Tlingit clan conference set for this spring in Sitka


The late Andy Hope, conference organizer, during the 2006 event. Photo by Peter Metcalfe.



Anthropologists, linguists and elders will gather in Sitka this spring for a conference of Tlingit tribes and clans. It coincides with the 100-year anniversary of Alaska Native Brotherhood, the state’s oldest indigenous-rights association.

Organizers are meeting in person and by phone to assemble this year’s clan conference.

“The idea is that it’s sort of a combination of a down-home get-together and an academic conference,” says Richard Dauenhauer, a Juneau-based author, researcher and linguist, as well as one of the event organizers.

“So we encourage both academic participation, but also just folks in the community. Everybody has a chance to get together and we get different perspectives on things,” he says.

The event, called “Sharing Our Knowledge,” takes place March 29th through April 1st at Sitka’s Harrigan Centennial Hall.

Presenters include tradition-bearing elders, historians and anthropologists from Southeast, the Pacific Northwest, and as far away as Germany. (Read about the previous Clan Conference.)

“What’s unique about this is that for academics they get an opportunity to speak and kind of mix it up with people who are actually living the culture,” says Peter Metcalfe, an author, researcher, and one of the conference organizers.

Nora and Richard Dauenhauer, Kathy Kolkhorst Ruddy, Peter Metcalfe and Ishmael Hope.

“The part I like about it is that it’s very accessible. There’s a lot of very intimidating concepts, linguistics and cultural anthropology and so on. But people aren’t really talking down, they’re speaking English – or Tlingit, as the case may be. There’s very little jargon and people are very respectful each other,” Metcalfe says.

He says the public is welcome, whatever their background or interest.

The Sitka clan conference will include sessions on the Alaska Native Brotherhood, which is celebrating a century of work, as well as the Alaska Native Sisterhood.

That’s a topic of interest to Kathy Kolkhorst Ruddy, another person helping with the event. She, Metcalfe and Dauenhauer researched and authored a study of the ANB’s role in protecting Native rights.

“And I learned a lot about the history of the success of the Alaska Native Brotherhood in preventing extinguishment of aboriginal title. It was very close. People don’t know the drama of that story. So I’m eager that that success of the Brotherhood and Sisterhood be highlighted,” Ruddy says.

Other sessions will focus on museums, access to digital collections, archeology training, traditional art and food, and other topics.

A Chilkat blanket is displayed at the 2007 Clan Conference. Photo by Peter Metcalfe.

Language expert and author Nora Marks Dauenhauer will present at the conference, as well as work behind the scenes. She’s been recording elders and transcribing their oratory since the late sixties.

“That’s part of the reason I’m glad that the conference is happening. I think there’s a lot of people who would like to have their stories told,” she says.

Clan conference sessions will be videotaped and made available to those who can’t attend.

See photos from the 2009 conference.

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