NEA grant awarded for Hoonah student song-writing workshop

HOONAH – The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Park Service recently announced the award of $797,500 in support of 33 grants in 16 states, including an award of $20,000 to Hoonah City School District to support a traditional Tlingit song-writing workshop for high school students. The project, entitled “Singing Our Way Back to Homeland,” will include lesson plans on the history of existing Huna Tlingit clan songs, a three-day song writing workshop held in Glacier Bay, and a public performance of newly composed songs at the opening celebration of the Huna Tribal House. In addition to NEA grant funds, the $100,000+ project is made possible with financial and in-kind support from the National Park Service, Hoonah Indian Association, Hoonah City School District and in-kind support from Sea Wolf Adventures and Adventures Afloat.

Throughout the upcoming year, community elders and culture bearers will share the history of the Huna Tlingit as captured in existing clan-owned songs. Then, in late spring 2016, students will explore Glacier Bay aboard the charter vessels M/V Sea Wolf and the M/V Valkyrie, visiting sites associated with existing clan songs and seeking inspiration for new traditional songs. Over the course of the journey, elders, culture bearers, teachers, and NPS staff will encourage students to incorporate traditional knowledge, ancestral voices, natural history, poetry, art, music, and their own experiences in Glacier Bay into new chants and songs.

HCS Principal Lorrie Scoles said in a release: “While the project will certainly engage students in language arts, music, visual arts, and history, we are as focused on teaching students that they themselves are agents of history. We believe this project will empower students to ‘write their own history.’”

Upon return to the classroom, students will refine their songs, make and adorn traditional drums, and choreograph dance movements. The 2016 Grand Opening Celebration of the Huna Tribal House –or Xunaa Shuká Hít –scheduled for late August 2016 in Bartlett Cove, Glacier Bay National Park – will provide an opportunity for students to perform their newly composed songs. HIA Tribal Administrator, Bob Starbard emphasized that the songs will be a lasting means of documenting the Tribal House dedication ceremonies, noting that “many of our Glacier Bay songs are about leaving our beloved homeland. This project will encourage tribal members, particularly our tribal youth, to compose songs that celebrate our return.”

The long-awaited Tribal House is envisioned as a place where tribal members and park visitors can honor and learn more about Tlingit life ways and traditions.

Partners including HCSD, NPS, and HIA believe that the project will strengthen the community of Hoonah by rekindling the traditional arts of song writing and formline design as means of documenting Tlingit history, fostering inter-generational learning, building pride in Huna youth and community members, and strengthening community partnerships.

NEA Chairman Jane Chu said in a release, “As the National Endowment for the Arts celebrates its 50th anniversary and the National Park Service observes its centennial, we want people to remember that our cultural and natural treasures are part of what makes America great. ‘Imagine Your Park’ projects … will inspire the imagination of people across the country. We are proud to support projects from organizations like Hoonah City Schools to offer more opportunities to engage in the arts.”

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