In a landmark decision, the Sitka School Board unanimously agreed to rename Baranof Elementary School to Xóots Elementary School, symbolizing a significant shift towards more culturally immersive education in Sitka. The decision came late Thursday evening, concluding a nine-year journey and a prolonged debate about enhancing cultural education within the community.

The name change to Xóots Elementary, which translates to “brown bear” in the Lingít language, marked a pivotal moment in the school board’s meeting held at Sitka’s tribal community house, Sheetka Kwaan Naa Kahidi. The unanimous vote was met with applause from the board and the community members present, reflecting the culmination of efforts led by former board president Blossom Teal-Olsen. Despite stepping down from the board ten months prior, Teal-Olsen remained dedicated to the initiative, navigating through cultural sensitivities to achieve a consensus after a previous attempt had been unsuccessful two years ago.

Teal-Olsen’s leadership and the community’s resolve were instrumental in the renaming process, overcoming challenges that once seemed insurmountable. The effort was rooted in a broader discussion on the need for a more integrated cultural education in Sitka, spotlighted by the annual review of the Sitka School District’s Impact Report from the Cultural Department. The Sitka Native Education Program (SNEP), a key component of this initiative, has played a crucial role in incorporating traditional culture into the school curricula. However, this year’s discussions revealed a consensus that the district needs to push further in integrating Lingít cultural education, which continues to be seen as an addition rather than a core part of the educational experience, amid concerns over the language’s decline.

The renaming of the school to Xóots Elementary is a step forward in acknowledging and incorporating Alaska Native heritage and culture into the educational system, signaling a move towards a more inclusive and culturally aware learning environment in Sitka.

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