John Palmes

John Palmes
copyright john palmes


When Dzantik'iheeni Middle School was being planned the school board had to pick a name for the new school. Some wanted to name it after a deceased police officer who worked with kids, and there were other proposals, one of which was to name the school after Juneau's Tlingit (Native Alaskan) name... Dzantik'iheeni. Some people were fairly adamant about their preferred name... and a certain amount of unpleasant bickering ensued.

A lot of folks wanted to honor Jackie Renniger and others wanted to honor Juneau's Alaska Native heitage.

Dzanti means "flounder" in the Tlingit language. Heen is fresh water and the i at the end is a possessive ending... a place where flounders gather at the mouth of a freshwater stream (water of the flounder). The k' in the middle could be a diminutive ending... "the little flounder water", but the late John Marks informed me that it is from "Te" ... stone or cliff, and tek' at the foot of the cliff... so the song is probably wrong in it's translation to some small extent... (I get a B+ maybe ?)

Arguments against Dzantik'iheeni included the difficulty in pronouncing or reading the name and the kids would be called flounders and that floundering means failing.... never mind that "floundering" is a mistaken pronunciation of "foundering" which is what a ship does when it runs up on a reef or a shoal.

Ok, so the school needed a name. The school board, in their wisdom, decided that they would enact a policy that schools would no longer be named for people... so the street leading to the school is named Renniger Street.. and a skateboarding park has also been named after Ms. Renniger.

The default and politically correct choice then was to name the school Dzantik'iheeni .... and I being a good Tlingit student wrote this song to teach folks how to pronounce it (and to show off how fiendishly clever I am... never mind that I tend to turn the k'i into k'a ... Dzantik'aheeni instead of Dzantik'iheeni.... B- ? ... Don't you do this too).

It's not really that hard.. that apostrophied K' is a pinch in the back of your throat.. a little harder than k in English but people are getting the hang of it now. The most common mistake is to pronounce the a as "aah", like in Santa Calara (CA)... as if it were Santa Kaheeni ... and named after Saint Kaheeni... you know him? the saint that drove the snakes out of Alaska.. that's the one.

Single a in Tlingit is pronounced like the a in America... 7up is the un-cola and this is the un-tik'iheeni.