The voices of elders are, for lack of a better word, impactful. Salina Everson, David Katzeek, and Linda Belarde brought enthralling personal relationships with language and words to our 680 classroom. The impact of what each spoke was often palpable. Their words ripple with waves of meaning and emotion - the depth of their voices speak so intensely of their experiences. Even when they spoke Tlingit, and I didn't know the exact meanings of the words, I could feel the emotions and intentions, a thick sinew in the air.
Each talked about the value of the Tlingit language, and how it was and is intertwined with identity and their upbringing - each had a different experience, and each shared beautiful stories of how that changed their lives. You could hear their sorrow and pride through stories of how their schooling challenged their relationship with their heritage and their language.
I feel there were two important lessons from to draw from their visit.
First is the power of words - the things we say have long lasting impact. Being human is best expressed through and by words, and we often remember important people in our lives for only a handful of things they would say. Just as much as words and language can leave a lasting foundation, they can create lasting wounds. Those words connect us to an immense history, and show not only who we are, but who taught us and what we have learned.
Second is knowing how important culture is to an individual. To ostracize, control, or reprimand someone for their background and identity ... it can cause so much pain. Being caring, considerate, and thoughtful of everything you say as a being in this world is so important.