June 8, 2018
‘Spiritual and powerful’: Canoes land at Douglas Harbor for Celebration
Drums and traditional songs filled the air at Douglas Harbor on Tuesday afternoon as Alaska Natives from all over Southeast Alaska made their way into the boating dock.
One People Canoe Society gathered together nine canoes filled with anywhere between 13-17 paddlers from Ketchikan, Sitka, Kake, Angoon, Hoonah, Yakutat and the Taku River in Canada, who each paddled their way into the harbor from their hometowns. It was the unofficial start to this year’s Celebration, the four-day biennial festival celebrating Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian cultures.
Clan leaders welcomed the canoes as they arrived from their several day journey. As the boats came to the dock, paddlers in the canoes would then asked if they had permission to come on land in front of a crowd of hundreds of people.
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Before they departed last week, a few local paddlers gathered at Auke Bay for last minute preparations. They piled bags of supplies into a long, white canoe covered in formline design with an eagle painted on the bow.
The Eagle canoe is manned by Alaska Native veterans. Aside from the desire to travel their ancestral waters, this group also paddles to raise awareness about the high rate of post-traumatic stress disorder and suicide among veterans.
Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians learn from each other on environmental topics
On the rocky beach at Berners Bay, clumps of seaweed dried in the sun as people chatted and the engine from the catamaran was still audible. But stepping into the quiet, cool shade of the spruce trees was like stepping back in time.
Petroglyphs — carvings in the rocks that were made at least hundreds of years ago — are still visible. They’re a bit faded and lined with moss and lichen, but the shape of a face is distinguishable on one stone as the shape of a swirl is visible on another.
The people who were passing by the stones this Sunday were here as members of a new convention entitled Tléix’ Yaakw (One Canoe), which brings together Alaska Native leaders with Native Hawaiian leaders to explore their common ground and delving into solutions to preserving nature and indigenous languages. The University of Alaska Southeast organized and coordinated the conference.
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It's summer - let's travel! Essential Native American Travel Destinations & Experiences For Summer
Traveling to Indian Reservations doesn’t register on many people’s “travel bucket lists.” There are a lot of reasons for this, which are far too complicated to get into here, ranging from cultural disconnects to overt racism. That’s a shame, as a trip to an Indian Reservation is an enlightening experience and should be essential to get a handle on who we really are as Americans.
Indian Country (that’s the collective name for all of America and Canada’s reservations) is home to many of the first peoples of this country. There you’ll find wholly unique cultures and some of the most beautiful scenery on the continent — from the Badlands of South Dakota to the vast hop fields of the Yakama Valley to the blue waterfalls of the Havasupai.
Indian reservations are also at the very bottom of America’s socio-economic ladder. There are no poorer, sicker, and at-risk Americans than those living on reservations. It may feel difficult to know how to help those left behind in America, especially when it all seems so far away. But there is a way to help, right now in fact. Go there. Book a tour. Eat at a roadside diner. Hire a guide. Visit art galleries. Buy things. Spend money in general. Tourism dollars are a great way to support our fellow Americans who are at the bottom, struggling to finally rise above their lot in this American life.