Cards encourage Gold Medal fans to cheer in Tlingit style

Posted: Thursday, March 28, 2002

Basketball fans attending Gold Medal Tournament games this week can urge their favorite teams to Gashat w kooch'it'aa - get the rebound - and play tough Yan yeen - defense - with the help of a pocket-sized listing of Tlingit yells.

Sealaska Heritage Institute has printed 2,000 copies of the list, which includes 17 basketball-related Tlingit cheers and their English translations, to distribute to spectators. The phrases also were included in several ads in the Empire over the past week.

In addition, banners bearing the traditional Tlingit names of towns with teams in the tournament - such as Xunaa (Hoonah) and Deish (Haines) - are on display at the Juneau-Douglas High School gym.

John Martin, Sealaska Heritage Institute's Tlingit language specialist, said Tlingit yells have been part of Gold Medal games from the beginning, as fans from different communities supported their own players and offered good-natured ribbing to their opponents.

"This year we thought we'd do something to enhance those yells and not let them die out," he said. "We're trying to recapture some of the things our elders have developed over the years, and some of those are the Tlingit yells."

Martin said some of the cheers on the card are ones that have been used for years; others, like the cheer for rebounding, are newly created.

Other phrases on the card include: Kei ex'! - yell out!; I gu.aa yx x'wn - get ready; and Laak'sk - swoosh, from the sound of ribbon seaweed being harvested.

Martin said Tuesday that he has handed out lots of the Tlingit yell cards to basketball fans - some even come up to him specifically requesting them - but had yet to hear them being put to use by many spectators. But, he said, there were signs that will change as the week goes on.

"Yesterday I was down there, and some (fans) were asking me, 'How do you pronounce this? How do you pronounce this one?,' " he said. "If we trigger just one yell, we've accomplished what we set out to do. Later on this week, I'm sure it's going to be great."

Sealaska Heritage Institute sociolinguist Roy Iutzi-Mitchell said the organization is providing some megaphones to lead cheers and will offer awards, including institute blankets and books, to the top male and female cheerleaders in the final games.

Iutzi-Mitchell said the tournament - with its exciting atmosphere and representatives from communities across Southeast - offers the perfect chance to highlight the Tlingit language.

"On the face of it, it's a small thing," Iutzi-Mitchell said of the cards. "But in the effort to revive a language, it's a whole bunch of small things that make a difference."

Andrew Krueger can be reached at

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