Story last updated at 6/27/2012 - 2:07 pm
On May 4, 41 students from Hoonah City Schools in fifth through eighth grades participated in a full day fieldtrip to the Margerie Glacier in Glacier Bay National Park. A unique partnership between the National Park Service, the Hoonah Indian Association, and the Hoonah City Schools allows students to make an annual trip to the traditional Hoonah homelands in Glacier Bay. Local Elders, school staff, staff from the Hoonah Indian Association, and the Glacier Bay National Park Service collaborate to present education not typically found in textbooks.
"We live in a unique and culturally rich area and, realizing this, we know we need to continue to educate our children in the importance of who they are, where they come from, and the area in which they live," said Carol Williams, one of the organizers.
During the boat ride from Hoonah to Glacier Bay, students rotated through engaging lessons in seaweed art, Northwest Coast form-line design, traditional beading, a Tlingít language game, traditional uses of plants - culminating in the creation of an alder pin, an investigation into the effectiveness of blubber as an insulating agent, a water quality investigation, as well as Tlingít cultural presentations. Traditional drumming, singing, and dancing occurred spontaneously throughout the day.
Natural history and cultural explorations continued on the long boat ride culminating in the Glacier Bay ceremony held at the crumbling face of Margerie Glacier and Grand Pacific Glacier. The place known as "Large Glacier" or Sit' Tlein to the Hoonah Tlingít is the location of the glacier that forced the Hoonah people out of their homeland, according to oral history. The captain cut the boat's engine as Chookaneidi clan elder Lily White recounted the names of clan members and told the story of the PLACE - captivating students, teachers, and culture bearers alike. Even the crewmembers, many of whom have visited Glacier Bay hundreds of times, were held captive by the unique ceremony at Sit' Tlein.
"This is place-based, culturally relevant education at it's best," said Superintendent Angela Lunda.
The students were happy - and tired - as they disembarked from the Allen Marine catamaran in Hoonah.
"I am really learning a lot and this is a fun event," said Robert Wilkin, sixth-grader. "I never realized how beautiful it is in Glacier Bay. Because I am included in the ceremony, I know these things are important for me."
Students shared stories of brown bear, humpback whale, sea lion and mountain goat sightings. They wore their beaded medicine bags and alder pins. Perhaps most importantly, they carried in their hearts and minds the importance of the Journey to Homeland. Eighth grader Morgan Stevenson summed it up, "Thank you ... I hope I get to go (to Glacier Bay) until I graduate!"
This event would not be possible without the collaboration of the Huna Heritage Foundation, Hoonah Indian Association, City of Hoonah, Allen Marine, National Park Service, and Hoonah City Schools.
Thank you, Gunalchéesh!