Here There and Everywhere

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Inequality: No Respect For Our First Nation Citizens (Blog Action Day)

I grew up in a small town, Juneau, Alaska, and not even in the main town, but on Douglas Island, across the Gastineau Channel from Juneau. My neighbors were fishermen, hunters, pilots, entrepreneurs and hard-working people struggling to make a living.

It was an upside down world. In most places, those who live there the longest are the leaders of society. In Southeast Alaska, those who lived there the longest were at the bottom of the heap, the Native Americans, the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian. I went to school with them. Yes, the boys carried knives. No, they were not dirty, and none of my little friends in elementary school were drunks. We were kids, we played together, we were all in the same classes all through elementary school – it was a small school.

Many of them did have family problems. There were problems of alcoholism, unemployment, domestic violence and hunger. They weren’t the only ones. The big problem was no respect. Although there were a few pieces of Native Art in the city museum, Native culture and Native craft were given little value. The Native way of life, living off the land, hunting and fishing, had greatly diminished as lands were apportioned off and hunting and fishing activities regulated.

In 1971 a huge lawsuit was settled and the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act provided some restoration for the damaged peoples. Alaska Natives now have regional corporations to administer and grow funds to support the culture, to provide education for the children, to provide health clinics and hospitals. SEALASKA began to organize a biennial Celebration, a gathering of all the Alaska natives to share their stories, to celebrate their culture, to dance and to transmit culture to their children. It’s a great opportunity for people you might see every day in their western life to remember where they come from and to be proud of who they are. This Celebration is held every two years and includes Alaska Natives from all over Alaska who want to participate. It is a very inclusive Celebration. The next Celebration will be June 8 – 11, in 2016. You can read a little more about Celebration 2014 here.

They learn the legends of their clans – the Eagles, The Ravens, the Beavers, the Bears and a number of other clans. They spend the time between celebrations stitching together elaborate costumes for their parade and dance exhibitions, hollowing out canoes from trees, making elaborate hats and masks.

We first learned of the Celebration gathering in 2012, when we already had tickets to go back to Zambia at the exact time the Celebration was taking place, but my sweet husband promised we could go back for the 2014 Celebration. As we researched, we discovered just how much of Alaska we wanted to see, and did a reconnaissance trip in 2013. We loved our time there, and we were delighted to be able to return this last year for Celebration 2014.

It was one of the most thrilling moments of my life, to see the gathering, to see the old women cry as canoes came into sight full of young Alaskan natives, and say “I never thought I would see this again in my life”, to watch the exhilaration of the dancers, to feel the energy of the parade and especially – to see the children. To see the pride in marching, in dancing, to see the joy in being able to express who they are and to share that with others. I was moved beyond my ability to express in words; it was a feeling that in one small way, a train of events that had gone very off track had moved incrementally back in the right direction.

Here are some photos from the joyous Celebration of 2014:

 

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October 16, 2014 Posted by | Adventure, Aging, Alaska, Arts & Handicrafts, Bureaucracy, Character, Civility, Community, Cross Cultural, Events, ExPat Life, Generational, Living Conditions, Photos, Quality of Life Issues, Social Issues, Spiritual | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Celebration 2014: Friday Afternoon Dancing

For the first time ever, the announcer tells us, the groups are all ready on time and the dancers ready to go – they are astonishingly ahead of schedule.

We return as a group of mixed dancers, from many Alaskan tribes, and some dancers with roots in classic “lower 48” tribes, so they all respect one another’s traditions, share, and do a little bit of everything. I kind of like this kind of flexibility. Some of the female costumes are a little ummm . . . skimpy . . . for the cold Alaskan climate, LOL, and some of the tattoos a little un-Alaskan and it doesn’t matter, they make it work.

