The Haines Public Library is set to receive a prize years in the making. The prestigious award from the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums recognizes the library’s work to further education around Native culture, encompassing a range of different projects working toward that same goal.
“I just said that prayer in Tlingit,” says Elder Ida Calmegane, speaking at the Haines library. “Because when I went to mission school I was able to speak three languages and then in school we were not allowed to use our language. And my sister and cousin were older than me. Every time they came to me the first thing out of their mouth when they came to me was don’t talk Indian. I must have been a chatterbox.”
She sits alongside several other guests visiting from the Tagish First Nation in the Yukon. They include the Yukon’s Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Mike Smith.
“Unless we know our languages, we’ve lost our way if we don’t,” says Smith. “Because all our laws, all our rules, all the way we behave, is all in the language.”
Last week, the library hosted a cultural exchange where guests performed songs and dances, stories were shard, and guests spoke about the importance of preserving language and culture.
“You don’t have to come here and tell us how to live on this land,” says Smith. “We know how to live on this land. We understand the weather, we understand the waters, we understand the wind. We know when it is time to go hunting, when it’s time to go fishing, when it’s time to go gather. And we also know when it’s time to party.”
The multi-day event included a traditional foods potluck, a performance by Haida Singer Sondra Segundo, and cultural games. The project is one part of the library’s award-winning cultural project Doorways to the Past, Gateway to the Future, a partnership with the Chilkoot Indian Association.
“I think we already have that resource of history and culture,” says library systems engineer Erik Stevens. “But it’s kind of disjointed in different parts of the community. A lot of its in oral histories which are wonderful. Some of it is in written histories. And some of it is just kind of around in people’s homes and museums. What we’re trying to do is bring it all together into one easy resource for people to access. And that’s kind of the goal of the library, that’s kind of our job in this.”
Stevens is one of several library representatives attending the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums International Conference this week in Phoenix, Arizona. There they’ll accept the Outstanding Project Award that includes the online game Ikaduwakaa, a Tlingit term that means “You are called to go on a journey.” Stevens developed the game, the second phase of a digital storyboard project the library created years ago.
“The storyboard kind of brought all of these Tlingit place names, all of this historical data and research and Tlingit language and brought it together into one place that was easy for library patrons to access, so that was part one of the project,” says Stevens.
The online game is an interactive version of the storyboard, allowing players to travel around the area, visiting local Tlingit place names. For example, you can visit Battery Point, the English name for Ketlgaxye, or “Place Where Dog Cries.” There, players learn the name comes from a Tlingit story of a dog that was heard crying during a flood and turned into a rock.
“As you complete missions you discover more places and more places start opening up,” says Stevens. “So you’re kind of guided through this journey through Tlingit Ani, Tlingit land that way.”
As you visit more places, the game allows users to learn more about sites, and share their own knowledge.
“The game asks you a bunch of questions about the place which you can answer by looking at the storyboard content here,” says Stevens. “And you can earn points for doing that. And then you’re asked to share your own stories, so you can upload videos.”
Along with the game and the cultural exchange, the award-winning project includes the library’s collection of resources on Tlingit culture, history and language and their cultural Harvest Camp. Library Director Patty Brown and former Cultural Director Jessie Morgan are also in Phoenix to accept the award.