Every two years native people from the three dominant tribes in the region gather to promote cultural traditions in an event called Celebration.  Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian people join together in a kind of big “family reunion” with dancing, drumming and singing – a wonderful display with everyone dressed in their tribal regalia.Celebration is an important venue for native people to strengthen their language and culture – oral traditions that were almost lost because of racism and attempts to eradicate their ways by both the U.S. and Canadian governments.

Boarding schools were established starting in the late 1800s through the early 1970s where native children were taken from their parents, forbidden to speak their languages, use their tribal names, or wear any family symbols.  Life in these schools was harsh, in addition to the cruelty of assimilation.

Celebration is where speeches and introductions are given in Tlingit, Haida or Tsimshian, with a short summary given in English.  The University of Alaska Southeast now offers a program in Tlingit language and the Hoonah school system just announced that Tlingit language training will be mandatory for all students.  Native culture is resurgent, but it’s tragic that it was almost lost because of racism.

Our favorite thing about Celebration is that it’s so inclusive – everyone participates, with particular emphasis on elders……and the young.These photos were taken during the Grand Entrance Parade – barely a preview of all the colorful regalia and different dancing groups that would perform over the next few days.Imagine all the hours of handwork that went into each piece of regalia – the weaving of mountain goat hair into these Chilkat blanket robes (the yellow and green above), the tanning and hand-sewing of elkhide moccasins, intricate beadwork, hand carved masks and decorative pieces for headdresses, and weaving cedar bark into patterned rainproof hats.We were very moved by this group of women parading with large photos of their ancestors – grandmothers and great-grandmothers to be remembered and honored.  One woman came over to us and shared the story of her grandmother and how cherished she was.  Very moving.And on the lighter side, not everyone wore regalia… this fellow was a big hit with the parade spectators!I’ll show more photos and some video from the dancing performances as well as the toddler regalia fashion show in the next post… stay tuned.

Heading to Juneau

One of our summertime rituals is to head to The Big City to do some shopping.  Some food items can be half the cost they are in Petersburg, and sometimes it’s just a matter of being able to get things that are expensive to ship.  Costco, Home Depot, and Fred Meyer (like a Super Target) are great places to spend a lot in order to save a lot.  Shopping isn’t my favorite way to spend time, but at least we can still have fun along the way.After leaving Tracy Arm fjord we stopped overnight in Taku Harbor to break up the long slog up to the north side of Juneau.  Taku is named for the local Tlingit people who lived there, and the harbor is also the site of a salmon cannery that closed in 1909.It’s fun to explore around the ruins, and Jim even found an old ink bottle among the rocks.There’s a Forest Service cabin in the harbor, and just past it we found a rope swing hung between two tall trees.  You’re never too old to enjoy a good swing!  Spring is still “springing” so the ferns are still unfolding their fiddles and the only flowers in bloom were the shooting stars – so pretty!Heading north up Stevens Passage some orcas gave us a quick show – they’re fast and can be hard to photograph unless they hang around.  This pod was on the move…We also spotted some humpbacks, and of course a big cruise ship heading into Juneau’s downtown harbor.  We prefer to stay in Auke Bay on the north side of town, away from the cruise ship craziness.  Approaching Auke Bay from the water gives us a great view of the Mendenhall Glacier, and we often go see it up close if we have a rental car.It’s very difficult to get a sense of scale for these massive rivers of ice, but I took a photo of the “little” waterfall that roars next to the glacier – notice the tiny dots that are people standing in front of it.

There are some nice short trails around the Mendenhall Visitor Center and we know to carry bear spray.  Sure enough, there were very recent reports of black bear sows and cubs around, though we didn’t see any.  Just as I was wishing we might see something interesting, we spotted a porcupine in a nearby tree chomping away on spring shoots.  He/she gave us a great show – reaching up for the best leaves, leaning way out to grab branches, and showing off his very orange beaver-like teeth!No visit to the state capital would be complete without stopping at the recently renovated State Museum –  it’s superb.  We bought an annual pass since we know we’ll be in Juneau several more times this summer.

