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.