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Haa Tóo Yéi Yatee Culture Camp: It is inside of us

At Hoonah’s Haa Tóo Yéi Yatee Culture Camp, students aren’t just learning about their culture, but are building its vibrant future. Students and their families travel from all over to spend a week practicing and contributing to cultural traditions.

Our culture lives in our people, with our people, and for our people. This is something that Xunaa Kaawu know well, which is exactly why the community comes together to plan an entire week devoted to immersing their youth in lessons in Lingít Yoo X̲ʼatángi (the Tlingit language), traditional foodways, and how to be a little ancestor for haa eetí k̲áa (those who will come after us). For people in Hoonah, Culture Camp has become one of the most important and exciting parts of summer.

As an Ecotrust Indigenous Fellow, working in Hoonah has created new opportunities for me to collaborate on and support Southeast Alaska Native social and cultural priorities. I’m so lucky for the opportunity to participate in such an important piece of Hoonah’s contemporary history. Cultural revitalization is a critical process for our communities.

Our social, cultural, physical, and environmental health depend on us practicing our lifeways. Nothing feels better to me than harvesting food, giving thanks, and sharing that bounty with my loved ones; singing and dancing to new and ancient Native songs; or spending time listening to and talking story with community, supporting each other and learning from one another. Ecotrust’s fellowship program offers young Indigenous professionals an opportunity to cultivate meaningful relationships with Native communities, and I’m so excited for my part in that journey with Hoonah.

L’geiki (Heather Powell) developed Haa Tóo Yéi Yatee Culture Camp to better connect youth to their traditions. There is a strong link between mental health and wellness and cultural education. Together, L’geiki and the Hoonah community are working to invest in a healthier and more vibrant future; Culture Camp helps support this important link between cultural education and civic engagement.

For plant identification and nature walk activities, we will be using the Hoonah Stewards App to mark, map, and locate terrestrial and marine resources with the kids. L’geiki invited us to participate because she believes technology plays an important role in evolving traditional culture.  While speaking with her, she had emphasized that technology is part of her community’s world; it is part of the present and future of their community. Culture is resilient and adaptive, and that means keeping up with technology, and the Hoonah community wants their kids to have all the tools to be successful. At Ecotrust, we agree that it is important for communities like Hoonah to engage with technology to support cultural and subsistence lifestyles. Tribes have a unique opportunity to marry Traditional Ecological Knowledge from 10,000+ years of memory with modern tools of change. And L’geiki believes the kids at her camp deserve the opportunity to be at the forefront of this wave.

Here in Hoonah, excitement for the camp is buzzing. At last year’s Culture Camp, there were more than 130 students in attendance. Parents and community members volunteered their personal vehicles and time to chauffeur these children an hour and a half each way every day. This year, attendance is expected to grow, with youth flooding to their Hoonah homelands from Anchorage, Juneau, Sitka, and beyond.

As interest and participation in  Culture Camp grows, so does the community’s need for funding to support their work in providing meaningful opportunities for youth in Hoonah to grow, connect with their culture, and play an active role in imagining vibrant futures for their community.

A big Haw’aa (Thank you) to everyone who has made my time up here possible.

Lgeik’i (Heather Powell) is the Director for Hoonah City Schools Haa Kusteeyi Aya. To learn how you can support Haa Tóo Yéi Yatee Culture Camp, please visit their Go Fund Me page, or email Lgeik’i at powellh@hoonahschools.org.