Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

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

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

Pacific Northwest Natives Have DNA Link 5,000 years

Don’t you love technology? It’s like working on a complex puzzle, and all of a sudden seeing how disparate pieces relate 🙂 This is a fascinating discovery from AOL/Huffpost:

Ancient DNA Linked To Living Descendants In Genetic Study

The Huffington Post  |  By  Posted: 07/09/2013 2:24 pm EDT  |  Updated: 07/09/2013 9:12 pm EDT

What if you could trace your ancestry back to around 5,000 years ago? Researchers were able to do just that in a fascinating new DNA study, which found adirect genetic link between the ancient remains of Native Americans and their living relatives.

“It’s very exciting to be able to have scientific proof that corroborates what our ancestors have been telling us for generations,” study co-author and participant Joycelynn Mitchell said in a written statement. “It’s very amazing how fast technology is moving to be able to prove this kind of link with our past.”

In the study, U.S. and Canadian researchers used mitochondrial genome (mitogenome) sequencing to analyze DNA inherited exclusively through mothers. Looking at the mitogenome is cheap, easier to sequence than nuclear DNA, and skirts around the problem that European men mixed with Native American women.

The researchers collected DNA from 60 living indigenous people belonging to the Tsimshian, Haida and Nisga’a tribes in the northern coast of British Columbia. The tribes’ oral histories and archaeological sites indicate they have lived in the region for generations, which made them good candidates for tracing their lineage back so many years.

Complete mitogenomes were extracted from the remains of four Mid-Holocene individuals found in British Columbia’s Lucy Islands and Dodge Island, and then that information was compared to the DNA of the study participants.

What was found? The research team discovered one of the living individuals carried this same “mitogenomic signature” as a young adult female who lived on Dodge Island 2,500 years ago — which also matched the mitogenome of the remains of a woman who lived in the Lucy Islands 5,500 years ago. Wow.

Three other living participants had mitogenomes that linked back to the remains of another individual found on Dodge Island, who may have lived around 5,000 years ago.

“This is the beginning of the golden era for ancient DNA research because we can do so much now that we couldn’t do a few years ago because of advances in sequencing technologies,” study co-author Dr. Ripan Malhi, an anthropology professor at the University of Illinois and Institute for Genomic Biology professor, said in a written statement. “We’re just starting to get an idea of the mitogenomic diversity in the Americas, in the living individuals as well as the ancient individuals.”

The new study was published online on June 3, 2013 in the journal PLoSONE.

July 10, 2013 Posted by | Circle of Life and Death, Cultural, Family Issues, Generational, Interconnected, Local Lore, Relationships | , , , , , , | Leave a comment