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Native students get crash course on cultural values

Posted: July 20, 2012 - 1:13am
  MARK MILLER
MARK MILLER

Students attending the Latseen Leadership Academy in Juneau got a special visit Thursday from Rosita Worl, president of the Sealaska Heritage Institute. The institute hosts the week-long camp every summer, and Worl was there to give a talk on the cultural values of Southeast Alaska’s Native people.

In her half-hour lecture, Worl emphasized four “core cultural values” and repeatedly touched on the need for Native students to go to school, become professionals and learn to balance cultural tradition with the “new ways.”

“We have to learn about this new world in which we’re living,” Worl said. She told the students, “That’s your job now, is to go to school so that you can learn the new ways to make sure that we could take care of our environment. That’s your job.”

The four cultural values Worl talked about — haa aani, or “our land;” haa latseen, or “our strength;” haa shagoon, or “our past, present and future generations;” and wooch yax, or “balance,” sometimes also taken to mean “respect” — formed the nucleus of her address. She said they are shared by Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples, the three main groups represented at Latseen.

“These are just little lessons that are so important,” Worl told her audience. “These are the things you need to learn to make sure that we survive as Native people.”

Latseen students this summer have spent the past week at the Eagle River Scout Camp learning Native arts and crafts, such as sewing, carving face stamps and weaving baskets, as well as participating in social studies curriculum and lessons on Native languages like Tlingit and Haida.

Brittney Willson, 14, of Juneau, said she is able to speak Tlingit sometimes at home with her mother, but at Latseen, she has been able to learn new words, as well as more about the Tlingit people.

“I’ve been learning Tlingit and the history of the culture,” Willson said.

Twelve-year-old Cora Sibley of Angoon said she has enjoyed “meeting new people” at the camp, which she said she is attending for the second summer in a row.

Sibley said her takeaway from Worl’s lecture was the vocabulary.

“I learned different kinds of Tlingit words,” said Sibley.

Worl said she believes students benefit from their experiences at Latseen, which is open to seventh- and eighth-grade Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian students, although it is a “struggle” financially for SHI to put it on every year.

“As an anthropologist, I think one of the things it does for them is give them a positive sense of self,” Worl said after her lecture. “We try to teach them that they have a lot to offer, not only to the community, but to the world.”

One attendee went as part of a multicultural education course she is taking through the University of Alaska Southeast.

“I loved it,” said Lupita Alvarez. “I like the concept of being connected to the ancestors, to respect and honor the fathers and grandfathers and the ancestors, and to know how connected we are to the future. … I think that it’s a powerful message to give children, to realize that we’re all connected.”

Alvarez said she would like to see cultural education expand beyond the Native community.

“I think it would be so beneficial for kids in the entire community, whether they’re Native or not, to learn about the Native cultures and appreciate what the Native cultures have to teach and offer,” Alvarez said.

• Contact reporter Mark D. Miller at 523-2279 or at mark.d.miller@juneauempire.com.

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