Nora Marks and Richard Dauenhauer were among the judges and addressed students during the awards reception.
Jackie Tagaban, left, and Kolene James, right, present an award to Amanda Bremner, who took first place in the Dramatic Declamation and Native Language categories. Shown on the cover is Ishmael Hope, who won first place in the Storytelling category.
Joseph Yates performs a song he composed in honor of his grandparents at the awards reception of the seventh annual Native Oratory Contest. Yates took second place in the Native Language category.
Story last updated at 3/11/2009 - 10:58 am
JUNEAU - Native Alaskan languages and traditions were celebrated last week when the University of Alaska Southeast held its seventh annual Native Oratory Contest on Saturday, March 7.
UAS students from Juneau, Ketchikan and Yakutat competed as well as one student from Juneau Douglas High School, one from Thunder Mountain High School and one home-schooled student.
Students gave 5-15 minute speeches in the following four categories: Oratory, Dramatic Declamation, Storytelling and Native Language.
Speeches in the Oratory category were to advocate a viewpoint related to Native Alaskans using reasoning, elocution and evidence to support the opinion. Gloria Anderstrom of Yakutat took first place for her speech about pollution's effects on traditional subsistence living among Natives in Southeast Alaska.
Dramatic Declamations were to be recitations of historic Native American speeches. Amanda Bremner of Yakutat took first place in the category as she retold a speech given by A.P. Johnson, a Tlingit elder. It was a speech about speeches, emphasizing the importance of oral tradition.
"My generation is at risk of being the first generation to not pass down our oral history, to not practice our tradition, and to not speak our language," Bremner said.
In the Storytelling category, Ishmael Hope of Juneau took first place for dramatically narrating the Alaska Native tale about the birth of the mosquito.
In the Native Language category, students presented a piece in a Southeast Alaska Native language followed by an English translation. Seven students participated, a record number for the category. Amanda Bremner took first place followed by Joseph Yates in second. Yates performed a song he composed in honor of his grandparents.
First place winners will travel to Anchorage to participate in the Alaska Native Oratory Society Statewide Competition on April 4.
Though students were proud to bring home awards, this contest was about much more than just competing. According to event coordinators Lyle and Kolene James, it was a magical, emotional and triumphant day for Native culture.
Lyle addressed the students, saying: "You were all amazing. I didn't see just you standing there today. I saw the ancestors standing next to you. It was as if the grandparents within you came to talk to us. Every single one of you tugged the strings to our hearts."
UAS Chancellor John Pugh was present and expressed the university's support for the program during the awards ceremony. He also thanked the number of volunteer judges, time keepers and video recorders who made the event possible.
"It gives an indication of the number of people who care and who really want to be a part of Native language and culture," Pugh said.
Poets Richard and Nora Marks Dauenhauer were among the panel of judges. They both expressed their passion for Native languages and encouraged students to extend the lives of these languages by another generation.
Richard spoke of the survival of Native languages that have been the victims of "linguistic genocide." Nora was a victim of that genocide as a child, and she recalled being spanked with a ruler in school for speaking Tlingit instead of English.
"Tlingit is worth fighting for. It is worth every ounce of our strength, every ounce of our being to have this (language) taught at this university," Nora said. "This is Tlingit country. I love the language very much. It's my whole being. It means, for me, to be alive. We have to keep this going so that we can keep living."
For more information on the statewide competition visit www.uaa.alaska.edu/native/aknos.