Second-grade students get front-row seats to Native storytelling on annual tour

Event takes young Juneauites on educational excursion

Fifty second-graders watched with wide eyes as Lily Hope talked about urine buckets.


Hope, a Tlingit artist and storyteller, was explaining to students in the Any Given Child Juneau program about the process of dying yarn for Chilkat robes. The process involves using urine, moss and other substances depending on the desired color, and snickers arose from the group of students occasionally as Hope mentioned the buckets of urine used in the process.

“We also wash it really well after we dye it,” Hope ensured the students.

The presentation was part of a storytelling excursion put on by the Any Given Child Juneau program through the Walter Soboleff Building downtown, giving them a taste of Alaska Native history and tradition. The first group that went through Thursday was comprised of students from Harborview Elementary, the Juneau Community Charter School and Montessori Borealis.

They spent around 15 minutes near one of the displays that depicted a Tlingit potlach, but spent the majority of their time in the clan house where Hope told them stories and answered questions. She told tales of Raven’s adventures and another about a boy who learned the hard way that he should respect the animals around him.

Crystal Koeneman’s second-grade son Loki from Montessori Borealis was on the tour, and she sat in the back of the clan house watching Hope’s theatrics.

“When they see the different artwork around this town and how it’s incorporated into the arts in their schools and to be able to come here and see the building and the culture and the history of it all, I think it’s really important,” Koeneman said.

The students got to engage in the stories by asking questions or, in one case, splitting into groups to either “waddle like a raven or soar like an eagle.” Both Hope and Sealaska Heritage Institute Art Project Coordinator Davina Cole spoke to the students, answering questions that ranged from fun to insightful. Cole was asked about her own experiences with Tlingit culture and events, while Hope answered questions about her outfit (a deerskin dress handed down to her by her mother) and about the stories she told.

Sealaska Heritage Institute Art Director Kari Groven said this year’s event was more focused on activities in the clan house, and that SHI wants to continue to partner with Any Given Child in future years. Any Given Child is an initiative looking to give young students more access to arts education.

Any Given Child is sponsored by the Juneau School District, the Mayor’s office, University of Alaska Southeast, SHI and the Juneau Arts and Humanities Council.

Paul Douglas, advisor for the Douglas-Dornan Foundation that gives out grants primarily to youth, was also in attendance, taking in the excitement. Children chattered and joked loudly in the background as Douglas spoke about his admiration for the event.

“It’s great,” Douglas said. “I think it’s a great idea, good exposure for these kids. At my age, I’m not sure I’d want to try and herd all these cats, but it’s fun to watch.”

• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 and


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