Sometimes I try to remember what I thought about Alaska before I moved here. I am pretty sure I thought that Alaskan Natives were all just called Eskimos. I’m pretty sure I had never heard of Eyak or Tlingit. I can’t remember if I thought there were polar bears and igloos everywhere or if I was under the impression that people still used dog mushing to get around. But seven years later, I am now shocked by the ignorance of people ‘down south’. (Down south referring to anywhere else in the US, from Wisconsin to Texas.) When tourists get off the cruise ships and ask what currency is accepted and wonder if there are going to be any penguins around, I don’t even know how to respond.
I love learning more about this place every year. One of the things I got really excited about my first year up here was Celebration. Every two years there is a Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian festival held in Juneau called Celebration. I got to work at Celebration this year and it was a really amazing experience. It is such an important event for Southeast Alaskan traditions. It reminds me of how spoiled I am to be able to take my culture for granted. I have never once thought about Dutch customs dying off. But there are less than a dozen fluent Haida speakers left today and they are all over 70! Can you imagine watching the last English speaker grow old and die? It breaks my heart to think about not only the impact Europeans had on Native Americans when they first landed here, but the impacts throughout westward expansion and impacts from forced boarding schools even in the 1950s. It makes Celebration so much more meaningful when you realize just how important it is to celebrate and showcase Southeast Alaska Native traditions and customs.