Klukwan School celebrated Culture Days last week on Thursday and Friday. Fourth graders from Haines School and high schoolers from Whitehorse joined Klukwan students in cultural workshops.
“Culture Days is an annual gathering where members of the community and members of the village and the whole valley participate in various cultural activities, both Tlingit and other cultures that are brought to us,” said Klukwan School lead teacher Kathy Carl.
Carl said one activity the students were excited for was the birds of prey demonstration from falconer Mario Benassi. Benassi demonstrated what “bird of prey” means with a red-tail hawk. The hawk fed on a smaller bird right in a school classroom.
“It’s funny, he’ll squeak a little bit and then all of a sudden he’ll grab a hold of it, he’ll take possession,” Benassi told children and adults watching. “There we go, there goes the head, right down the hatch. Feathers and all.”
In the school gym, Jack Strong taught Tlingit song and dance. He led students in a traditional Tlingit entrance song and dance. The song originates from a cultural exchange between Tsimshian and Tlingit peoples.
“It’s a Tsimshian song, and we’re very grateful for the song, and it’s enjoyed all up and down Southeast Alaska,” Strong said.
Strong says his favorite part of the Culture Days is teaching children.
“And getting them involved in their past, because that gives them a foundation for their future. Without the past, their future is pretty unstable. And culture is a fabric that holds us together, that makes us who we are.”
There were also some arts and crafts workshops happening throughout the school.
“We’re teaching them the basic weaving techniques right here,” said Mary Jane Valentine. “And this is weaving around these yogurt cups, and now they’re making Tlingit dolls, and they’re learning how to make slip-knots.”
In another classroom, Haines fourth graders were making octopus bags.
“It’s really cool, it’s awesome,” they said about coming to Klukwan for Culture Days.
Joe Hotch is a Klukwan elder who watched the weaving, dancing, and other activities happening around him.
“It’s important for us to mix with other cultures. And we learn from other cultures also what we miss in our lives,” Hotch said.
Teacher Kathy Carl said it’s important for the students to share their culture, because it helps build pride in their heritage.