PUBLISHED: 4:29 PM on Wednesday, April 4, 2007
Clan conference draws hundreds

Photo by Peter Metcalfe
  Jessica Chester, second from right, leads language students in singing and performing the Hokey Pokey in Tlingit.
Half-way through the second day, the last of 400 programs were handed out. The five-day "Sharing Our Knowledge: A Conference of Tsimshian, Haida and Tlingit Tribes and Clans" attracted academics and artists from throughout North America and as far as St. Petersburg, Russia, and Alaskans, Native and otherwise, from communities throughout Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.

The conference was held in Sitka, March 21-25, at the Sitka Centennial Hall and in the nearby Naa Kah?di Theater community building.

This was the first clan conference in ten years. Earlier conferences were held in the 1990s, the first in Haines/Klukwan in 1993, and others in Sitka (1995), Ketchikan (1996), and again in Sitka (1997), says organizer Andrew Hope III. Hope was the motivating force in the earlier clan conferences, but this year he was joined by Steve Henrikson, Alaska Museum curator, and anthropologist Sergei Kan, both of whom took lead roles in organizing the dozens of presentations that took place over five days. Henrikson wrote a grant, funded by the Science Foundation, that contributed $43,000 towards expenses, and Kan helped plan the seminars until family matters required his attention, making it impossible for Kan to attend. Hope served as executive director.

Photo by Peter Metcalfe
  Clan leaders George Ramos of Yakutat, left, and Ray Wilson of Juneau, display a Chilkat robe during a ceremonial event at the conference.
"The amount of positive energy at this conference was impressive," Hope said. "There was a real, tangible sense of empowerment for everyone. Politics were put aside - it was refreshing."

The event, by its very nature, was non-traditional, unlike ceremonial events that require a host clan to be joined by clans of the opposite moiety. Academics, ranging from anthropologists and ethnographers to linguists and specialists in Northwest Coast art, mixed comfortably with elders, young Alaska Native students, and the general public.

With nearly 100 presentations spread over 30 workshops, three general sessions, and several cultural events, there were time limits, an awkward situation for elders who were intent on sharing information with younger generations. Comments were often heard, but always in good grace and with humor, that the time was insufficient to fully convey their messages. And consistently, there were appeals for more conferences.

"People are hungry for this sort of thing," Hope said. "Whatever doubts anyone may have held were dispelled by the turnout for this event."

Most surprising to Hope was the standing-room only crowd that showed up for the storytelling and poetry reading at the Naa Kah?di Theater on Saturday evening.

"Standing ovations for poetry? It was incredible," Hope said, still amazed with the enthusiasm extended to presenters who included himself and fellow poets Donna Foulke, Vivian Martindale, Vivian Mork, Dick and Nora Dauenhauer, Martin Strand, Robert Davis, and story-tellers Bert Adams and Walter Porter. Hope's son Ishmael was the master of ceremonies. Several Native dance groups followed. The event ended in the early morning hours of Sunday.

The event was recorded by digital video, and DVDs will be available for a nominal fee. According to the KATH-TV videographers, under contract with the conference, 60 to 70 hours of presentations were recorded. Hope says that the video recordings were made possible with grants from the University of Alaska Southeast, the Juneau School District and the Anchorage School District. DVDs can be ordered by contacting Andy Hope, 789-1393, or emailing