In April of this year, three classes from Khàtìnas.àxh Community School in Teslin won a national award. On April 10, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau announced that grades five, six and seven won the 2019 edition of Canada’s Coolest School Trip. To enter, classes from across Canada submitted a photo essay about a stewardship activity that they participated in—one which contributed to the protection of the local environment, or the presentation of local history and culture.
The grade five, six and seven students submitted a photo essay about a website they built, which shares Tlingit culture and promotes the Tlingit language. Thanks to the contest, they won a trip to Manitoba. The trip to Manitoba allowed the students to do all kinds of fascinating things, including discover Lower Fort Garry National Historic Site, and visit Riel House Historic Site and hear tales of Louis Riel’s life. They also checked out The Forks National Historic Site and camped out under the stars in Riding Mountain National Park.
Erica Keenan, who has taught school in Teslin for two years and taught this class, heard about the contest through a posting by the Yukon Teachers Association on Facebook.
“I had a general idea of doing some sort of project that incorporated local culture and technology and we decided as a class that entering the contest was something we wanted to do. The class decided to look at the local language since it is such a small portion of the community that fluently speaks the language, and came up with a website in order to share the language with the world. The website took around three months to make, working on it periodically during the school day and with dedicated time each week to finish it.”
Teslin Tlingit is different from Tlingit found in other places around the world because the people of Teslin who speak Tlingit have different ways of pronouncing the words. Although the words might appear similar between the different dialects, the sounds they make, and the way the words are written make Teslin Tlingit unique among all other Tlingit languages spoken. Check out the interview with their Tlingit Language Teacher at Teslin Community School for a more in-depth discussion of why Teslin Tlingit is unique. It can be found at TeslinTlingitLanguage.weebly.com.
Keenan describes how, through this project, the grade five, six and seven students got to learn about technology and Tlingit culture at the same time.
“I originally taught all the students about website design and how they could make a webpage and information/links to the page. Then we decided as a class the different pages that would go into the website, Elder/prayers, word/phrases, etc. The students could choose which part of the website they wanted to work on. Work was divided evenly by what the students wanted to focus their research/work on.
“The students were very excited to work on the project and learn how to create a website. It took a long time, so sometimes their interest wavered at times, but they loved doing the interviews and word recordings. They liked working with the local Elder in the school, Sam, to help with the translations. (Sam Johnston is a well know, and highly respected elder in the Teslin Community. He was the chief for Teslin Tlingit for many years and was also part of the Legislative Assembly. Sam was the first aboriginal speaker of the Legislative Assembly.) They were most excited when the website was complete and they could see how fantastic it turned out. Sam was also very impressed with what the students accomplished. He personally came into the classroom to congratulate them after they found out they won the contest”
The students’ website captures their interest and passion for their Tlingit culture in the following discussion on why they learn Tlingit in the school.”
“Our Tlingit class is an important part of our school day. We come together as a class to learn about a Tlingit language and culture. Our class has highlighted one of our projects on our website, we are currently making button blankets. The button blankets show the traditions of our cultures, our families and who we are. We care about our cultures and Tlingit is the culture of many in our community, but we also use Tlingit traditions as a platform to express our own cultures. By showing the world that local cultural traditions can be adapted to incorporate your own family history, it makes everything more accessible to everyone!”