Learning without walls: Project blends traditional knowledge, new technology

Posted: Friday, July 03, 2009

If there is one belief the Kenaitze Indian Tribe holds dear, it is the belief in sharing. Much like the first salmon caught by one of their own every year is put into a hearty soup to feed all tribal members, a new resource being launched by the tribe aims to nourish the minds and spirits of its people and many others.

Photo By M. Scott Moon
Photo By M. Scott Moon
Ben Baldwin pauses to enjoy the Kenai River from a stop along a trail at the Kenaitze Indian Tribe's K'beq' cultural site near the Russian River ferry launch in Cooper Landing. Baldwin is an interpreter at the site.

"We're very excited about the project, and the best thing about it is we'll use traditional wisdom and tribal information, and meld it with the technology available to share it with everyone," said Sasha Lindgren, cultural and educational program director for the tribe.

The project Lindgren is referring to is the development of a new Web site, as well as several other new resources -- including language materials and books, videos and DVDs, a draft of a cultural management resource plan, and interpretive signs at the K'Beq' site in Cooper Landing -- all of which seek to further the tribe's goal to revitalize and perpetuate Kenaitze customs, language, traditions and wisdom.

Lindgren was particularly optimistic about how the tribe would benefit from the Web site, which highlights Dena'ina language and history, provides resource material and instructive tools for teachers and students and offers tribal members an opportunity to preserve and share their history, stories and photos.

"It's a place to learn without walls," she said.

The Web site will also feature a "community archive," and the tribe acquired several pieces of high-end technology to aid in the process, such as a digital camera, booms to hold it over objects, lighting tents and other equipment to illuminate objects from all directions for photos, a slide scanner and a document scanner.

Archiving will include everything and anything of cultural or historical value and interest to the tribe, from archeological artifacts such as beads, birch bark baskets and spear heads, to legal documents, hand written records, photos and audio-video recordings.

Lindgren said the belief behind the archive is that it is a better to digitize everything important to the tribe, so people around the world can have access to their precious knowledge.

"The tribe has members in Hawaii, California and other places, and these people will be able to access the archive and feel close to home, without having to come home," she said.

Everyone will have access to the overall Web site, but some aspects of the archive -- such as family histories and other personal information -- will be restricted to tribal members only. Tribal members will also be able to contribute their own information and materials to the archive, and Lindgen said this social aspect of the resource should not be overlooked.

"It's very social because everyone will have access to it, but it's also social because work on it will have to be divvied out and done by people and families working together to transcribe documents and coming together to learn about their culture and heritage," she said.

The archiving process will begin immediately, Lindgren said, but it will be roughly 90 days before people will be able to access the information electronically via the Kenaitze Web site. She said she is looking forward to the project's development.

"The library is built, now we just have to fill it," she said.

The new resources were made possible through a partnership of the Kenaitze with the Cook Inlet Tribal Council, the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the state Office of History and Archaeology, the Alaska Native Heritage Center and Kenai Peninsula College, to name just a few.

For more information on the Kenaitze and their new resources being developed, visit their Web site at www.kenaitze-nsn.gov.

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.

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