Gene Tagaban, a Juneau resident, ends his story and joins with the Raven spirit for one final dance during the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., between June 26 and July 1. (Photo by Maria James)

Gene Tagaban, a Juneau resident, ends his story and joins with the Raven spirit for one final dance during the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in Washington, D.C., between June 26 and July 1. (Photo by Maria James)

Neighbors: Tlingit storyteller Gene Tagaban participates in Smithsonian Folklife Festival

The Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C., hosted its Smithsonian Folklife Festival, with the theme, “Indigenous Voices of the Americas: Celebrating the National Museum of the American Indian,” from June 26 to July 1. The event included performances of Indigenous singers, dancers, storytellers and food.

Tlingit storytelling with Juneau resident Gene Tagaban (Native name Guuy Yaau) was part of the Smithsonian Folklife Festival. Tagaban said he learned the art of storytelling at Naakahidi Theater, affiliated with the Sealaska Corp.

Tagaban told several stories that increasingly involved us with the power of narratives on Brother Raven. He presented personal experiences of Juneau where he said he sat and had lunch with Brother Raven.

In his personal experience, on the mountain on Douglas Island, the storyteller Tagaban encountered Raven who asked him, “Is that a peanut butter and jelly sandwich?” When assured it was, the Raven brought back his family and they all shared the sandwich. Yet as the storyteller descended the mountain, a hemlock tree branch swept across his face, taking out both his contact lenses and suddenly he could not see. Blinded, he became lost. Brother Raven appeared, promising, “I will lead you down the mountain.” With the guidance of Brother Raven, Tagaban was led to safety. At the bottom of the mountain, the story teller gratefully thanked Brother Raven.

In a second story, Tagaban told the story of how Raven and Hawk brought fire to the people. The hawk came bearing the gift of fire, with the heavy burden causing the hawk great suffering. Raven took the Fire from Hawk and threw it to the human beings. From Raven and Hawk then, humans receive fire and the spirit. Tagaban proclaimed, “We all have that Spirit!” Tagaban, adorned with Raven wings, dancing and uniting in Spirit, proclaimed “Light the fire in the hearts of the people!”

The festival’s programming revolves around four primary themes: relevance, resistance, representation, and reclamation. The event, presented in collaboration with the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, the NMAI, and the National Park Service, aims to honor both traditional and contemporary Indigenous expressions, fostering a platform for dialogue on cultural equity and social justice.

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