The grant from the National Park Service will allow SHI to collect 16 clan songs pertaining to origin and migration stories, along with any associated oral history and dance movements through interviews with clan members and Elders. The institute will record the information, transcribe it in Tlingit and translate and transcribe it in English. SHI will archive and protect the materials so they may be of use to Native groups, scholars, archaeologists and historians.
"There is a very real danger these songs and lyrics, which tell the story of Native migration to the Americas, will be lost. This grant allows us to document this invaluable historical, archaeological and anthropological resource," said SHI President Rosita Worl, a Tlingit anthropologist.
The importance of Native oral histories on human migration to the Americas was underscored in recent years with the discovery of 10-thousand-year-old human remains in a cave on Prince of Wales Island near Ketchikan. The bones, found in 1996, are the oldest human remains ever found in Alaska and Canada.
Native groups in Southeast Alaska, including SHI, collaborated with scientists who studied the remains. The Native groups believed the research would prove what Native oral histories have always said: That the first peoples migrated along a coastal route to the Americas by boat. Later migrations were across a land bridge between Alaska and Siberia and then a migration to the Southeast Alaska coast. In recent years, some scientists have advanced a new migration theory that echoes the maritime migration theme in Native oral histories, and the studies conducted on the human remains and ancient objects from the cave have substantiated it.
"We think in this work we're going to be able to show a relationship to scientific theories that are now emerging about a coastal migration into Southeastern Alaska," Worl said. "It is vital not only to the Tlingit people that we document for all time our migration songs. It is vital to mankind's understanding of how the Americas were populated."
Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private, nonprofit founded in 1981 to administer cultural and educational programs for Sealaska Corp. The institute is governed by an all-Native board of trustees. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska.