Walking in Two Worlds: Tribes and Timber in Alaska’s Tongass Forest

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About Vince

I am a Tlingit, born and raised in Tlingit Country, and a proud member of the Tlingit Nation.
This entry was posted in Building a Tlingit Nation, Clan Based Property, Decolonization, Environment, Haida, Sovereignty, Village Resilience. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Walking in Two Worlds: Tribes and Timber in Alaska’s Tongass Forest

  1. Frank Hopper says:

    This is a good introduction to the problem. I would like to see more about the traditional Tlingit teachings on trees and forests. How were logs prepared for canoes and for building clan houses and for carving totem poles? Did they make prayers before harvesting trees for these purposes? Were there ceremonies and rituals performed? What myths and legends do we Tlingits have regarding trees and forests? This could be contrasted with the clear cutting practices of modern Tlingits. Also, it would be nice to see some of the executives of Sealaska respond to direct questions about clear cutting. I’d like to see them squirm a little. Show how they are only concerned about money and power instead of the Earth that gives us life. And finally, it would be nice to see an example of a modern Tlingit family who work as loggers, to see their life and their community. This could show how the problem is complex, nuanced, and without an easy solution. A documentary like this could receive a much broader audience if it showed the tragedy of a once beautiful and noble culture devastated from within and without by the pressures and complexities of globalization and capitalism.

    • Vince says:

      Back in the day the trees were so big that boards would be split off the trunk without actually cutting the tree down. Of course whole trees were taken down to build houses and canoes; but this was all for local use and obviously didn’t include clear cutting and log export. My understanding that the cutting of a tree required some form of payment to the forest. I’m not sure on the ritual side of things. Myths and legends regarding forests: to some degree forests were seen as impenetrable. Trade, travel and social ties were mostly oriented toward water ways as it was far easier to travel by water than to walk through dense, old growth forest.

      Sealaska’s response to logging criticism generally falls along the line of sovereignty; this is our land and we need to make a living. They even go so far as to represent themselves as a “tribe” and in some instances the federal government has allowed them to do so such as in repatriation hearings at NAGPRA hearings (see here: https://lingitlatseen.com/2010/12/03/victory-for-the-takdeintaan-and-teeyhittaan-clans/). I believe they have also represented themselves as a tribe with regards to their “Haa Aani” campaign to select additional lands in SE Alaska. Of course Sealaska is not a tribe in any sense of the word; they are a corporation. The true institutions that make up the Tlingit Nation are our autonomous clans which are independent land owners in their own right under traditional Tlingit Law. ANCSA flies in the face of these traditions and creates a perverse incentive for our people to gut our lands for profit.

      • Frank Hopper says:

        I read a Master’s thesis that someone had written regarding Tlingit shaman’s charms. It explained that the forest was considered the unconscious part of our world that was dark and mysterious. The surface of the ocean was considered the conscious part of our world where you can clearly see around yourself and nothing can sneak up on you. But the forest has many places to hide and many creatures live there that can benefit or harm you. That’s why the land otter was so mystical. It lived in both the water and in the forest, just as the shaman lived in the everyday world but also visited the spirit world.

        So the forest is the collective unconscious of our people. It is an interface with the silent emotions of our ancestors, the home of our tribal archetypes and instincts. By decimating this precious resource we are performing a cultural lobotomy on ourselves.

      • Vince says:

        Yes! Thank you for that. This is my understanding as well, but you said it far better than I could have.

  2. What Sealaska calls, “continuation of economic development”, is at the terrible cost of native communities, their socioeconomic vitality and their cultural identities and traditions according to decades of peer reviewed research by ethnologists, sociologists, and anthropologists studying the role of ANCSA’s corporate model in southeast Alaska.

    History speaks for itself, as we see social scientists documenting cause/ effect relationships of ANCSA’s legacy of its terrible impacts on native villages. These villages have the highest rates of domestic abuse, suicides, rape, unemployment, and are direct consequences of native corporate practices failing to achieve sustainable economies and functional village dynamics. Sealaska bill simply allows this to occur on areas never agreed upon and it is no surprise there is much conflict over this outrageous bill.

    ANCSA has re-created native village life into those who have plenty and those who have very little and force marginal families with limited access to subsistence resources out of villages. This was never the way it was for thousands of years in Raven House.

    ANCSA was supposed to create economic prosperity for all, but instead, it created economic prosperity for a relative few.

    This is precisely why thousands of Tlingits, Haidas, and Tsimshian shareholders are against this bill: it represents a continuation of the same tragic failures of the past.

    Dr. Kirk Dombowski sums this up in his dissertation, “Against Culture: Development, Politics, and Religion in Indian Alaska”- “Alaska natives having borne the brunt of hundreds of years of colonial extraction, have been placed at the margins of the Western world and have borne a particularly heavy portion of the burden of reproducing Western culture.”

    The bill is morally indefensible, people don’t understand or are personally profiting from it.

    Sealaska Shareholders Underground

    • Frank Hopper says:

      This corporate view is like a cancer destroying us from the inside out. Thanks for citing Dr. Dombowski’s book. I’m going to find a copy and study it. This issue has many sides.

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