Working Together

Wooch.een club fosters unity in the diverse culture of UAS

ALYSSA MADRID, Staff Writer, UAS Whalesong 

Wooch.een means “working together” in Tlingit. Wooch.een is also the name of the UAS leadership club that focuses on Alaska Native cultures.

Wooch.een formed in 1992 with efforts from Native and non-native students to provide campus-wide cultural and academic activities. The Native and Rural Student Center fostered the club to promote a positive understanding of Alaska Native students as well as advocate for Native American issues in partnership with non-native people, according to the NRSC brochure. 

The NRSC’s mission statement “is to create a student-centered inclusive environment that honors diversity, celebrates cultural traditions and knowledge, and enhances the learning experiences of the University of Alaska Southeast students.”

Wooch.een focuses on providing culturally relevant input to university departments and community organizations. The club encourages participation of family, faculty and community members in campus events, and provides Native students with necessary tools to become successful college students and leaders within the community.  

For example, in fall 2016, Wooch.een lead efforts in Juneau to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline from North Dakota to Illinois. The Standing Rock Sioux and other Native American groups claimed the pipeline would damage cultural sites, water resources, and the environment. Wooch.een held a rally on the UAS campus in support of the protests in the Dakota Access region, as well as protests around North America.

“For students, Wooch.een provides fellowship and family. We are like cousins,” said Kolene James, NRSC Coordinator and Wooch.een club advisor. 

“The community sees Wooch.een as hope. Knowing that there is a group of university students focusing on cultural safety and equity, it is hope for the future,” she said.

James explained what cultural safety meant to her. “When I think of culturally safety, in my personal experience, it is the ability to be a Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian woman, here at our campus and not having to worry about a challenge to my identity,” she said.

“I think what Wooch.een does is create a space that is safe for everybody to participate as their authentic self. They don’t have to hide any part of them to be a part of Wooch.een. Students can safely unpack whatever it is they might have questions about or concerns,” James said.

“I don’t know that everyone on our campus feels like they can be their authentic self and I think Wooch.een works to tackle that, to make sure that this campus feels safe and that their experience is a safe experience,” James said.

Wooch.een is open to all students and helps to bridge the gap between academic and cultural education, according to NRSC webpage.

For information about Wooch.een or the NRSC, visit the center located on the first floor of Mourant building on the Juneau campus, call (907) 796–6454, or visit the website at uas.alaska.edu/nrsc

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