JUNEAU, ALASKA—Sealaska Heritage will sponsor a free lecture by a visiting scholar on Native place names in Southeast Alaska, particularly those that incorporate Native words for yellow and red cedar.
The lecture by Felipe Vasquez, a graduate student at the University of Kent, is based on his ethnobotanical study of toponyms—place names derived from topographical features in the region. In his research proposal, Vasquez argues that traditional ecological knowledge is seen as both cultural heritage to be treasured and practical site-specific knowledge that could help humans adapt to climate change.
“How much can the names we give our landscape tell us about a culture?” Vasquez wrote. “How do the Tlingit names that dot the landscape reflect Tlingit culture, from time immemorial to the present day? With a special focus on cedar, this is an attempt to explore and further these questions, expanding on the information gathered from Tlingit communities around Southeast Alaska.”
Vasquez is studying a subset of data compiled by Dr. Thomas Thornton in the award-winning Haa Léelk’w Hás Aaní Saax’ú: Our Grandparents’ Names on the Land, a book published by Sealaska Heritage Institute in association with the University of Washington Press in 2012 that documented more than 3,000 Native place names in Southeast Alaska.
Vasquez’s research focuses on place names that make reference to the two species of cedar in Alaska: western red cedar (Thuja plicata) and yellow cedar (Chamaecyparis nootkatensis).
The lecture, titled “Names on the Land,” is scheduled at noon, June 29, in SHI’s Living History Center in the Walter Soboleff Building. Attendees are invited to bring their own lunch to the lecture, which will also be videotaped and posted online.
Sealaska Heritage sponsors a Visiting Scholar Program for graduate students enrolled into an accredited educational institution or professors engaged in research that advances knowledge of Tlingit, Haida or Tsimshian culture, language, arts, or history. SHI provides visiting scholars with logistical support, access to SHI’s library, archival collections, and ethnographic collections, and the support of SHI staff for the scholar’s research. The program has served researchers from across the world.
Sealaska Heritage Institute is a private, nonprofit founded in 1980 to promote cultural diversity and cross-cultural understanding. The institute is governed by a Board of Trustees and guided by a Council of Traditional Scholars. Its mission is to perpetuate and enhance Tlingit, Haida, and Ts