Last year we saw a humpback blowing and diving right in the Auke Bay harbor a number of times, occasionally popping up right next to the boat.  He’s back this year, or maybe he never left…The Auke Bay docks are in 110′ of water, and there must be plenty of food for the whale and the colony of harbor seals that live nearby.  We saw that whale a number of times in and near the harbor for days.  It’s funny because the whale watching tours for the cruise ships leave from this harbor… sometimes they don’t have to go very far to get a great show.

Alaska…  Where your window is your T.V.

Glacier Time

Tracy Arm is a dramatic fjord that’s about a day’s run from Petersburg, and we decided to check out the ice conditions to see if we could make it up to see the two Sawyer Glaciers this early in the season.  Often the Arm is so choked with ice that it’s impassable until early-mid July, but this time it didn’t look too bad and we saw that a few smaller tour boats and one cruise ship from Juneau were going up.In the photo above, the two bergy bits were about the size of our boat, and the cruise ship in the distance is 948′ long – just to give you a sense of scale for this fjord!We even have a playlist of big bold classical music to play when we go up – it seems fitting for the grand scenery.Unfortunately the brash ice was far too dense for us to get around the last point to see the face of the larger South Sawyer Glacier, though we could see the upper part.  Access to the smaller North Sawyer Glacier was pretty clear though, so we were able to approach the face keeping a good distance from the many seals hauled out on the calved ice.The Sawyer glaciers are very blue – the color almost looks fake, but that’s what it really looks like.After the long day’s run up and back, we chilled out in the anchorage, watched a sub-adult brown bear clamming on the beach……and I headed out in the kayak to check out some of the large bergy bits that were aground at the mouth of the cove.I never get tired of looking at the ice – so many colors and patterns.  Some is white and some is clear and some looks blurry.  I’m careful to stay clear of floating bergy bits in case they roll, and I’m also wary of overhangs that could break off… but anytime I can get close and study the ice I’m happy.


Party Like a Viking

Before heading out for summer cruising, we stayed in town long enough to enjoy the annual Little Norway Festival.  This year marks the 60th anniversary of Petersburg’s celebration of Norwegian Constitution Day (May 17 – Syttende Mai) where we party like vikings for four days.  (No self-respecting viking would party for just one day.)Vikings and valkyries come in all shapes and sizes……and they can use different kinds of transportation to get around.  Note the clumps of moss growing on their bus.  But ultimately, vikings prefer ships…  big ones, little ones, and even tiny ones.People come from far and wide to enjoy the festival, including Alaska’s governor and lieutenant governor (riding on the truck pulling the big viking ship), as well as Norway’s ambassador to the US.The Norwegian ambassador has been to Petersburg a number of times now… he says that in Norway they only celebrate Syttende Mai for one day, so he likes our style better.  He’s also been here to bestow a special medal from the King of Norway to our harbormaster Glo. 

Norwegian culture is also featured throughout the festival, with our young Leikerring Dancers…….and members of our Sons of Norway lodge who wore their traditional folk costumes (“bunads”) around town.  The lodge also hosted a “fashion show” of over 70 different bunads for men, women and children from all over Norway, unique to each region.Other cultures celebrate the Little Norway Festival too, with the unveiling of a story pole at the Library carved by a famous Tlingit carver and drumming by the local Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood in the parade.We tried our hand at rosemaling – traditional Norwegian tole painting, decorating little wooden doves.We had a good time painting and learning, interrupting our artistic efforts just in time to watch the volunteer fire department challenge the police department in a contest to see who could pull a fire engine faster – “guns vs. hoses”.  The “guns” (police) team won.The children’s fishing contest filled the north harbor docks with little tykes who learned to fish at an early age – these kids are serious!  The herring toss and viking games were fun to watch, and of course there were plenty of Norwegian treats to eat (“made with butter and love”).

But we’ve been tied to the dock far too long, and it’s time to “fly”…