Returning University of Alaska Southeast students for the spring semester may note that the entrance sign has been replaced with a larger one with a key difference to the sign before: the inclusion of the Tlingit language.
The sign still says “University of Alaska Southeast” with the emblem overhead, but underneath in Lingít, it reads: Áak’w Kwáan Aani kax’.
It is a reminder that the campus rests on the ancestral territory of the Áak’w Kwáan, Chancellor Rick Caulfield told the Capital City Weekly.
“The Lingít reference on the sign is an invitation to those who live, learn, and work on our campus to learn more about the living cultures of Southeast Alaska indigenous peoples and to appreciate diversity and equity in our community,” Caulfield said. “The Áak’w name (‘little lake’) is well documented for its cultural history, for the rich subsistence resources it provides, and for the people who live in the area to this day.”
Caulfield said there have been no discussions for similar signage on the Sitka and Ketchikan campuses.
Caulfield said Vice Chancellor Joe Nelson and Assistant Professor of Alaska Native Languages Xh’unei Lance Twitchell were involved with the effort to push for the sign, for which they consulted with Tlingit elders and members of the local community. He also noted that the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Native Education has been supportive of the concept.
The sign change has been a project that has been in the works for some time; the university had to secure the funds for the project as well as the necessary legal permissions since the sign rests on what is U.S. Forest Service land, Nelson said. So far, he said, the reaction from the community has been positive.
Nelson said credit for the push goes to Twitchell.
Twitchell was unable to reached for comment on his role.
Nelson explained there are other areas at UAS where the Tlingit language and culture are integrated into the campus, such as the Tlingit names for buildings at student housing, for example, or the Raven and Eagle moeity totem poles.
Soon also, there will be the Northwest Coast Arts program, led by assistant professor of Alaska Native Studies Mique’l I. Dangeli, an action which he said “sends a strong signal” of the university’s desire for incorporating Alaska Native language and culture on campus.
Nelson, who has been with UAS since 2004, said when he first started there were no Alaska Native faculty. Now there are three, he said.
Putting an emphasis on Alaska Native heritage is written right in the university’s mission statement, Nelson said.
It says under “Diversity”: “we embody and respect the diversity of each individual’s culture, talents and abilities, and educational goals with special attention to Alaska Native heritage unique to Southeast Alaska.”
Nelson said UAS has made “a good faith effort” on the mission statement but there is still a ways to go.
• Contact reporter Clara Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.