Dr. Rosita Worl, President of the Sealaska Heritage Institute, attends an event at the Walter Soboleff Center in November 2015. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Dr. Rosita Worl, President of the Sealaska Heritage Institute, attends an event at the Walter Soboleff Center in November 2015. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire File)

Sealaska announces Alaska Native language summit

Summit gathers fluent elders of Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian for three-day event

Sealaska Heritage Institute on Thursday announced it will be hosting an Alaska Native language summit, geared toward fluent elders speakers of the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian languages.

There’s about 100 fluent remaining speakers of Lingít (Tlingit), Xaad Kíl (Haida) and Sm’algyax (Tsimshian), said a press release from SHI. The summit will be called “Voices of Our Ancestors.”

“When I was growing up, we heard (Alaska Native languages) all of the time,” Worl said. “I want our young children to have the benefit of hearing our people speak, laugh, joke in a Native language because most of them have been exposed to instructional Tlingit, Haida or Tsimshian and have not had the benefit of hearing a body of speakers. It’s for all that.”

The idea behind the summit is to have fluent Alaska Native elders converse with one another while allowing language students to observe the summit. SHI will videotape it for archival purposes.

Worl said the Alaska Native community always feels the loss when an elder dies and the loss of their knowledge, but this summit is not about mourning.

“It’s meant to be a moment of celebration that we still have speakers here. There are so many other tribes that don’t have any speakers and who are learning from documentation but we still have the benefit of having our speakers around, plus we have language learners who are doing just a great job and working on revitalization of our languages. So I don’t want it to be anything like a mourning. I want it more that we will be able to celebrate to hear the voices of our ancestors.”

Worl, who earlier penned a Letter to the Editor criticizing the separating of children from their families at the U.S./Mexico border, said the summit is especially relevant now. Public policy has an effect on culture and language, and people should be mindful of that, she said in an interview.

Videotaping the summit is a particularly important to record the social linguistics of these Native languages, she added. While there has been a great deal of study on the languages in terms of vocabulary and grammar, there hasn’t been much on how Native speakers communicate with their body, from hand movements, facial expressions and postures.

“A lot of us still do the hand movements, that you see done in our traditional languages, even the posture and the elevation of the voices when they’re doing oratory,” Worl said. “I can still hear one of the most significant oratory presentations from a ceremony held in Hoonah in the late ’60s. I could still hear it and I don’t know if a lot of people have had that chance. I think it will be an opportunity for younger generations to experience that.”

Invitations have been sent out to all known fluent speakers. The amount of those able to participate will be a determining factor for the Juneau location of the summit as well as the date, which is tentatively estimated to be sometime in late October or early November.


• Clara Miller is the editor of the Capital City Weekly. She can be reached at cmiller@capweek.com.


More in News

Gordon Chew uses a GoPro on a pole to assess the humpback entanglement while Steve Lewis carefully negotiates the full circumference of the whale. (Courtesy photo / Rachel Myron)
‘Small town’ residents rescue big animal

Nearly 20 people braved choppy seas and foul weather to free the snared whale

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. On Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, the top U.S. public health agency said that coronavirus can spread greater distances through the air than 6 feet, particularly in poorly ventilated and enclosed spaces. But agency officials continued to say such spread is uncommon, and current social distancing guidelines still make sense. (NIAID-RML via AP)
COVID at a glance for Tuesday, Dec. 1

The most recent state and local numbers.

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which causes COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. On Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, the top U.S. public health agency said that coronavirus can spread greater distances through the air than 6 feet, particularly in poorly ventilated and enclosed spaces. But agency officials continued to say such spread is uncommon, and current social distancing guidelines still make sense. (NIAID-RML via AP)
COVID at a glance for Monday, Nov. 30

The most recent state and local numbers.

Four Alaska residents, including two children, were killed in a pair of shootings in the Mat-Su Valley early Monday morning, Nov. 30, 2020. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
4 dead in in Mat-Su Valley in 2 connected shootings

A suspect is in custody as of Monday morning.

It has always been a police car. (Michael Penn / Juneau Empire)
Police calls for Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

Courtesy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration 
The Arctic ringed seal is listed as a “threatened” subspecies of ringed seal under the Endangered Species Act.
Feds reject petition to delist Arctic ringed seals as threatened

Since 2013, three subspecies of ringed seal — the Arctic, Okhotsk and Baltic — have been listed as threatened.

Travelers arrive at the Juneau International Airport on Wednesday, Nov. 25, 2020, made up only about half of what the airport normally sees in the days leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday. (Peter Segall / Juneau Empire)

Most Read