Living and thriving in Southeast Alaska is both easy and hard. Whether you live in an island community, or in an end-of-the-road town, or a landlocked city like Juneau, here are some lessons we’ve learned this past year, plus some aspirations for the new year. We thank you, Dear Reader, for being a part of our community.
1. Show up for love: Alaska is showy, and we love it—bright orange sunsets, snowcapped mountains, glaciers, bald eagles riding the thermals, and fields of fireweed. What can we do to return this love to the place that surrounds us with such beauty? Show up! In 2022 we showed up for things we loved. Showing how much you love your community can be simply a plow full of snow shoved off the side of a walking path or taking an elder to Celebration. This past year, we walked in Pride parades, gave speeches about our missing and murdered women. We mourned by holding our flickering candles and celebrated life with our dancing and drumming. What can we do in the coming year to show love for our fellow Alaskans? Maybe, it’s taking a Lingít language class on Zoom. We will meet you there.
2. Stop and smell the fish smoking: By helping smoke fish we learn the basic smokehouse values: listening, respect, patience, readiness, gratefulness, and sharing. This past year, we learned “Tlél kútx i yáa wdawóodlik”—Have patience and don’t be in a hurry. This is something we’ve been taught by fishermen and Elders. The most important value, though, is respect. Listening and taking the time to learn is all about respect. We will practice being more respectful this coming year, how about you?
3. Advocate for others: In 2022, we wrote about “a day that changed everything” that featured our friend from Ketchikan, Janalee Minnich Gage. Years ago, she was crushed by a large boulder that slid from the hillside above a hair salon in Ketchikan. “No one goes through what I went through and comes out unchanged,” Janalee said. Today, Janalee advocates for disability rights throughout Alaska. She is an Alaskan treasure, working with Stand Up Alaska, plus advocating for Alaskans with mental health and substance abuse issues, LGBTQIA rights, and she holds a seat as a Ketchikan City Councilwoman. In this coming year, let’s continue to advocate for those on the margins of our communities whose voices aren’t being heard. Be a friend this year. Be the donator, the marcher, the flag carrier, the letter writer, phone caller, and TikTok sharer. Be the advocate at the table. Be Janalee.
4. Celebrate our elders: This past year, the elderberry plant reminded us to celebrate our elders. We celebrated their love for us, the healing power of their knowledge passed down from generation to generation, and the fragile elderberry blossoms we harvested in the spring. Being around our elders is good medicine. Eating foods grown on Tlingit Aaní is one way to celebrate our heritage, our ways-of-life, and honor the teachings of our elders. Learning our Indigenous languages, learning our arts, our ways of being, our food customs, are other ways to show appreciation to our Elders. In the coming year, let’s celebrate our elders’ lives and all they’ve gone through to get us to where we are now and to where we are going.
5. Find your waypoint: “Our bodies and souls need quiet moments, fresh air, and the opportunity to just be.” — Lucas Goddard. This past year, many of us discovered our place for healing. It might’ve been a physical place like a memorial bench beside the sea, or maybe it was a new friend who’d gone through similar things, or a lunchtime Elders meeting on Zoom. Whatever it was, we needed it and found it helpful. Being a human means we’re always dealing with life, so finding our waypoint every year is important.
What direction will you take, what path will be healing or helpful this year?
6. The wonder of bears: Our photographer friend from Hoonah, Elleana Elliott, said it best: “Travel where it best fits you and just enjoy the view.” We took this to mean to enjoy how we travel though this Southeast Alaskan life together among both humans and animals. Every encounter with nature this past year brought amazement into our lives. Through Elleana’s photography, she showed us how to appreciate the bears we live among. What wonder this new year will bring?
7. The “soul food” of place: There’s a natural rhythm to this life in Southeast Alaska and berry picking is a part of that. Berries are one of our soul foods that we’ve been eating for thousands of years. When the world’s craziness seems too much, we go berry picking. This past year, we filled our buckets with berries and filled our minds with new knowledge, and our mouths with the new words we’re learning in the Lingít language. We filled mind and body with the language of the land. Like the berries, the language lives on the land. Lingít X’éináx Sá—Say it in Lingít. Our traditional berries and our languages are our soul foods.
8. Learn to love the rain: Face it, it rained a lot this past year. Even for a temperate rainforest, it was wet. This past year, we wrote about the ‘essence of the rainforest’ that gives everything life. We are surrounded by water in Southeast Alaska: rivers flow, waterfalls rush down bluffs, creeks babble, lakes speckle the landscape, and rain infuses our bogs. In 2022, we made good use of our boots and raincoats. We learned to slog and slosh through the summer. In this new year, maybe, just maybe, we’ll have a few more sunny days. We can hope. But, like the Elders say, “rain is good for the salmon” and that’s always a good thing. May the essence of the rainforest invigorate you and keep you healthy through 2023.
9. A little of this; a little of that: We are used to living large in Southeast Alaska. We are creative and imaginative and busy people. Spring and summers are often hectic and filled with the sense of largeness: a big ocean to fish, a forest to hike, a beach to explore and bushes to pick. There’s a robe to weave, a basket of abalone buttons to sew on a blanket, and there’s a totem to carve. But when big plans are waylaid by an ongoing pandemic, by an elder’s cancer, by a cancelled salmon season, we sometimes get angry, we mourn, or we’re stifled, not knowing what to do next. Be willing to be small, Dear Readers. Take small steps. Plans can change or adapt to your ever-changing life. It’s okay to go slow, to rest, to do a little of this and a little of that. It’s okay to imagine a new year with more manageable ideas.
10. Learn to belong: We rescued a dog, and she rescued us. This year we adopted a terrier who lived her first year of life as a street dog in Nome.
We named her Ada and she’s learning how to be a part of our pack. With chew toys to play with she’s learned not to eat things she shouldn’t, things like a thumb drive and her leash. Ada is comfortable now allowing us to scratch her, handfeed her, play with her, and she twirls happily on her hind feet for snacks. Within the rhythm of our daily lives, we’ve established a pattern of meals, walks, pets and play. Veterinarians say it can take months for rescue dogs to start to feel like they belong and I’m certain, as Ada’s curled up next to my feet at night she’s thinking, “I belong.” I want this for you, Dear Reader. May this year bring you a sense that you belong to our Southeast Alaskan community.