SHI to donate interactive exhibit to schools in Southeast Alaska

Students in Southeast Alaska will be able learn about ancient place names and innovative Native inventions

News Release

Sealaska Heritage Institute

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) is donating a copy of its interactive exhibit, Our Grandparents’ Names on the Land, to schools across the region so students in Southeast Alaska may learn about ancient place names and the innovative inventions that Native people engineered to catch halibut and salmon sustainably.

SHI staff will make the donation this week during the board meeting of SERRC—Alaska’s Educational Resource Center, whose board is comprised of school superintendents from across the region and which has partnered with the institute in recent years on education programs.

The exhibit offers a window into how Native people historically survived and thrived in the area, said SHI President Rosita Worl.

“We are thrilled to donate these interactive materials to our public schools to ensure all of our students learn about Native cultures and history,” Worl said. “Our ancestors created ingenious tools to sustain our people and gave our region distinctive place names, and I am proud to share this exhibit and technology with the public.”

SHI Culture and History Director Chuck Smythe will donate a hard drive containing the exhibit plus SHI’s new curriculum on halibut hooks to SERRC school superintendents on Friday, Jan. 11, at the SERRC office at 210 Ferry Way in Juneau. The materials include all of the interactive components and videos featured in the live exhibit, which was publically unveiled in 2018, plus 33 K-12 lesson plans that draw on the cultural, historical, mathematical, scientific and engineering concepts presented in the exhibits.

About the Exhibit

The exhibit shares knowledge about Southeast Alaska through Native perspectives and voices and includes three sections: Native Voices on the Land; Salmon People; and Halibut, Attack the Hook! All three components are offered on interactive platforms.

The exhibit takes its name from the book Our Grandparents’ Names on the Land by Tom Thornton, which was published in 2012 by SHI and the University of Washington Press. Shux'aa aa aan saax'u (original place names) are cultural terms and rich sources of information about a way of life both past and present. The names document productive hunting, fishing and gathering locales as well as spiritual events.

Native Voices on the Land is an interactive map display featuring 3,500 Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian place names in Southeast Alaska written in the correct orthography, 2,500 of which have audio files so viewers can hear them as they were spoken in the past. Some have photos, sound and video that present and explain clan at.óowu (clan-owned objects, stories, songs and names) associated with the place.

Salmon People is an interactive exhibit that includes an animated version of the ancient story Salmon Boy; place names and clan at.óowurelating to salmon; traditional concepts of spirituality related to salmon; and detailed explanations of how Tlingit people employed inter-tidal salmon traps to sustainably harvest salmon using aerial video, interviews, photos and a first-hand description by a Tlingit man who used them as a boy.

Halibut, Attack the Hook! presents traditional concepts of spirituality related to halibut people and the use of halibut hooks; detailed depictions of the unique qualities of the halibut hook to sustainably harvest halibut; video interviews with Tlingit fishermen explaining how to construct and use the hooks; place names and clan at.óowu relating to halibut, and a 19-minute video of an halibut fishing expedition featuring a 12-year old Tlingit halibut fishermen who makes and uses his own hooks.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. SHI also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.

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