Hans Chester wanted to go to college. He wanted to be a teacher and help pass on his culture to other Native children in the community.
The Spring King Salmon Derby helped him accomplish all of that.
Every year since 1997 the Spring King Salmon Derby takes part of its proceeds and puts it toward scholarships for Native students. Chester applied and received help from the Alumni Scholarship Assistance Program, a subsidiary of The Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, which handles the money.
"You have to submit a statement of your goals and how you're going to give back to the community," Chester said about the process of applying for a scholarship. "I wrote about my identity as a Tlingit and how it is important to maintain culture and language and later on be able to teach children how to speak Tlingit and infuse daily activities with language and culture," he said.
He was awarded a scholarship when he entered the Master of Teaching (MAT) program at the University of Alaska Southeast.
"One of the things that I'm so thankful for is to Leslie (from the Alumni Scholarship Assistance Program) for always checking in on me, letting me know what I needed to do, helping me and guiding me through the process," Chester said. "They want to see us succeed and that means more than the money," he said.
Leslie Rae Isturis, an alumni recipient herself, is well aware of student needs. "If my job didn't focus on the students, this job wouldn't matter," she said. "It is for higher education, for giving scholarships to our members to go to college. I'm really happy to be able to give them the assistance because there aren't enough resources available for Natives," she said.
Hans finished college and now teaches first and second grades at Glacier Elementary School in Juneau. Besides teaching lessons in the Tlingit language, he incorporates Tlingit cultural activities into the curriculum, including a lot of singing and dancing because "movement is such a key component of their learning at this early age. It really strikes to their core," he said.
One of Hans' former teachers visited his class recently to watch the students perform Tlingit songs and dances.
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"It brought tears to my eyes," said Florence Marks Sheakley, Tlingit language instructor at UAS. "Finally we were able to reach the little children. That's when they should start teaching them. The ideal place for learning the language is when they're very young," she said.
Sheakley said she is proud of Chester because he has given back to the community what he has learned. "When he teaches children the songs he also teaches the history behind the songs ... Children need to learn the history of the songs and they need to know who composed them because all the songs, they have history behind them. Some of the songs commemorate some of the things that happened to the Tlingit people, so it's an important thing that Hans is teaching the children," she said.
Isturis said she was honored to help Chester get through college because he is a good person and she knew he would do well in the community as a teacher of Native language and culture.
"As a people we can be successful within the academic and employment sphere, but we can also hold onto who we are as a people by embracing our culture and our heritage and bringing that together," she said.
"I'm so glad he's teaching because, one, he made it into the school system and it's a tough system to get into, but he's also able to take his background and his degree and teach kids and share the culture with them. We're a powerful people and I think Hans represents that really well."
Teri Tibbett is a freelance writer, musician, photographer, teacher and snowboarder living in Juneau for 30 years.
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