Juneau, Alaska: Last month the University of Alaska Southeast held its seventh annual Native Oratory Contest. UAS students from Juneau, Ketchikan and Yakutat competed along with two high school students from Juneau Douglas and Thunder Mountain. One home-schooled student also participated.
First place winners will travel to Anchorage for the Alaska Native Oratory Society Statewide Competition on April 4.
UAS contestants gave 5-15 minute speeches in the following categories:
Event coordinators Lyle and Kolene James said it was a magical, emotional and triumphant day for Native culture. Lyle addressed the students, saying: "You were all amazing. I didn't see just you standing there today. I saw the ancestors standing next to you. It was as if the grandparents within you came to talk to us. Every single one of you tugged the strings to our hearts."
UAS Chancellor John Pugh was present and expressed the university's support for the program. He also thanked the volunteer judges, time keepers and video recorders who made the event possible. "It gives an indication of the number of people who care and who really want to be a part of Native language and culture," Pugh said.
Poets and judges Richard and Nora Marks Dauenhauer are passionate about Native languages and encouraged students to carry these languages for another generation. Richard spoke of the survival of Native languages which he called victims of "linguistic genocide."
Nora was a victim of that genocide. As a child, she was spanked with a ruler in school for speaking Tlingit instead of English. "Tlingit is worth fighting for. It is worth every ounce of our strength, every ounce of our being to have this (language) taught at this university," Nora said. "This is Tlingit country. I love the language very much. It's my whole being. It means, for me, to be alive. We have to keep this going so that we can keep living."
For more information on the statewide competition visit www.uaa.alaska.edu/native/aknos.