sometimes people talk so much about cultural loss, how much is not there, but I think it’s a gift with the elders that we have, and what they’ll present,” Hope said.

Alan Zuboff presents on clan protocol at the 2013 Conference of Tlingit Tribes & Clans. (Photo courtesy Peter Metcalfe)
Alan Zuboff presents on clan protocol at the 2013 Conference of Tlingit Tribes & Clans. (Photo courtesy Peter Metcalfe)

The clan conference includes three days of presentations and seminars. The roughly 40 sessions range in topics from art to ecology. Plenary sessions take place Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings.

“The conference theme – Haa Saax’ú, Haa Latseení, Our Names, Our Strength – that theme will be illuminated by Norma Shorty who’ll be talking about finding our names. Friday morning, Tom Thornton and Harold Martin will be talking about place names. And Saturday morning, there will be an author’s panel,” said linguist Alice Taff, one of the event organizers.

The conference’s all-day events include a weaving exhibit, a Native Arts market, a viewing of photos from the Cyril George collection and a chance to listen to Alaska Native educational stories through “StoryCorps @ your library.”

Beth Weigel with Juneau Public Libraries says the listening booth will feature excerpts from interviews recorded in Juneau, Haines and Klukwan. Clan conference attendees can also record their own stories alone or with a friend or family member.

“It’s a great format for passing down stories through the generations and telling people about experiences that they’ve lived and they want to share and make sure that that voice stays alive, the sound of that voice as well as the stories from that person,” said Weigel.

The clan conference will also feature special events honoring the late Walter Porter, the late Richard Dauenhauer and a reading of indigenous literature at the Governor’s Mansion.