"Gunalcheesh to the first people of this land."

A land acknowledgment made by Ketchikan Charter School students is on display at the school's entrance on Monday. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Ketchikan Charter School students have created an art project recognizing the Saanya Kwaan and Taanta Kwaan people in the form of a land acknowledgement.

With colorful paper cut-outs and hand-drawn lettering and illustrations, every KCS student chipped in to decorate a plain bulletin board at the school to share the acknowledgement that is announced each morning.

The project reads in big decorative letters: "Gunalcheesh to the first people of this land. KCS pays respect to those past and present who have stewarded Tlingit Aanii since Time immemorial. We respectfully acknowledge the traditional first people of this land, the Saanya Kwaan and the Taanta Kwaan."

The project is located on a large bulletin board hanging outside the school's office, according to KCS art teacher Halli Kenoyer.

Kenoyer, who has taught art in district schools for more than 25 years, told the Daily News during a Tuesday morning interview, that hearing the acknowledgement play on the school's speaker system each day before the start of classes is meaningful to her as an educator.

"And to hear the land acknowledgement, to be read over the announcements, is just something (that) really speaks to my heart," Kenoyer said. "We have many students who are Indigenous, of course. And I just like seeing that smile come across their face. I like seeing their classmates look at them with almost a spark in their eyes. And they ask fellow students about their culture. They ask them about, you know, 'What does that mean to be from the land of the Taanta Kwaan?' Or 'What does that mean to be from the land of the Saanya Kwaan?'"

The announcement is read by KCS Prinicipal Kayla Livingston each morning.

"You can just hear in her voice how happy she is to share this with her students," Kenoyer noted.

The schoolwide art project was another way to share that message throughout the school.

"And I thought, 'Well, what if everybody participated in, you know, writing out the creed that we hear every morning?'" Kenoyer recalled.

"Every student in the school was respectful and very engaged," she added.

For a little over a week, every student at KCS took part in drawing, coloring and decorating the letters that make up the words of the acknowledgement.

Many of the students enjoyed putting symbols of their clans on the project, and sharing with other students about what these mean.

"So it was just neat to see kids take ownership of it," Kenoyer said. "They stop and they look at it and smile." Kenoyer said. "We have one up here in our main building and we're just finishing the one that's going to go up over in the annex that resides in Holy Name."

"I feel like that's it, the sharing of the culture ... I think the thing that's most exciting for me to see is just kids smiling when they share about their culture or they hear people start to pronounce 'gunalcheesh' properly, and that's been kind of 'cool, cause we all struggled with language that we don't know at first," she explained. "And now we know how to say the Saanya Kwaan, now we know who the Tantaa Kwaan are. And it's long overdue."