Marie Olson, right, is greeted by Ishmael Hope on the first day of the Sharing Our Knowledge conference at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Marie Olson, right, is greeted by Ishmael Hope on the first day of the Sharing Our Knowledge conference at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall on Thursday, Sept. 26, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Language, culture take center stage at conference opening

Academics, artists and indigenous people from throughout the state and Canada converged Thursday morning in Juneau.

Academics, artists and indigenous people from throughout the state and Canada converged Thursday morning in Juneau.

Sharing Our Knowledge conference, an every-other-year event formerly known as Clan Conference since it gathers Tlingit clans from around the region, officially began this week and runs through Sunday.

Some of the first sounds attendees heard were Tlingit words from Ishmael Hope, executive director for Sharing Our Knowledge.

“I’ve been learning for a few years,” Hope said. “It’s special that we have speakers here. We can maybe even hear some Haida and Tsimshian. Maybe some south Slavic. We have a friend here that’s from south Slavic.”

[Review: “Devilfish” is a helluva play]

Marie Olson, a Tlingit elder who spoke during the event’s opening remarks, said she was glad to hear Lingít, the Tlingit language, being spoken.

“The amazing thing about this conference is that for the first time in a session like this, I hear the opening in my language, which is beautiful,” Olson said.

She encouraged Alaska Natives present to learn their languages. A language roundtable discussion and Sharing Our Language Gathering Thursday provided opportunities for that. Events planned for Friday and Saturday also include a presentation from a Tlingit spear-thrower, a Lingít spelling bee, a screening of archival footage of elders and more.

Olson also noted the far-flung crowd that was in attendance for Sharing Our Knowledge.

“This is a very special day for the Native peoples of Alaska,” Olson said. “I think we have all of the different tribes, different clans from Barrow all the way down to Saxman.”

Those visitors were welcomed by Juneauites, including representatives of the Aak’w Kwáan.

“We would like to welcome you to Aak’w Kwáan territory,” said Fran Houston, Aak’w Kwáan spokesperson. “It was a gift that this land was chosen for the Aak’w Kwáan from the big man above, God. He chose this for us. It is good to see faces I haven’t seen for a while. I feel at home when I see family, and I see friends.”

[New technology brings old hat back to clan]

The morning’s remarks also carried a message of unity.

“The Tlingit people are family,” said Tlingit elder Bob Sam, who resides in Sitka. “It has always been my dream to see us all come together as one people. Let’s hold each other up and share our knowledge with each other.”

• Contact reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.

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