Language efforts and the Board Youth Advisor program took center stage at the first board meeting of the year.
At a board meeting held on Friday, Jan. 27, Sealaska’s Board of Directors approved a one-time $250,000 increase in funding for language programming from the Sealaska language fund, bringing this year’s contribution to $750,000. The fund, which was established by Sealaska in 2019, was created with a goal of increasing proficiency of advanced learners of Southeast Alaska’s three Indigenous languages: Lingít (Tlingit), X̱aad Kíl (Haida), and Sm’algyax (Tsimshian). Shareholders consistently rank language preservation and revitalization as a top priority for investment.
“This increased investment stems directly from discussion with the language learning community on their immediate needs and reflects the urgency they have expressed,” said program administrator and Sealaska brand and community outreach manager Tasha Wuduyéey Heumann. “Very few birth speakers of these traditional languages remain. Sealaska is committed to maximizing our support for this critical work while they are still with us while ensuring that birth speakers are appropriately compensated for their life work as the experts they are.”
As additional support for language revitalization efforts, the board of directors also approved a needs assessment to explore the purchase of a language learning space focused on advanced language immersion. The board reviewed letters of support from a number of community partners:
- Goldbelt Heritage Foundation
- Sealaska Heritage Institute
- Mary Daaljíni Cruise , Haa Yoo Xʼatángi Kúdi Administrator and Lead Instructor/CCTHITA
- Tlingit & Haida’s Cultural Heritage & Education program
- Juneau School District
- X̱’unei Lance Twitchell, Professor of Alaska Native Languages, University of Alaska Southeast
- Linda Belarde – President Tlingit Readers Inc.
- The Alaska Native Heritage Center
- Barbara Craver, Lingít and Cultural Revitalization Artist
- The Association of Alaska School Boards
- Daphne Wright, Xunna Lingit Educator
- Ketchikan Indian Community
- Spruce Root
“Time has never been more of the essence than it is right now,” said Sealaska Board Chair Joe Kaaxúxgu Nelson. “The more paddles in the water pulling in the same direction, the better. We know that immersion works. Until we have communities living one hundred percent in the language, we need to create the space – one home at a time.”
Through his work as Board Youth Advisor (BYA), Connor Ulmer has become the first BYA to take formal action at the board level. His presentation to the board detailed the successes and challenges of the BYA program as it currently stands and proposed increasing the term length for the BYA position from one to two years. The motion passed and the BYA bylaws have now been changed. Moving forward, BYAs will serve a staggered two-year term, with two BYAs serving simultaneously.
“As a young person, it takes a while to get used to a corporate environment and boardroom setting,” said Ulmer. “From my experience and what I’ve heard from other former BYAs, by the time you’re feeling confident and ready to make change, your term is up. By setting it up so two BYAs serve together at the same time, it will make it possible for them to help each other.”
The new staggered terms will allow for the “senior” BYA to help mentor the “junior” BYA, while empowering the former to immerse themselves more deeply in policy projects related to their interests and career path, said Ulmer.
“I’m hoping this makes it more of a mentorship experience,” he continued. “And this way, we can create more time for those serving to really make an impact. I’m really excited about continuing to serve and grateful to the board for listening and supporting this change.”
During the meeting, Sealaska directors honored former director Marlene Johnson for her service. She served on the Sealaska board from 1972-1995 and was one of the original incorporators of the company. She served as vice chair and board chair from 1980-1992. Johnson is originally from Hoonah and is Tlingit, Yeil (Raven), T’akdeintaan (Sea Pigeon) clan. Sealaska recognizes her as a director emeritus in acknowledgment of her many contributions throughout her service and beyond.
The board looks forward to continuing their work of investing in shareholder priorities while meeting business goals throughout the 2023 year. The next board meeting will take place on Friday, April 14, where the board will set the amount for Sealaska’s spring distribution.