Sealaska Heritage Institute publishes original Raven story written by children, language books

Pictured: Sealaska Heritage Institute - Walter Soboleff Building.(Photo: Ken Graham, courtesy of Sealaska Heritage Institute)

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New series part of the institute’s Baby Raven Reads program

News Release

Sealaska Heritage Institute

(About Baby Raven Reads) (About TCLL)

Sealaska Heritage Institute (SHI) has published four new books through its award-winning Baby Raven Reads program, including an original Raven story written by children and three books that teach the Lingít and Sm’algya̱x languages.

The release includes Raven and the Hidden Halibut, an origin story based on traditional oral narratives. In the story, Halibut invites Raven to a game of hide and seek, and Raven is surprised how well Halibut, a bright white fish, can hide. 

The book was illustrated by Tlingit artist Nick Alan Foote, originally of Ketchikan. The text was written by the 2014-2015 fourth and fifth grade Tlingit Culture, Language, and Literacy (TCLL) students at Harborview Elementary in Juneau, who performed it as a play through Sealaska Heritage Institute’s Voices on the Land program.

Sealaska Heritage Institute publishes original Raven story written by children, language books
(Image: Sealaska Heritage Institute)

Sealaska Heritage Institute President Rosita Worl called the involvement of children as writers a significant development.

“It’s exciting that this story was created by young students. It demonstrates their knowledge of this ancient oral tradition and understanding of our Southeast Alaska environment,” Worl said.

The new books also include original translations of three previous Baby Raven Reads titles, marking the first time Sealaska Heritage Institute has published Indigenous-language-only texts through the program. Tlingit Elder Florence Sheakley composed Lingít-only versions of two books: Aadé S’áxt’ Haa Jeet Kawdihayi Yé (How Devil’s Club Came to Be), an original story that tells of a young girl who sets out to save her village, and Nax̱too.aat! S’áaxw yéi daané ḵa haa atx̱aayí daat shalneek (Let’s Go! A Harvest Story), which teaches about Southeast Alaska Native subsistence activities and foods. First published in English in 2017, the books were written by Tlingit author Miranda Rose Kaagwéil Worl and Hannah Lindoff respectively and illustrated by Tlingit artist Michaela Goade.

The third book, composed in Sm’algya̱x by the Haayk Foundation with the late Tsimshian Elder Sarah Booth, is Am’ala, also first published in 2017. In this traditional Tsimshian story, a young man who is teased by his brothers for being lazy and dirty trains secretly with a spirit to gain superhuman strength. The story was adapted by Tlingit writer Frank Henry Kaash Katasse and illustrated by Tsimshian artist David Lang. The translation was completed in collaboration with The Haayk Foundation.

Audio of the books read in Lingít and Sm’algya̱x is available on Sealaska Heritage Institute’s YouTube and through the Sealaska Heritage Store.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is also developing a X̱aad Kíl translation of the Baby Raven Reads 2017 book “The Woman Carried Away by Killer Whales,” illustrated by Haida artist Janine Gibbons, scheduled to be released in 2021.

Families enrolled in Baby Raven Reads will receive the books for free through the program. The series is available for purchase at https://sealaska-heritage-store.myshopify.com/collections/baby-raven-reads and in person for curbside pickup at the Sealaska Heritage Store through Christmas Eve at 105 S. Seward St. in downtown Juneau.

Baby Raven Reads is funded through grants from the Alaska Native Education Program and the Administration for Native Americans. 

About Baby Raven Reads

Sealaska Heritage Institute sponsors Baby Raven Reads, an award-winning program that promotes a love of learning through culture and community. The program is for families with Alaska Native children up to age 5 throughout Southeast Alaska. Among other things, events include family nights where families are invited to join us for storytelling, songs, and other cultural activities. Participants also receive free books and literacy kits through the program.

The program is based on ample research that has shown that Alaska Native students do better academically when culturally relevant content is incorporated into learning materials and classes. The books also help educate non-Native families about Alaska Native cultures and languages, place-based storytelling, and traditional oral literature.

In recognition of Sealaska Heritage Institute's success in applying research-validated practices to promote literacy through Baby Raven Reads, the Library of Congress selected the program for its 2017 Best Practice Honoree award, making it one of only 15 programs in the world to receive the honor that year.

In 2018, the American Indian Library Association chose Sealaska Heritage Institute's book Shanyaak'utlaax̱: Salmon Boy for its American Indian Youth Literature Best Picture Book Award, and in January 2020 it gave Raven Makes the Aleutians an AILA Picture Book Honor award. 

About TCLL

TCLL is a place-based, culture-based "school within a school" where the Tlingit language and culture are integral to daily instruction. Launched by Sealaska Heritage in 2000, TCLL is an optional program offered through the Juneau School District at Harborview Elementary for students in grades K-5. A study in 2013 found that the incorporation of traditional tribal values directly contributes to Alaska Native student success and fosters an environment to grow leadership skills, self-confidence and creativity.

Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private nonprofit founded in 1980 to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures of Southeast Alaska. Its goal is to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding through public services and events. Sealaska Heritage Institute also conducts social scientific and public policy research that promotes Alaska Native arts, cultures, history and education statewide. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars, a Native Artist Committee and a Southeast Regional Language Committee.

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