Southeast Alaska Storytelling: “Haa Léelk’u Hás Haa Éet Aawlitoo.át” and “Sitka Tells Tales”


When the pandemic started, KCAW worked hard to provide for the information needs of our rural, isolated communities throughout Southeast Alaska – our small staff worked day and night to share closures and public health information, while trying to prevent catastrophic rumor-mongering. Yet, we learned that the needs of our community were more than informational; they were emotional. Social distancing erased our human connections.

In April of 2020, a local nonprofit partnered with KCAW to meet this emotional need. That nonprofit is Artchange, and their mission is to support the creation of documentary media, contemporary art and community projects/events that foster participation, collaboration and interaction. We produced “A Moment Together,” a series of shorts to connect community members during the pandemic. The 2-5 minute cuts were made up of crowd sourced material and audio collected by KCAW and Artchange.

The pandemic wore on, and a more long-term need for adaptation and innovation was clear to both KCAW and Artchange. “A Moment Together’ was a snapshot into the internal lives of our community, but was a one-way connection. How do we create community dialog? We both were concerned with adapting our practice and collaborations to engage communities in cultural experiences while reducing the risk carried by in-person events. Prior to COVID-19, Artchange hosted a regular live in-person storytelling event called “Sitka Tells Tales.” We decided to work together to adapt the broadcast platform to host live storytelling, remotely with storytellers joining via Zoom, and thus “Sitka Tells Tales” became an hour-long monthly radio program.

We thought that creating this venue would increase audience engagement – and it did. Because of what they heard on the air, the Sitka Tribe of Alaska approached KCAW about weaving together one of their social service programs with traditional Tlingít storytelling to create a new radio show. We were thrilled for the opportunity: it is our aim to sound more like the communities we broadcast to. Southeast Alaska is Tlingít Aani, or: the unceded ancestral lands of the Tlingít, Haida and Tsimshian Peoples – with many villages being primarily Indigenous. Thus, “Haa Léelk’u Hás Haa Éet Aawlitoo.át”, or “Our Grandparents’ Teachings,” came on the air, hosted by Daanax.ils’eik (Chuck Miller). Our Grandparents’ Teachings focuses on legends and teachings from the traditions of the Tlingít people of Sitka and greater Southeast Alaska.