School Board approves renaming Gastineau School to include Tlingit word ‘Sayéik’

Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting lasted more than four hours, including changes in the makeup of the board and votes on a few key issues.

One of the items on the agenda was the name augmentation of Gastineau Community School, adding the Tlingit name “Sayéik” to the school. This word, meaning “Spirit Helper,” was the original name of the area, Douglas Indian Association (DIA) Officer Barbara Cadiente-Nelson said.

The name augmentation is part of a healing process revolving around racial atrocities in the city’s past against Alaska Natives. In 1956, the city paved over a Tlingit burial ground on that site in order to build a highway and the school. In 1962, the city of Douglas burned down the Douglas Indian Village to make way for a harbor.

Then, just five years ago, the city inadvertently unearthed graves on the site during a renovation process at the school. Since then, the city and DIA have worked together to begin a journey of healing and reconciliation for the future.

The original plan was to add Sayéik to the end of the school’s name, but as DIA Board Member Paul Marks sat through Tuesday’s meeting, he started thinking differently. Cadiente-Nelson was also present and said Marks came and talked to her multiple times throughout the meeting, asking why they couldn’t put Sayéik at the beginning of the school’s name.

“His concerns about it not having that prominent place were that, first, it was the original name of the locale,” Cadiente-Nelson said, “and second it really speaks to the essence of that place having to do with it being a Native burial ground. Third, it was the sense of the definition or the characteristics, the meaning of that name that would be more relevant and more important to students and to community.”

When Cadiente-Nelson spoke to the board, she brought up the idea, and Marks followed her with his testimony of why he felt the Tlingit name should go first.

The board members approved of the idea, voting to list Sayéik first so that the school will now be called Sayéik Gastineau Community School. Cadiente-Nelson said Wednesday afternoon, as Alaska Day celebrations took place throughout the state, that this was an appropriate day for this name change to happen.

“We restored an original place name that was given to the locale by its first inhabitants,” Cadiente-Nelson said, adding that that’s something to be proud of.

The board also voted to submit its Six-Year Capital Improvement Plan to the Alaska Department of Education & Early Development for State Maintenance Grants. The projects detailed in the plan focus on leaking roofs at schools throughout the district.

Now, City and Borough Engineering and District Maintenance staff will begin to prepare grant applications for Dzantiki Heeni Middle School and Sayéik Gastineau Community School roofs. The estimated costs of those roof repairs are $2.4 million and $1.4 million, respectively. The school district also estimated that Riverbend Elementary School will need a partial roof replacement valued at $1.4 million at some point in the future.

Changes on the board

Tuesday’s meeting was the final one for longtime board member Sean O’Brien, who chose not to run for re-election this fall. O’Brien talked about the importance of listening and digging to get thoughts from those who don’t show up at board meetings but still have important feedback.

Newcomer Jeff Short was seated in the front row of the audience as O’Brien said his farewell, listening intently. A few minutes later, Alaska Superior Court Judge Louis Menendez swore Short in as the newest board member. He also swore in Board President Brian Holst again after Holst won re-election this fall.

On Tuesday, Holst also won re-election as the board’s president. There was a switch-up at vice president, with Josh Keaton being elected over previous Vice President Andi Story. Story was then voted as the clerk for the board.



• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or



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