HCS Cultural Leadership Club at the Xunaa Shuká Hít

Hoonah High School students hold a culture camp in Glacier Bay at the Xunaa Shuká Hít.

The Hoonah City Schools Cultural Leadership Club held a culture camp in Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve, a place that holds special meaning as the homeland for the people of Hoonah. The Xunaa Shuká Hít, or Huna Tribal House, added immeasurably to the camp as the location for gathering and learning from our elders and other adults who shared cultural knowledge and learning with students.  For more information on the Huna Tribal House you can visit the Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve Huna Tribal House Project page.

Cultural Narrative: 

The Hoonah City Schools Cultural Leadership Club envisioned a culture camp as a goal during their attendance at the 2015 Elders and Youth Conference, hosted by First Alaskans Institute held along with the Annual Federation of Natives (AFN). Participants desired an opportunity to gather with elders to learn Tlingit history and stories and a time to practice Tlingit crafts and language. During club meetings, students unanimously chose the Xunaa Shuká Hít as the perfect location to hold such a gathering.

With the agenda and location chosen by the youth, Club Advisor Amelia Wilson reached out to the Glacier Bay National Park Service and Hoonah Indian Association. Mary Beth Moss, Cultural Anthropologist, Darlene See, Tribal House Coordinator and Ralph Watkins, HCS Principal, who were instrumental in the planning.  With the support of Philip Hooge, GBNP Superintendent and generous financial support from Huna Heritage Foundation, the student’s vision became a reality. On December 19, 2016, the HCS Cultural Leadership Club were the first to make use of the Tribal House in Glacier Bay since it’s dedication in August.

Student participants included Randy Roberts, Treston Lafferty, Eddie Williams, IV, Cecelia George, Alaska Skaflestad, Mary Jack, Valarie Williams and Sophie Henry.  Invaluable time was spent with elders Ken Grant and Paul Marks, Sr. learning Tlingit protocols, history and traditions. Johanna Dybdahl taught the art of regalia making with each student able to make a small tapestry with a raven or eagle design. Darlene See showed the youth how to make roses of cedar bark. Each craft the students created held lessons beyond the actual making of the item and presented opportunities for cultural lessons. Heather Powell enhanced the camp experience through the incorporation of Tlingit language, bringing our ancestors voice to the homeland.

Glacier Bay National Park were graciously accommodating and welcoming. Melissa Senac, Tribal House Coordinator, kindly ensured all logistics were covered and the group had all they needed. Park Planner, Sara Doyle met with students to hear their thoughts and perspectives on what they envision for the park in future years. Retired park personnel, Wayne Howell and Greg Streveler came to visit students and brought full circle the understanding of past relationships, partnerships and advocacy that brought us to where we are today. Stories of Hoonah elders who were instrumental in bringing us to where we are today, were part of the amazing historical accounts shared. Tlingit song and dance completed the visit with our guests and were part of our three day gathering in Glacier Bay.

The cultural leadership club is open to all HCS high school students and aims to provide students the opportunity to gather and celebrate their culture and traditions. A foundational club goal is to provide its members with opportunities to become better enlightened in Tlingit culture as well as opportunities to gather and learn with students of the same cultural interests.  It is the desire of the club to host a culture camp every year, ultimately branching out to invite other communities to join us. Our first camp held in the Xunaa Shuká Hít has built a solid foundation to build upon for all future gatherings. Our youth are truly amazing.

To complete the trip to the homeland the Cultural Leadership Club returned to Hoonah by boat, aboard the Three Wolves Charter which made singing and dancing our way back the perfect ending to an amazing trip. The vision of these youth is supported by the Hoonah City Schools, Hoonah Indian Association, Huna Heritage Foundation and Glacier Bay National Park. It is through working together that opportunities like this camp are made possible.  Aatlein Gunalcheesh to our youth and to all who support them.


Traditional Knowledge: 

Students spent time with elders learning cultural protocols and were presented with opportunities to practice use of those protocols.  Elders spoke of the power of quiet and the importance of listening as well as the values, principles and standards important to practice in our everyday interactions with others. Student participants sang songs and danced throughout the three day gathering which brought the voices of our ancestors and elders into the room, filling it with the memories and presence of those we love and honor.