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Latseen Hoops: Tlingit language and basketball

 

Greg Knight

Tymon Teat and Michael Smith vie for the ball during a session of the Latseen Hoop Camp at the Old Gym on Monday.

The Sealaska Heritage Institute “Latseen Hoop Camp,” which started on Monday at the Old Gym, features a combination of Tlingit language directions mixed with muscle-memory basketball as a way of teaching not only the sounds, but also meanings of words in the Native language of Southeast.

Basketball fundamentals such as offensive and defensive skills are also taught and are at the core of the program – along with a set of lessons designed to teach leadership and cultural pride.

According to the SHI website, programs such as the Hoop Camp are good for the community because, “sports are a popular activity with Native youth, provide physical and health benefits to them, and are consistent with the holistic concept of ‘Latseen’ – strength of mind, body, and spirit.”

Michael Hoyt is one of the organizers of the event and says the program helps teach and learn the game better at the same time.

“The program started with the hoop camp portion about seven years ago and is meant to integrate the Tlingit language into basketball,” Hoyt said. “They do drills and we teach them Tlingit words mixed in with those actions so they can learn part of the language. As they are doing that they see what each of the action words means.”

The program is in Wrangell this year, but according to Hoyt, has also been held across other Native communities in Southeast in past years.

“We did it in Yakutat, Craig and Juneau last year, and the year before that we had it in Hoonah,” he said. “We’ve also done it in Angoon and Ketchikan previously. This year’s turnout was good and we have 25 kids here now. Last year at the other communities we averaged between 15 and 20 players, so this is a really good turnout.”

The importance of passing on the Tlingit culture, whether by basketball, dancing, language lessons or other means, is important to the youth of Wrangell said Wrangell Cooperative Association language instructor Virginia Oliver.

“It’s very important that the children learn the language and integrate it with what they are doing in that it’s a physical response,” she said. “As they are doing it, and the coaches are telling them the words, it goes into the brain and, as they are working through it, it will stay with them. They might not get it now, but it will stay with them. It’s also a way of teaching meaning. If we don’t teach meaning, when these children are in their 50s or 60s it will just become sounds and the meaning will have been lost.”

The camp runs through tomorrow at the Old Gym.

 

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