Sealaska Heritage Institute has published four new books to bolster its efforts of teaching Indigenous language and culture to kids. One is an original story written by kids from Harborview Elementary School in Juneau.
In “Raven and The Hidden Halibut,” two animals that are complete opposites want to play with each other.
“Halibut really wants to play with the Raven and has to talk him into it, and they end up playing hide-and-seek. And Halibut, as it turns out, is a very good hider,” said Katrina Hotch, who worked with the students who wrote the original story.
In the story, Raven enlists a group of ocean creatures to help look for Halibut.
“Raven, or Yéil, works with Téel’, dog salmon, Náakw, octopus, X’éix, king crab, Tóos’, salmon shark and Taan, sea lion,” said Hotch.
Hotch says it’s a testament to the strength of the school district’s Tlingit culture, language and literacy program that the students wrote the story.
Now the book is available through Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Baby Raven Reads program, along with three other books published entirely in Indigenous languages. Two of them are in Lingít, and one is in Sm’algya̱x.
Tess Olympia is the program’s manager. She says it all started in 2014 as a pilot project in Juneau.
“And it was very successful,” Olympia said. “After that, it was able to expand to nine communities in Southeast Alaska through partnership with Tlingit & Haida Head Start programs.”
Olympia says three of the books are the first to be published by Sealaska entirely in the region’s native languages.
“We have a lot of language learners that have been asking for this. So we’re excited to be able to be at the point with our publications, that we could make that happen,” she said.
Olympia also says the program is currently serving more than 350 children throughout Southeast Alaska. In December, the institute mailed out 1400 books to families. And more than two thirds of those families report reading daily.
Olympia says she’s gotten feedback from families all over the region who are touched to have these stories in their home.
“When they didn’t grow up with stories, like books, to represent their own selves and their own culture and their homes and so, it’s finally this opportunity to have to have that happen. And for children to see themselves in the stories, it’s very validating,” she said.
As for whether Raven was able to find Halibut, readers can find out for themselves. The new books are available to buy from the Sealaska Heritage Store.