Katu Allen is Tlingit but she grew up separated from her traditional homelands in Southeast Alaska. Over the last few years, she has found what she calls a flotation device and beacon of knowledge that helps her reconnect with her identity.
Helping Katu and many others is DonnaRae (Klinklia) James, president of the San Francisco Tlingit and Haida Community Council, and founder of CAlaska Culture, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting and sharing Alaska Native culture in California. Through CAlaska Culture, DonnaRae organizes and offers workshops stemming from Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian art and culture. Sealaska supports CAlaska Culture through financial contributions and materials from the Sealaska Carving and Bark program.
“It’s an amazing feeling to see how strong our community has become here in California,” said DonnaRae, a Sealaska shareholder who grew up in Craig, Alaska, and has lived in Northern California over the past 20 years. “Our Alaskan Native people are desperate for a place to feel a belonging and to learn the knowledge of our ancestors who have gone on before us.”
Katu has been able to put her hands on her culture and identity, something that she says has been a needed connection. A paddle that Katu worked on in a recent workshop now stands right by her front door. She says it helps her feel like her ancestors are greeting her each day.
By attending workshops over the last few years, Katu has learned that many others living away from their traditional homelands have a similar story to hers. It’s a story of not growing up surrounded by family, culture, protocol or identity. She says, “They too were out in the ocean by themselves. But we have a flotation device guiding us and giving us a firm ground to stand on, a beacon of light. I’m ready to learn.”
Sealaska’s financial success allows greater investments in shareholder priorities and benefits. We recently partnered with CAlaska Culture, Central Council of the Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, Tlingit and Haida Community Council San Francisco chapter, and Sealaska Heritage Institute for a gathering and information fair attended by nearly 200 people.
The event provided shareholders with the opportunity to learn more about what’s happening with the partner organizations and connect with leadership. Katu was thrilled to learn that Sealaska Heritage Institute offers free online language resources. “I almost started tearing up. It’s important for me to know my background. I haven’t known it for so long.”
There are 1,120 Sealaska shareholders living in California, with approximately 450 who reside from San Francisco to the California and Oregon border.
“The theme of our group has been Sáahlaangaan, which in Haida means “all together” and we’ve embraced that by inviting all Alaska Native groups in the area to join us,” said DonnaRae.
During the January weekend event, Haida master artist Reg Davidson led a group of shareholders through a bentwood box-making workshop. More than 20 people participated in the workshop and were able to make their own boxes.
“I was grateful to meet many of our shareholders in Northern California and hear their stories,” said Sealaska Director Morgan (X’agatkeen) Howard. “It was great to see how folks can come together and create a Native community no matter where you are. Southeast Alaska is our homeland, but you’re Tlingit, Haida or Tsimshian wherever you go. I’m glad Sealaska could play a small role in supporting this gathering and hope we will support many more in the future.”
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We want to hear from you. If you have ideas on ways that we can connect with shareholders where you live, please email Sealaska’s communications department at firstname.lastname@example.org.