“For the seal we had to hang it over here…. And cut it open and take everything out until it was completely open. Then we turned the stomach inside out….” Explains a 14 year old participant at a Juneau-based culture camp. For two weeks of their summer, these high school aged students will spend their time in a intensive cultural camp. Not only will they earn high school credit but they will also gain essential skills and powerful lessons from Tlingit educators, advisers and elders.
“It is important,” explains another participant, “because I want to do more of this stuff later in life. Like cutting fish and sewing. I’m afraid I am going to forget how. Like when we speak Tlingit…every morning we speak Tlingit and usually I forget but I understand a little bit more everyday.”
Then the girls walk me over to the smoke house and explain how they cut strips of fish and lay it across long sticks with strings above the smoke. We talk about their favourite parts of the camp. Everyone agrees that the food is one of the best parts. But cooking at camp is also a lot of work; the participants are responsible for preparing meals for the entire camp.
They also learned to make jam, to can fish and to preserve seal oil.
As we wander back from the smoke house the participants begin telling me about their future plans. They all agree that they want to come back to camp next year, and in the future, as counsellors. One participant exclaims she would like to go to vet school. Another discusses being an English teacher, or a photographer, or a journalist.
The program director, Lyle calls the group over in Tlingit. Loud and proud he announces: ” What we are going to do is, we are going to do a song and dance!”
Everyone cries out with joy, “Yesssssssssssssss!”
As a music teacher, I am also bursting with joy. Imagine if my class have this response to every musical activity I present! In fact that is what culturally responsive teaching does. Last year when I began incorporating Tlingit songs and traditional instruments into my classroom, with the help of the cultural specialist, my class came to life. I started using Tlingit songs as warm ups and the engagement and confidence that I saw in my students was wonderful.
I am yet again blown away by the power of music to unite and empower. All of the MAT students join in dancing while the camp participants, leaders and elders sing and dance with great pride and energy. I am overwhelmed by the confidence; their singing and dancing clearing comes from the bottom of their hearts. I cannot wipe the giant smile off my face. It is such a pleasure to see young people so uplifted. The songs and dances at the cultural camp quickly become the highlight of my week.