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Naaxein Teaching Partnership Blends Tradition and Technology

May 4, 2022 | Alaska Native, Education, Engineering, News

Tlingit dancers in robes at Alaska Native Heritage Center

Steven Cukrov | Dreamstime

Three organizations have formed a new partnership to bridge the gap between culture and modern technology for the next generation of Alaskans.

Woven Together 

The Alaska Native Heritage Center (ANHC), Alaska Native Science & Engineering Program (ANSEP), and Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium (ANTHC) are launching the Naaxein Teaching Partnership. The name comes from the Tlingit word for robe, and a 19th century Tlingit Chilkat robe is at the center of the collaboration.

The partnership’s first project takes place this week during ANSEP’s Career Explorations Week. More than twenty students from ANSEP’s Acceleration Academy high school component in Anchorage, the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, and Bethel are working alongside professionals to use 3D modeling hardware and software to scan a delicate robe in ANHC’s collection. The scans then create a virtual version of the artifact.

In a separate project, students are working with ANTHC on 3D imaging at the Koliganek water treatment facility.

“We want our students to understand that tradition and culture aren’t separate from modern science and technology. They don’t have to choose one or the other. As evidenced by our projects with the Naaxein Teaching Partnership, the two are intertwined,” says ANSEP founder and Vice Provost Herb Schroeder.

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ANHC was recently gifted a 120-year-old woven Chilkat robe. The virtual copy will be shared and studied around the world.

“This Naaxein is a teaching robe,” says Emily Edenshaw, ANHC president and CEO. “It’s remarkable to see that hundreds of years later we are able to uphold the purpose of this robe through technology.”

The water treatment imaging project is a collaboration with the Trimble Education Program to show the intersection where scanning and surveying meet. The Trimble Visiting Professionals and ANTHC are teaching students the workflow from turning 3D scans into a 3D computer-aided design to build a water treatment plant.

“The Naaxein Teaching Partnership is an incredible opportunity for our community to highlight the brilliance of our youth,” says Valerie Nurr’araaluk Davidson, president and CEO of ANTHC. “This collaborative project allows students to use their skills in engineering, construction, and problem-solving to preserve and advance our cultures while developing their careers.”

The initial 3D rendering of the Chilkat robe will be available by the end of ANSEP Acceleration Academy Career Explorations Week. The robe itself will also be on display at the ANHC for the next year, following construction of a display case to ensure good stewardship of the item.

The Naaxein Teaching Partnership plans to collaborate on similar projects in the future to preserve cultural heritage, use technology to bridge the gap between the past and future, and to open clear career paths for youth.

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