For years, adding a Tlingit name to Juneau-Douglas High School has been an idea among students at the school. Now, it’s on its way to becoming a reality.
JDHS biology teacher Henry Hopkins said he hears the idea come up year after year among students. In his class, Hopkins talks to his students about the original Tlingit names for areas around town, and students often ask why the high school doesn’t have a Tlingit name in addition to its current name.
Students became particularly interested in the idea last year, Hopkins said, when the Tlingit name Sayéik (Spirit Helper) was added to Gastineau Community School.
Over the past year or so, students including JDHS senior Arias Hoyle have taken action toward making that happen. Hoyle said he got signatures from about 70 students of all backgrounds from around the school who were in favor of the idea.
From there, Hoyle and his classmates have presented to the JDHS student council, the Douglas Indian Association and the school’s site council about the possibility of having a Tlingit name in addition to the current name (a Tlingit name would not replace the current name). All it took, Hoyle said, was somebody taking initiative.
“I just happen to have jumped on that wagon before someone else would have,” Hoyle said. “I think that was the most important step. There are a lot of students who wanted it to happen, we just need to execute it politically.”
With the help of DIA board member Barbara Cadiente-Nelson — who is the Indian Studies program director for the Juneau School District — members of the DIA board examined names and one stood out: Yadaa.at Kalé.
Yadaa.at Kalé is the name of the face of Mount Juneau, and translates roughly to “beautifully adorned face.” The process of considering names was a joint effort among DIA board members, who are members of both the Auk’w Kwaan and Taku Kwaan.
The school rests on land that originally belonged to the Auk’w Kwaan people. With permission from the Auk’w Kwaan tribal leader Rosa Miller, Miller’s daughter Fran Houston said she agreed to gift the name to the students.
Houston said the DIA reached out to her about the name and she agreed that Yadaa.at Kalé was the most appropriate name. Houston, who attended JDHS when she was younger, was very pleased to see young people take the reins on this.
“All I know is that the students, this is what they wanted,” Houston said. “And hurrah for them. It’s awesome.”
At Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting, Hoyle addressed the board and expressed his hope that the board would included it on its agenda at an upcoming meeting. Board of Education President Brian Holst said in an interview Friday that it will likely appear on the board’s December agenda. The public process will start then, and people will have chances to weigh in before the board decides whether to accept the gift of the name.
Holst said the board members wanted to make sure that the school’s site council — a group that includes the principal, teachers, staff and parents — had had enough time to gather feedback from within the JDHS community. JDHS Principal Paula Casperson said Friday that she sent out the idea in a newsletter this summer, and that there was no negative feedback to the idea that she heard.
Former DIA board member and Tlingit elder Paul Marks explained that adding a Tlingit name doesn’t take anything away from the school’s current name, but promotes a sense of unity.
“I think it would lift the heads and the faces of our children in a way that would not be an arrogant way but in a prideful way, understanding that we are still here,” Marks said. “We don’t want to do it in a way that is detrimental to our children, and it would not be overshadowing anything that’s there already, but that it would be a general togetherness. Not in opposition, but in working together as a people that should work together.”
Hopkins said he was prepared for there to be some opposition to the idea, but there hasn’t been any that he’s seen.
“I think we’re in an era where our Native history and Native presence is part of our community,” Hopkins said. “Students grow up aware of Native culture, which was not the case in the past.”
Casperson said that she and the other members of the site council were enthusiastically in favor of augmenting the school’s name. She’s been particularly impressed with Hoyle’s tenacity in doing the legwork, talking to the right people and putting in the time to make this become a reality.
“I am probably most excited that it came from a group of students,” Casperson said. “The idea that a group of students can work collaboratively and navigate very complex systems to try to get such a significant augmentation, I think adds to their legacy.”
Casperson, Hopkins and Hoyle all pointed out that this name augmentation is different from previous ones. The addition of (Sít’ Eetí Shaanáx) to Glacier Valley Elementary, Casperson recalled, wasn’t student-led.
The addition of Sayéik to Gastineau Community School was part of a long healing process that stemmed from multiple atrocities — including the burning of the Douglas Indian Village on Douglas and building a road through a Tlingit burial area — that occurred on that spot over the years.
Hoyle said adding Yadaa.at Kalé to JDHS is as much about the future as it is about the past.
“We didn’t want to do this as kind of just to balance back out the past,” Hoyle said. “It was more to do it for future generations.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at 523-2271 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @akmccarthy.