Sealaska employed 18 interns this summer. Leanna Owen, Sierra Wilson, Nicole George and Averie Mesack were placed at Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) in Juneau, Alaska. They reflected on their work at SHI and what they learned from their experiences.
Q: What did you do at SHI?
Sierra: The research I did this summer will be used for an upcoming museum exhibit that will give visitors a large touch-screen map, where they can see the historical travels and migration patterns of our ancestors and how those relate to the naming of places and tie into Tlingit myths and legends. Later, this will be turned into a software program that can be used by teachers across the state.
Averie: It is called “Knowing Your Place,” where we were looking at each Ḵwáan and the associating place names. Sierra and I were looking for pictures of each place name that will be put into the interactive exhibit.
Leanna: This summer I worked in the Education Department at Sealaska Heritage Institute. I helped with the Baby Raven Reads summer program as well as helping with the summer camps.
Nicole: I’m a returning education department intern and I had the pleasure of working closely with education director Jackie Kookesh and other project coordinators prepare for several summer programs. Some of the summer programs included Our Cultural Landscape: A Cultural Connectedness Project for Educators, Latseen Leadership Academy, Latseen Hoop Camp, Latseen Running Camp, Baby Raven Reads, and Voices on the Land. I assisted the project coordinators and directors by completing different administrative tasks such as booking travel and hotels, reserving program spaces, preparing and maintaining program workbooks.
Q: What did you expect your internship at SHI to be like, and how did it turn out?
Sierra: As an intern I expected to be “at the bottom of the totem pole” doing the grunt work that nobody else wanted to do, but I ended up doing some really important research. Over my months at SHI, I got really attached to the research I was doing and I am really excited to see how it will turn out.
Averie: I wasn’t sure what to expect. After all, this was my first internship experience. I’ve had plenty of other jobs, but those jobs didn’t compare to this experience. Frankly, this internship was the best job I could have hoped for.
Q: What’s going to happen to your work now that you are done interning?
Leanna: This internship has really had a big impact on my personal career goals. I knew I wanted to teach, but this internship has been an eye opening experience to all the different opportunities I will have teaching. I learned about all the cultural aspects I can add to my educational lesson planning and so forth in future classrooms.
Q: How did you feel your educational background helped with this internship?
Nicole: At first, I thought my education background didn’t fit in with the line of work that I was assigned to do. I had spent the last five years of my academic career learning about environmental science, environmental policy, and tribal policy and continually reminded myself that I didn’t have a strong background as an educator. However, the mission of Sealaska Heritage Institute is to perpetuate and enhance Southeast Alaska Native cultures. The environment plays a vital role in all aspects of our culture. The environment is tied into our art, language, and stories and those connections run much deeper than just occupying and using natural resources in Southeast Alaska. My experience as a program participant 8+ years ago and my current 5 year academic background puts me in a position to view our projects in a new light. I’m running with the words that I recently heard from David Katzeek, “What’s the use of language if you can’t live it?” Now I question, “What’s the use of my education background if I can’t live it?”
Q: Overall, how did the internship at SHI make you feel?
Sierra: Liberated. This internship reintroduced me to parts of myself that I had forgotten were there. Because of the things I learned and experiences I’ve had, I can honestly say that by embracing my Tlingit culture I feel more complete.
Nicole: The staff is absolutely amazing! They create an environment that is very warm and welcoming and they make you feel like you’re a part of the Sealaska Heritage Institute family. Working under Jackie Kookesh the past three years has been an honor. She’s a great mentor and I’m forever grateful for the opportunities and experience she has provided me the last three internships.
Averie: This internship has instilled confidence in me. Before, I didn’t have any idea on what I wanted to do when I graduated from school, but now I have a better idea. I do hope that I can go back and work with Sealaska in the future.
Leanna: I was very impressed with the internship. It was a beautiful area I’d never gone before. The people I worked with became family. I ended up making close friends with many. I learned a lot about my background and the Southeast Alaskan Native cultures. I couldn’t have asked for a better experience.