Student input sought for cultural center

Tlingit and Haida Central Council President holds Q&A with Yaakoosge students

Posted: Thursday, April 08, 2010

A daycare center, traditional Tlingit and Haida food, and more classrooms are some of the suggestions Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School students have for a cultural center proposed downtown.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska President Bill Martin spoke to Yaakoosge students not required to take this week's state-wide tests about the center Wednesday morning.

"All of this is conceptual, and we're looking for input," Martin said. "People like you ... your input is going to mean a lot to us."

Student Michael Wilmot said the project looks like a good idea and advocated for more classroom space.

"It's a new concept for a school," he said, adding that as a business, as well, the center might support itself.

Martin said revenues from tourists could be used to maintain the building, and be distributed to rural Native groups.

Emily Eldridge said she'd like the restaurant to serve Native food, both for tourists and locals.

"Even if it's limited (availability), smaller villages could send it in," she said.

Flynn Lobaugh said he is "kinda intimidated" by the proposed face of the building, which he said "looks way too modern," and he doesn't support the idea as a whole.

Heather Barajas said she'd like the idea if benefits apply to everyone - "white people, Mexican people."

"We have a lot of benefits for Natives already," she said.

Martin said the center would not charge the public at large for entrance to the building, and would primarily intend to make money from tourists, shows and purchases.

Other students said they like the idea of Tlingit language classes.

Principal Sarah Marino said she'll submit comments collected from students to the council.

Martin said while students currently at Yaakoos would probably be college-aged before the proposed center could be complete, their younger brothers and sisters might be able to take advantage of classes the council plans to offer there for college credit.

The first floor of the five to six floor proposed center is drafted to hold a restaurant, gift shop, lobby and coffee shop. The second floor theater could host dance performances, classes and storytelling, with cultural artists' shops and Native craft tables as well. The third floor is drafted to be home to three classrooms, two of which would be long-distance, and several offices. The fourth and fifth floors would be housing, offices and/or classrooms, and the roof would have a salmon bake area and tables. A sixth floor is optional.

The full tribal assembly is to consider approving the money to purchase vacant property widely known as the "pit" at 213 Front Street on April 21-24.

The total estimated costs for the center is between $15 million and $16 million. The purchase price for the property is around $800,000.

• Contact reporter Mary Catharine Martin at 523-2276 or

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