I love Ishmael’s writing, his commitment to our culture, his writing, his documentation of our history, and how humble he is about everything he does. There’s a wealth of knowledge at his blog.
My favorite quote from this piece:
The land belongs to us. It also belongs to itself, and to the animals and the plants, and to no one. When you can grasp each of these truths, slowly, one by one and then all together, it seems to me that you can start to understand the multivalent truths of Native American myths. It’s also, I think, how the world works.
Alaska Native Storyteller
A storyteller’s job is to try to see what’s out there. What’s out there, in my life, has mostly been the mountains, creeks, rivers, clouds, and trees of Southeast Alaska. When I’m out there, I feel at home, and not alone. The world is there.
A year ago, Johnny Marks, a good friend of mine, who passed away last fall, drove along with me and Kathy Ruddy, and told us about place names and clan sites in Juneau. Some of my favorites included Shaa Tlaax, Moldy Mountain, or Mount Juneau, which was named that way, Johnny said, because of the short grass on the edge, which looks like mold; Dzanti, Flounder Hill, which was named that way because it looked like a flounder as hunters were paddling along the Gastineau Channel; and Dzantik’ihéeni, The River Below Dzanti, Gold Creek. The Tlingit place names beautifully describe the landscape, tying us deeper into the place, named with the philosophical undercurrent that everything is alive.
Storytellers and political leaders, it seems to me, are very different things. That’s why it’s difficult to locate the general thinking of a people from hearing a story or a political speech. The stories, the enduring ones, are reflections of generations of deep knowledge from the surrounding world. Tlingit people have always had, and still have, ambitious, industrious leaders. They were tempered, however, with lifelong educations in Tlingit mythology. Everything is alive. You can either have a literature that supports unfettered human ambition for power, or one that tempers it by giving off the fogdrift of the living nature of things. Or you can abandon literature altogether, and replace it with human-centered, self-centered, self-congratulating consumption. It’s easy to find, just a click away.