AK - Their knowledge is priceless. Their minds contain a wealth of
Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian songs, stories, memories and protocol.
And now 12 elders around Southeast Alaska officially can call themselves
The Central Council Tlingit and Haida
Indian Tribes of Alaska honored its first-ever "Living Cultural
Treasure" designees in Juneau last month, an event that grew
from one woman's determination, many communities' appreciation and
the lifetime achievements of those receiving the awards.
"This gives us an honor; we are recognized,
finally," said Clara Peratrovich of Klawock, one of the elders
to receive the designation. "It shows that the young generation
values their culture."
Volunteer project organizer Norma Jean
Dunne started the push to honor the elders as a college project.
"A lot of times people are recognized
after they're gone. To me it is more important to say thank you
for all that you've done' " while people are living, said Dunne,
who saw other groups give similar honors and wanted to bring the
idea to the region.
"There are very few fluent speakers
in our villages," she said. "Our culture is endangered.
... There are very few people who are experts, who know the protocol
for the right way to plan for events.
"Each (designee) has a personal history
that's very significant to their community. We want to say, We appreciate
you and we love you, and we want the world to know.' "
secured the support of the Central Council Executive Council, and
solicited nominations from Southeast communities with the help of
Central Council Elderly Services Coordinator Gloria Chase-Millett.
Chase-Millett said Dunne was determined
to see the project to completion.
"She really believed in this,"
Chase-Millett said. "She had this vision and she followed it
They left the exact interpretation of
"cultural treasure" up to the local communities, hoping
for -- and eventually receiving -- a wide variety of nominees.
The local communities and tribal organizations
who nominated elders paid for them to travel to Juneau last week.
Ten of the 12 honorees made the trip and attended a council welcoming
Elders expressed concern for the cultural
losses they have witnessed and the knowledge that may disappear
when they are gone. But many also were optimistic about the youth
"A lot of them can talk Tlingit somewhat,"
Charles Jimmie Sr. of Haines said. "They're trying. It's wonderful
to hear them make mistakes, because they're trying."
"It's always encouraging to me, as
an elder, to see a young one who is pushing to preserve our culture
and language," said Arnold Booth of Metlakatla.
The biographies of the 12 elders and photos
of them taken April 17 will be compiled and hopefully, Dunne said,
turned into a book for posterity.
Dunne said she will lead the effort for
one more year, and she said some communities that did not nominate
someone this year have told her they will participate next year.
After that, Dunne said, "hopefully this will take off on its