The “Sharing Our Knowledge” Tlingit clan conference was held Nov. 7-10 at Centennial Hall in Juneau.
More than 60 Native and non-Native presenters spoke on topics ranging from Tlingit art to civil rights to education, under a shared theme, “Our language is our way of life.” The University of Alaska-Fairbanks’ Alaska Native Language Center estimates there are between 400 and 500 Tlingit speakers today. UAS Assistant Professor of Alaska Native Languages Xh'unei Lance Twitchell says the updated number is closer to 200. Despite the enormous challenges of bringing Tlingit back into everyday use in Southeast, the overall atmosphere of the clan conference was one of hope and determination, as teachers and students, elders and youth shared practical ideas and words of encouragement. The conference highlighted the challenges and rewards of language revitalization. Will Geiger, a student in Twitchell’s intermediate Tlingit class, won the Tlingit spelling bee after getting through kanat’á (blueberry) and ch’áak’ (eagle). Part of the difficulty with written Tlingit, as the bee illustrated, is that a formalized system of written words has only been in development since the 1960s, according to a paper presented by UAS retired faculty Richard Dauenhauer at the very first clan conference in 1993.