Sitka School Board to consider Tlingit land acknowledgment to promote respect, healing in city schools

Students from the Sitka Native Education Program. (Photo by Katherine Rose/KCAW)

The Sitka School Board will consider acknowledging Tlingit lands when it formally opens its meetings if a proposal introduced last Wednesday gets traction.

The land acknowledgment is a sign of respect toward Alaska’s Indigenous populations, and many government bodies are adopting a statement of gratitude as policy.

The proposal for a land acknowledgment was introduced by board member Blossom Twitchell, who is not Tlingit but Iñupiaq. Twitchell said that an acknowledgment was about more than board policies and procedures.

“This is an actual step of tangible evidence that we are open to acknowledging the land that we are living on,” she said.

The land acknowledgment has already been adopted by government entities like the Anchorage Assembly, the Fairbanks School Board and the Ketchikan City Council. In Sitka, the acknowledgment — which reads something like “we are grateful to be guests on Tlingit Aaní” — is beginning to be seen often on email letterheads and social media posts.

No one on the Sitka School Board pushed back on the proposal itself, but there was concern about the language. Even Twitchell admitted that the acknowledgment would take different forms based on the cultural traditions of a given community.

Member Paul Rioux thought the board should do some legwork before adopting the proposal.

“I think there’s some great language out there that’s already been developed,” Rioux said. “But I certainly think that reaching out to our partners at the tribe. They have an entire cultural resources department to help us with this.”

Rioux said that he agreed with the spirit of the proposal, however, and he would look to Twitchell to amend it with the appropriate wording after consultation with tribal citizens.

Board president Amy Morrison said her only concern was “getting it right.” School board member Eric Van Cise, however, wondered if the acknowledgment would be a one-time affirmation or something that happened every meeting, like the Pledge of Allegiance.

Twitchell responded that there was power in statements and that this one should be made every meeting.

“This is positive reinforcement, especially with the historical presence of what education has been within the state, and what role education has played with generational trauma in the Indigenous people of Alaska,” Twitchell said.  “I think having it stated every meeting — and treated just like a flag salute — I think is meaningful and would provide much of the healing process of moving forward.”

Paul Rioux moved to table the proposal to the board’s January meeting, to allow time to meet with partners and refine the wording. Member Andrew Hames agreed.

“I think this is the right direction to go,” Hames said. “I think it’s something to be celebrated, so let’s have that conversation first, and then let’s do it together.”

To which Twitchell responded, “Definitely.”

KCAW - Sitka

KCAW is our partner station in Sitka. KTOO collaborates with partners across the state to cover important news and to share stories with our audiences.

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