The Celebration Hall is full and brimming over, dancers and their families in the waiting rooms, behind stage, in the halls, in the gift stores, children wailing for their Moms or Dads, it is totally a family affair. Grandma’s step in and help, and the dance goes on.00Afternoon

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June 25, 2014 Posted by | Alaska, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Community, Cross Cultural, Cultural, Events, Friends & Friendship, Generational, Interconnected, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Dancers, Costumes, Transmitting Culture at Celebration 2014

I am getting questions about the clans and tribes. I can’t answer your questions. I know there are the Ravens, and the Eagles, and I know they are not hostile but two halves of a whole. I know the raven legend; raven steals the sun – knowledge – and shares it with everyone. He is often shown with a long beak and/or curled around a ball. Eagles have short curved sharp beaks. But, with dispensation, an Eagle may marry a Raven. There are also subgroups, so you can be at once a Raven and a Bear, or a Killer Whale, or maybe a Wolf.

I try to understand, but it is a lot to absorb, and sort of complicated and flexible. As I look at my photos, I can see I was most interested in focusing on the costumes / textiles and less interested in the story. I wish I could tell you more, but you will have to read it for yourselves!

Here is a mural in downtown Juneau that demonstrates some of the artistic traditions of some of the various clans:

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It’s important to remember – this is about them. It’s about holding on to traditional values and core beliefs, and transmitting knowledge of the culture to children and grandchildren. It’s not about us. As I said, we are there to witness and observe and celebrate, but they are there to celebrate who they are. Meanwhile, you can share the experience with these photos:

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The front and center rows were reserved for the elders, and once the dancers started, every seat was filled. There were wet eyes, and open weeping. There were joyful moments, too, when the dancers would invite ‘all the Eagles’ or (something I didn’t understand) to rise and join them in their dance. My own heart swelled to witness their joy.

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June 24, 2014 Posted by | Alaska, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Community, Cultural, Exercise, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Public Art, Quality of Life Issues, Travel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Children’s Costume Contest at Celebration 2014

One of the sweetest events at Celebration 2014 is scheduled early early in the morning, so early, we missed a part of it. The families of the clans take great pride in creating their ceremonial robes with clan markings, and get the children started in the tradition early.

These children were SO adorable, and their costumes finely and lovingly wrought. They had an enthusiastic – if fairly sparse – audience at the early hour, but it was necessary with all the many different groups dancing throughout the day.

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I THINK this might have been the winner, but I am not sure. Not everything was in English, and sometimes I couldn’t understand what was said. Winner or not – adorable 🙂

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June 24, 2014 Posted by | Alaska, Arts & Handicrafts, Beauty, Cultural, ExPat Life, Generational, Travel | , | Leave a comment

The Hanger at the Wharf in Juneau

First, we really love eating at the Hanger at the Wharf. So does just about everyone else. Twice, we got really lucky. It is easier getting a table if you are just two people, and it is easier getting a table if you eat early. As we are still on Pensacola tummy time, we are in luck. As the Celebration 2014 parade ended, we zipped straight over and as larger groups waited, we were immediately shown to a table for two.

No wonder The Hanger is so popular. The food is terrific and this is the view – straight down the Gastineau channel with Douglas and the cruise ships. As the sun slides behind the mountain, it is a stunning view:

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Some hardier souls were eating outside on the deck. I used to be this hardy, but my years in the Middle East have softened me, made me not so good at eating in cool and drafty places, even in the middle of the Alaskan summer.

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Inside The Hanger: great, courteous, friendly and efficient employees

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Every table taken, the bar is packed, and people are waiting in the hallway to be seated:

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My halibut tempura:
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AdventureMan’s halibut burger and fries:
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We liked the food and atmosphere so well that we went back a second time during the ceremonial dances and were happy to see a lot of the dancers eating there, too. I had the first mate’s plate, with salmon and halibut and a berry chutney and AdventureMan had grilled halibut. We both left happy. We would go there again in a heartbeat.

There is only one little thing about The Hanger that makes me uneasy, and it has nothing to do with The Hanger. When I was a little girl, living across the channel, I would watch for my Dad to come home – this was the airport for the amphibious planes, Alaska Coastal Airlines (now part of Alaska Airlines) and Ellis Airlines. When his plane would land, we would all rush to the car and drive like crazy across the bridge to pick him up (no cell phones then, LOL). So I still feel a little frisson and feel the ghosts of the past when I eat there.

