Beneath the Totem Pole

An interesting piece written by an outsider on Wrangell, where my people, the Teeyhittaan come from. It’s good to see my relatives pictured in someone else’s blog :).


Inside the Travel Lab

Tlingit Totem Pole in Alaska

Tlingit Culture in Alaska

It’s a narrow wooden bridge, so when a girl runs past, the reverberations affect us all. She’s a teenager, or maybe older, in classic blue jeans and US sneakers, with flowing blonde hair. A few minutes later I see her again, wrapped in a traditional Tlingit cloak and chanting with her ancestors.

We’ve crossed the bridge to the space outside Chief Shakes’ House, some 1000 miles north of Seattle. Totem poles teeter above our heads and the women close their eyes as they sing. In the fresh, wet grass, the girl’s sneakers peek out from beneath her robe.

That’s the paradox here in Wrangell: all-American freshness trying to revive a damaged past.

Tlingit Performance inside Chief Shakes' House“When they took our language,” says a woman with hair the colour of the clouds on the harbour, “they took more than that. They took our history and they took our stories.”

She’s talking about the successive colonial powers who arrived here and who, through religion, industry, deliberate oppression or imported disease, decimated the Tlingit culture that had survived 5000 years. For once, with my British passport I’m not made to feel like the bad guy. Well, not entirely.

Read the rest


About Vince

I am a Tlingit, born and raised in Tlingit Country, and a proud member of the Tlingit Nation.
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