When Will Kayhi Have Tlingit Class?

the Tlingit alphabet
I've written quite a few times on this blog about Native American languages, and Lingít (Tlingit) in particular. Back in August I made the case that the Tlingit language deserves more respect and attention in Southeast Alaska, including a presence in public school classrooms. Now I'd like to follow that broad idea with a serious, concrete suggestion for Ketchikan High School: Get a Tlingit class.

Let's begin by addressing the difficulties of having a Tlingit class. The first problem is finding a will among the superintendent, school board, and community members. I admit that this may be a formidable task, but the good news is that everything gets easier from there. The second problem is finding a teacher. I don't have anyone specific to recommend, but Kichxáan is the second largest community in Lingít Aaní, and I believe there should be someone in Ketchikan with the fluency and commitment to teach a class, and if not, recruiting someone should not be impossible. The last problem is finding the resources to support the class, but that also might not be as difficult as you would think: I'm no expert, but I think the KGB School District has the capacity to apply for different grants and find various funding sources, and in the scheme of a year's school budget, a single part-time teaching position is not very expensive at all.

Next, let's look at the benefits of having just a single Tlingit class—benefits that far outweigh the difficulties or costs. Having a Tlingit class at Ketchikan High School signifies that the whole community has taken a step toward recognizing and valuing its Tlingit heritage. It provides students of all backgrounds with the opportunity to learn more about their home than they ever could have before. It will give many students a very challenging and interesting class to come to school for—a class that could be the most important single class those students take, since they will be actively participating in the revitalization of an entire language. That's not something many schools around the world provide children with an opportunity to do.

Ketchikan, if nothing else will convince you of the necessity of having a Tlingit class, listen to this: All of the high school students in Juneau have access to Tlingit classes, whether at JDHS, Thunder Mountain, or Yaaḵoosgé Daakahídi Alternative High School. Sure, the Juneau School District has substantially more students and resources than Ketchikan does, but they've made Tlingit classes available in all three of their high schools. I ask only for a single class. As I said, the resources required to create one Tlingit class are minimal, and they are very much worthwhile.

In order to pursue this concrete goal, let's take a concrete next step—bring this idea to school board meetings and start discussions around the community. After that, I truly hope people will make this happen.

Remember to check out these Tlingit essentials: an interactive alphabet application and a free dictionary in PDF.