Yeilk’ Vivian Mork sits watching a sunset with nephews Timothy and Jackson Person, Wrangell. (Vivian Faith Prescott / For the Capital City Weekly)

Yeilk’ Vivian Mork sits watching a sunset with nephews Timothy and Jackson Person, Wrangell. (Vivian Faith Prescott / For the Capital City Weekly)

Planet Alaska: 10 Southeast Alaskan gratitudes

Berries, arts, salmon and so much more.

By Yéilk’ Vivian Mork and Vivian Faith Prescott

In Alaska, gratitudes are influenced by the land, people, and our unique cultures. Gratitude is different from being thankful. Gratitude is accompanied by action and a lifelong practice. Being thankful is a fleeting feeling. These are uncertain times, but still, we are grateful. In Lingít we say, “Shtóogaa xat sitee—I am grateful.”

Here are 10 Southeast Alaskan gratitudes:

1. Berry gratitude: We are most grateful when we’re picking thimbleberries and gray currants, our favorites. Sagóot kuwahaa — It is a joyful time. We pick and harvest for ourselves and others, donating berries and spruce tips to our tribal community. Tlingit Aaní provides and we are grateful. Berry gratitude is the harvesting and sharing of abundance and the practice of generosity—Sagóot kuwahaa.

Salmonberries and blueberries. Wrangell. (Vivian Faith Prescott, photographer / For the Capital City Weekly)

Salmonberries and blueberries. Wrangell. (Vivian Faith Prescott, photographer / For the Capital City Weekly)

2. Auntie gratitude (Grandparent gratitude): A new nephew arrived in the world this year and a new grandchild is due next spring. Life goes on. We are filled with gratitude, despite our fear for this next generation. How will children adapt to a post-pandemic world? And who will they be? It’s easy to be pessimistic but an Auntie’s role and a Grandparent’s role is to teach our little ones empathy, compassion, and acceptance. A nephew, a grandchild, is precious. Ix’axlitseen—I treasure you. Practicing Auntie gratitude means accepting others.

3. Goose tongue gratitude: The Tlingit saying — When the tide is out, the table is se — means the food on our beaches and in our ocean are gifts. Passing on the tradition of goose tongue harvesting is a highlight of our summer subsistence. Next to the ocean, we feel like everything is connected. Looking at the ocean feels like contemplating a sky of stars. Goose tongue gratitude is akin to wonder. We are small in a big, big universe. Likoodzí! — Amazing, magnificent!

This photo shows goose tongue harvested in Wrangell. (Vivian Faith Prescott / For the Capital City Weekly)

This photo shows goose tongue harvested in Wrangell. (Vivian Faith Prescott / For the Capital City Weekly)

4. Arts gratitude: Lily Hope weaves a Chilkat robe, and our clan brother Ricky Tagaban walks across a stage in gorgeous drag. Tommy Joseph carves a mask and Nick Galanin stirs hot lava rocks, steaming a freshly carved canoe. We attend virtual yoik classes with a yoiker from Sápmi in Norway. We learn the art of singing the world around us and that everything and everyone has a song. K’idéin kanashee — Sing well. Arts gratitude is our own artistic expression and appreciating and supporting the artistic work of others. I kut jeewatee—You are artistic.

5. Salmon gratitude: Respecting the cycle of life. Yáa at wooné—Respect. Everything gives, lives, or dies so we can continue living here in gratitude. We give the salmon and its habitat respect. It will continue to nourish us. Wooch yáa awudané—Respect for each other.

6. Rainforest gratitude: We sometimes complain about the rain. Our grandfather says, “We need it for the fish.” That pretty much ends our complaining. The hemlock, the deer, the mosquito, and humankind (the Southeast kind) need rain. Every day we’re reminded we live in a rainforest. We pull on our boots, slip on our raincoats, walk through soggy yards and puddles. We fish for coho, pick spruce tips, and walk our soggy dogs in the rain. The rain sustains and it connects us to every lifecycle we depend upon. Ch’a tléix’ haa yatee—We are one. Rainforest gratitude is living in harmony with a rainy life.

