Sealaska institute offers immersion in Tlingit, Haida

Summer program aims to preserve culture through language program

Posted: Monday, July 16, 2001

Sealaska Heritage Foundation is offering its Sealaska Kusteeyi Institute for the third summer in a row. Kusteeyi means "culture."

The institute is "quite expanded" since its founding in 1999 with 40 students, said sociolinguist Roy Iutzi-Mitchell. This year the institute already has more than 100 students registered, and will offer courses in Tlingit and Haida at different levels as well as courses in Native language teaching methods and what organizers identify as endangered cultural arts, he said.

Several years ago, the foundation's board of trustees recognized that language is central to culture and directed President Rosita Worl to make it the core of their efforts. This led to the first Kusteeyi institute, aimed at trying to do something practical about perpetuating the language as well as cultural arts, Iutzi-Mitchell said.

The institute, a joint operation between the nonprofit foundation and the University of Alaska Southeast, runs Aug. 6-17 on the university campus, Iutzi-Mitchell said.

Beginning Tlingit immersion will be taught by Florence Marks Sheakley of Juneau, assisted by Fred White of Yakutat and Hans Chester of Juneau. Sheakley has been teaching Tlingit at UAS. Intermediate Tlingit immersion will be taught by Ethel Makinen and Roberta Littlefield of Sitka. Littlefield was active in getting Tlingit language into the schools in Sitka and teaches Tlingit at Sitka High.

Haida immersion will be taught by Jeff Leer of the Alaska Native Center in Fairbanks and Phyllis Almquist and Linda Shrack of Ketchikan. Almquist and Shrack are working on a Haida phrase book funded by Sealaska.

Immersion is modeled after a technique developed in Canada in the 1960s; instruction takes place directly in the target language, without translation in the language rather than about the language, Iutzi-Mitchell said.

"If the goal is to help people become fluent speakers, there's nothing as effective as immersion," he said.

The Haida language laboratory will be led by Chuck Natkong of Hydaburg, a retired Marine working on a Haida dictionary project funded by Sealaska.

Tlingit reading and spelling will be taught by Vesta Dominicks of Sitka.

An introduction to Tlingit linguistics will be taught by Dick Dauenhauer of Juneau, a former teacher at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage and author with his wife Nora of several books about Tlingit oratory and culture. The Dauenhauers are close to having an intermediate Tlingit textbook ready for publication.

A course in heritage language teaching methods will be taught by Jim MacDairmid, a Quebec, Canada, resident who has worked with Alaska Native languages since the early 1970s.

Delores Churchill of Ketchikan, an expert in Haida spruce root basket making, and blanket weaver Anna Ehlers will teach the endangered cultural arts classes. Ehlers is a Chilkat from Klukwan who now lives in Juneau; Ehlers learned Chilkat weaving from the late weaver Jennie Thlunaut. She was honored in November at the Denver Art Museum for sharing her knowledge of weaving.

The institute had wanted to have a workshop on traditional Tlingit armor, and there was considerable interest, but Sealaska could not find an instructor. This is a good example of what is endangered, Iutzi-Mitchell said.

Each class requires payment of tuition plus a materials/textbook fee. Some classes are already full, Iutzi-Mitchell said.

To register for language classes, call Iutzi-Mitchyell at 586-9272. To register for cultural arts classes, call Chuck Smythe, 586-9234.

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at

Trending this week:


© 2018. All Rights Reserved.  | Contact Us