Harborview Elementary students and families celebrated something they’ve been preparing for all school year on Monday — a khoo.éex’.
Families and students with Harborview’s Tlingit Culture Language and Literacy program, which includes 64 students, wore red shirts and Tlingit regalia while dancing and singing traditional songs and serving elders and other guests gifts and treats.
Posted along the walls of the school gym, where the celebration took place, were old photos of Alaska Natives dancing or at other events.
One of the songs the students sang was from a Tlingit man in Kake, called the Mandarin Chant. While singing and dancing, students passed out cans of mandarin oranges to guests. One of the students had called the man to ask permission to use the song.
“It’s a great way to end the school year,” said Harborview culture specialist Michelle Martin. “A khoo.éex’ is a Tlingit culture tradition. There are many types of them. Khoo.éex’ means ‘to invite.’”
Students from Gastineau Elementary’s Gastineau Tlingit Dancers were guests, along with a class from Glacier Valley Elementary, which has hosted four khoo.éex’ in the past. Mendenhall River Elementary students also were invited and Harborview Elementary’s students joined in the celebration as classroom schedules allowed.
The Tlingit Culture Language and Literacy program infuses culture with reading, writing and math.
“I’m hoping the kids learn through culture, we’re able to integrate this (event) into literacy and to math and to writing,” Martin said. “We hope they come away with pride and make them stronger as students. So that they not only learn culture but the curriculum in our school district.”
Tlingit Elder Selina Everson, whom students call Grandma Selina, was honored by the students for her work with them.
“I feel very honored that she works with us daily to help revitalize the language,” said language specialist Jessica Chester.
Everson thanked the families and all the “grandchildren.”
“How thankful we are to come together like this so the children can see how the elders survive,” she said.
The students then sang and danced to a song made specifically for Everson, called “Kaséix x’asheeyi (Kaséix’s song).” Kaséix is her Tlingit name.
The children danced their way to Everson to treat her with hugs at the end.
Chester said local elders present were part of the Goldbelt Heritage Foundation. There also were elders from Sitka, who participate in the Sitka Native Education Program, SNEP.
Sitting in behind the elders was a row of teachers who took part in Goldbelt’s training. Those teachers took classes and earned continuing education credit to learn to incorporate culture in the classroom.
“They started with ‘why do people gather?’” Chester said. “‘What is a khoo.éex’?’ It means “to invite” for a memorial or celebration. So we just taught teachers about that and what happens at Tlingit celebrations.”
Chester said they chose a theme at the beginning of the year based on a quote by David Kadashan: “We will only imitate our ancestors.”
Chester said in the fall the students went on a harvesting field trip, and throughout the year the school has had family nights to prepare for this event.
Students created paintings making Tlingit designs, using ovoid shapes. One painting was given to their family and smaller paintings were given to their teachers.
Families also went to the school on Sunday to prepare food for Monday’s event.
At the end of the khoo.éex’ on Monday, elders took the opportunity to speak.
“If you can’t keep still and if you can’t keep quiet it will be difficult for you to learn,” said David Katzeek, calming the students. “We’re doing this so you can really learn, so you can remember this day.”
He told the students that a lot of work and practice went into the events of the day, and that they need to continue practicing to learn to read, write and do math. He also thanked parents and the district.
“For me as a person who graduated in Juneau, you don’t know how this warms my heart to see what’s happening in the schools and not just the elementary schools,” Katzeek said.
Elder Richard Dauenhauer expressed his pleasure with all the students had done, but urged them to continue.
“This was really, really wonderful,” he said. “There is an old saying, ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet.’ I think you guys are going to get better and better. It’s been a long battle to get acceptance in the schools like this. ... We Have a whole generation now of people going to UAS and to university. Thank you for doing this and thank you for fighting the good fight.”
• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.