Vivian Faith Prescott picks spruce tips in the rainforest, with Kéet and Oscar in Wrangell.

Vivian Faith Prescott picks spruce tips in the rainforest, with Kéet and Oscar in Wrangell.

7. Elder gratitude: Our Elders share their knowledge, life lessons, and life skills. They tell us their stories so we can learn and survive. Some of our Elders have lived through boarding schools, loss of language and culture. They continue to deal with systemic racism, inequities in health care, and more. Even though we may be separated from our Elders by miles or years, even death, we are never far away from those who made their way before us. They are ever-present in our lives and everything we do and who we are. We are still holding hands with our Elders. Wooch jín toolshát — We are holding hands.

8. Community gratitude: We are grateful to have local businesses and organizations who’ve helped us survive the pandemic. They’ve offered deliveries and curbside shopping, adapted safety measures, and vaccinated us. Throughout, we’ve experienced great losses. We’ve lost friends, co-workers, and loved ones. Businesses have closed, people have lost jobs, relationships have ended. Our communities have changed and are still changing. We practice gratitude by supporting our community. Community gratitude means buying local and helping a community organization. Kei haa naltseen — We are getting stronger.

9. Culture gratitude: Learn about your culture(s) and help sustain your culture whenever the opportunity presents itself. Join a “cold dip” group and feel the healing power of the ocean, learn to bake sourdough bread, or learn to write poetry, learn to kayak or canoe, or learn to yoik. Learn to bead or build a smokehouse or a bird house. Learn to fish for halibut, learn to carve a halibut hook. Participate in a local language class. The practice of learning about your cultures is the practice of gratitude. I léelk’w hás jooníx i sitee—You are your ancestors’ dreams.

This photo shows a cold dip healing practice in North Douglas. Participants are Jennifer Quinto, Margarte Haube, Sarah Haube, and Jamiann S’eiltin Hasselquist. (Courtesy Photo / Michele Peterson-Isaak)

This photo shows a cold dip healing practice in North Douglas. Participants are Jennifer Quinto, Margarte Haube, Sarah Haube, and Jamiann S’eiltin Hasselquist. (Courtesy Photo / Michele Peterson-Isaak)

10. Speaking gratitude: Gratitude is a practice of learning traditional ways of knowing, decolonizing our minds during a season where many people celebrate colonization and the myth of thanksgiving. Learning an indigenous language takes lots of practice but it’s worth it. At kuwahaa haa yoo x’atángi wutusaneixí—Now is the time to save our language. Through language learning, we learn to dream and think and understand our world around us with new eyes. Our minds change. Our lives change. Náakw yáx yatee haa yoo x’atángi — Our language is like medicine.

Practicing gratitude is not easy, especially in a pandemic. We check Alaska’s covid-19 statistics every day: hospitalizations, new infections, vaccination rates, deaths. It’s hard not to be discouraged. Some of us are alone and some may still be sheltering, protecting our Elders and vulnerable children, keeping our gatherings small, and having virtual visits. As we enter this season of gratitude and thanks with a dinner of moose roast and bog cranberry bread, consider what your gratitudes are.

When the tide is out the table is set. When the rain is coming down, the salmon are happy. When you’re shoveling snow from your driveway, the glacier is grateful. When your hoodie is wet with leaves, when you’re picking a devil’s club sliver out of your thumb, when you deliver the devil’s club salve you’ve made to an Elder, you’re practicing gratitude. If we practice our gratitude by taking care of one another, this world will go on. Yéi xáa yatee — That is how it is. Líl kei idaléetjik.—Don’t give up.

Yéilk’ Vivian Mork writes the Planet Alaska column with her mother, Vivian Faith Prescott. Planet Alaska appears twice monthly in the Capital City Weekly. Many resources and people, including Ishmael Angaluuk Hope (working with Goldbelt Heritage Foundation), helped collect and compile these Lingít phrases of encouragement for our community. The authors of this column take responsibility for any spelling or translation mistakes.

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