Native American Heritage Month lectures, films begin

November is Native American Hertiage Month, and as in previous years, Sealaska Heritage Institute will sponsor a lecture series, and the University of Alaska Southeast will host a film series. The lecture series will be offered on Tuesdays from noon to 1 p.m. and the films will be shown Wednesday evenings at 7 p.m. Read on for details.


Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Native American Heritage Month Lecture Series

This year’s brown-bag lunch series will focus on spirituality, said SHI President Rosita Worl. Native spirituality is a topic that has come up in issues dealing with repatriation and other areas. SHI’s Council of Traditional Scholars has wrestled with how to bring the knowledge of shamanism into the modern world and to correct the many misconceptions about shamanism. Also, an Alaska court recently heard testimony on Yup’ik fishing and spirituality, said Worl, adding the timing for this discussion seemed appropriate.

“As a society, we still have a lot to learn about Native religion, Native spirituality. We’re hopeful that our lecture series is going to offer an insight into Native spirituality and Native religion,” said Worl, who also will give one of the lectures.

The lectures are sponsored by ConocoPhillips Alaska and will be held from 12-1 p.m. in the 4th floor boardroom at Sealaska Plaza in Juneau. Attendees are invited to bring their own lunches. The talks also will be videotaped and posted online.

Tuesday, Nov. 5: “Spiritual Connections and Obligations: The Foundation of Tlingit Existence” with Steve J. Langdon, Professor of Anthropology, University of Alaska Anchorage

The Tlingit cosmos is filled with spiritual presence, essences and powers that exist both within and beyond direct experience. Tlingit life is fundamentally relational in that interactions with others establish the basis for existence and welfare. All spiritual forms are attentive, sentient, and volitional and positive relations with them are essential. These necessary relations must be based on respect, and violation of the principle of respect can threaten existence at many levels. It is through the continuous circulation of respect – in thought and deed – exhibited in connections and fulfillment of obligations in various socially and ritually prescribed ways that Tlingit pursue a morality that will insure the continuity of existence. The Tlingit cosmos is founded on the principle of relational sustainability – through appropriate respectful relations, the continuity of existence is maintained.

Tuesday, Nov. 12: Reclaiming Traditional Spirituality with Jana Harcharek, director, Iñupiaq Education Department at North Slope Borough School District

Nuances associated with traditional spirituality continue to be oppressed as a result of Christian influences. In this presentation, Pausauraq Jana Harcharek will speak about efforts to effect change to make the discussion of traditional “religion” acceptable for purposes of setting the stage for the reclamation of traditional spirituality more widespread in the Iñupiaq region.

Monday, Nov. 18: “Tlingit Spirituality and Shamanism in the 21st Century” with Dr. Rosita Worl, president, Sealaska Heritage Institute

Although the Tlingit no longer have shamans, their traditional spiritual ideologies remain vibrant. This discussion will review the traditional practices of shamans and focus on Tlingit spirituality and its manifestation in cultural objects including shamanic paraphernalia. It will also assess the exchanges between the natural and supernatural as they continue to occur in the round of ceremonies which are held primarily in the Fall season and in memorial rites held throughout the year.

Tuesday, Nov. 19: “The Great Blessing of the Water: Salmon and Indigenized Orthodoxy on the Nushagak River” with Alan Boraas, professor of anthropology, Kenai Peninsula College

The Nushagak Yup’ik are among the last of the world’s salmon cultures and spirituality is fundamental to their being. One of the enduring ceremonies of the Yup’ik villages of the Nushagak River is the Great Blessing of the Water. I will describe my observations of this remarkable ceremony during my visit in 2011 and relate it to the people’s fight to maintain a modern subsistence lifestyle in the face of proposed industrial mining.

Tuesday, Nov. 26: “The Essence of Tlingit Spirituality” with David Katzeek, Tlingit, Shangukeidí Clan Leader

Ldakát át ayakghwahéiyagu khudzitee, the spirit in all things. Since time immemorial the Tlingit people have practiced their beliefs with one of the most powerful words in the Tlingit language “yáa át wooné”, respect! This leads us into the way people would live, what they would learn, how they would learn, and how they would apply what they learned. This covered a wide variety of topics, starting with learning to listen, pay attention, and be still, which is important in respecting oneself. It is important to accept one’s intelligence and become responsible for it. Learning how to learn and applying the knowledge gained is important. To respect is the primary cornerstone of the Tlingit house of education and knowledge. Without education and knowledge it is difficult to respect oneself, family, others, community, environment and all creatures great and small. This includes the water, the rivers, the ponds, the lakes, the streams, the rivers, the ocean, the seas, the trees, the animals, the rocks, the mountains, hills, and the creatures on the earth, the heavens, the sun the moon and the list goes on. This session will describe this process with songs and stories, names, and place names.


The Alaska Native Film Series began last night and runs through Dec. 4 at the University of Alaska Southeast. The film showins are free and open to the public. Short discussions will follow.

Nov. 6: “Survival Prayer”

Survival Prayer explores the power of food, nature, and culture. On a remote archipelago in Western Canada, an uncommon abundance of wildlife has sustained the Haida people for countless generations. Naanii Mary Swanson, a Haida speaker, frames this portrait of age-old traditions at risk. Against the spectacular scenery of the North Pacific coastline, her ancient words set the tone for detailed views of modern life, in which the labor of survival — cutting seaweed fronds, pulling salmon from nets, plucking young spruce tips — speaks to timeless rhythms that still retain strands of sacred ritual.

Nov. 13: “We Were Children”

The shocking true story of two First Nations children who were each sent to faraway schools that separated them from their families and traditional land. These children endured brutality, physical hardship, mental degradation, and the complete erasure of their culture. For over 130 years until 1996, more than 100,000 of Canada’s First Nations children were legally required to attend government- funded schools run by various Christian faiths. These schools were established with the express purpose “To kill the Indian in the child.”

Nov. 20: “People of a Feather / Last Days of Shishmaref”

Shishmaref is a community of about 600 people, located on an island just off the west coast of Alaska, and effects of global warming threaten their entire community. The Last Days of Shishmaref is a moving film about identity, mortality, place, and the clash between different eras and cultures.

People of a Feather takes you into the world of the Inuit on the Belcher Islands in Canada’s Hudson Bay and their relationship with the eider duck. Traditional life is juxtaposed with modern challenges as both Inuit and eiders confront changing sea ice and ocean currents disrupted by the massive hydroelectric dams powering New York and eastern North America.

Dec. 4: “Skins”

An inspirational tale about the relationship between two Sioux Indian brothers living on an Indian reservation. Skins is a 2002 feature film by Chris Eyre and based upon the novel of the same name by Adrian C. Louis. Lakota Sioux tribal police officer Rudy Yellow Lodge (Eric Schweig) struggles to rescue his older, alcoholic brother, Mogie (Graham Greene), a former football star who was wounded in combat three times in Vietnam.


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