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June 23, 2014 Posted by | Alaska, Arts & Handicrafts, Circle of Life and Death, Community, Cultural, Customer Service, Eating Out, ExPat Life, Food, Interconnected, Living Conditions, Local Lore, Photos, Restaurant, Road Trips | , , | 2 Comments

Celebration 2014 Parade Continues

I hope you will forgive me; I am not able to do the same work on the iPad I can do on my computer, so these photos are uncropped, unenhanced, they are what they are. It isn’t about the photos, it is about the people they are celebrating. These are more photos from the opening parade, which was rich with colors and sounds:

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June 19, 2014 Posted by | Adventure, Alaska, Cultural, Events, ExPat Life, Generational, Heritage, Local Lore, Travel | , , , | Leave a comment

Celebration 2014 Begins

This is the reason we are here – Celebration 2014. I had never heard of it, it is not well publicized. It only began some time in the 1980’s and I came across it by accident, researching a Native Alaskan hunting mask my Mother gave me. I found a blog written by a young girl from Nome, showing early Celebrations, and explaining it was a gathering of the Alaskan clans.

Wow. This was so totally new to me. Growing up, there was little or no acknowledgement of the First Nation tribes. We were told not to play with the native children; they had knives, they were dangerous. LOL, tell a kid another kid has a knife and guess who they want to play with?

All us kids went to school together. Even as a young child, you recognize discrimination when you see it. Kids have a strong sense of “Fair”. We knew, at a gut level, that not playing with our Native classmates was not right, not fair, and . . . we went right ahead and did what kids do.

I do kind of cringe, thinking of playing cowboys and indians with real Indians, LOL . . . . but anyone could be whoever they wanted to be, so often as not, cowboys were Indian. It’s funny now that I think about it; kids see things differently.

I am not Native American, but this is my connection, my early classmates. You know how sometimes the pieces just come together? Now I know why I worked so hard to attend those nomadic festivals in Douz, in the Sahara south of Tunis, the falcon festivals, why I urge locals to gather the stories and dances and clothing traditions and to preserve them – it’s because I learned to treasure the arts and crafts of the earliest Alaskans.

So I came back not as participant, but as witness. I wanted to see the First Nation people Celebrate who they are, and their own cultures and traditions. I had no idea how very moving I would find it, but once the drums started beating and the chants started, I was weeping.

The best part was the multi-generational participation. The groups were led by elders, but at their feet were the grand children and great grandchildren, all dressed, all chanting, learning the steps, learning the songs, learning the traditions, learning more about who they are. Their faces were full of joy, and pride, and I get a little choked up just writing about it.

The opening parade was not until evening, so we were on our way to the hotel for a quick snooze and we saw the dugout canoes headed toward Juneau, full of chanting rowers.

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AdventureMan quickly turned the car around so we could watch them approach and land. It was haunting, beautiful, the drums, the chant, and a woman next to me, around my own age, turned to me, weeping and said “I never thought I would see this again in my own time.” It was a moment of pure joy.

(This was the end of a one week canoe trip by several canoes: read about it here)

The opening parade was a small problem; we looked and looked for where the parade was due to start and finish. Many in town knew there was supposed to be a parade sometime, but were hazy on the details. Finally, we found the right places, the right street and were scouting parking when a parking police person told us that all the government workers go home at five and the parking enforcement people go off duty at 5:30 so show up after 5:30 and you can park where you want. Wooo HOOOO! Thank you, City of Juneau!

The parade started promptly at 6, led by elders carrying the American flag. Tsimshia’an, Tlingket or Haida – all American. One of the lead dancers was a Marine who took leave to come back and dance with his tribe, leading the younger men in the movements to the hunting dances.

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More images to come 🙂

June 19, 2014 Posted by | Alaska, Arts & Handicrafts, Community, Events, Generational, Local Lore | , | 2 Comments