Vivian Mork Yeilk teaches about devil’s club tips in Wrangell. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Mork Yeilk)

Vivian Mork Yeilk teaches about devil’s club tips in Wrangell. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Mork Yeilk)

Planet Alaska: Brick and mortar, forest and trail

Juneau is a new trail for us.

I sit on my porch overlooking a creek and think about how there’s a lot of roads in Juneau and a lot of trails. My partner and I are making new dreams, envisioning new trails to head down. Moving from Sitka to Juneau has been a bit of a change. I forgot about the hustle and bustle of the big city. Juneau is big compared to Sitka. It takes planning to get to places on time because there’s a lot of miles of roads here. Plus, I have to remind myself I don’t have to take home half of Costco. And even though we’ve moved from a liveaboard boat to a tiny home, we still have to calculate what comes into our house and what goes out.

Juneau is a new trail for us. All in all it’s been a good move. I’m glad to be meandering out of the cold snap we had this winter, but it is the longest stretch of cold we’ve experienced in years. Sitka is warmer than Juneau in the winter and cooler than Juneau in the summer. We miss Sitka, but we love Juneau too. Juneau is providing us with a new direction, new hopes and dreams, which just happen to coincide with a season of renewal. We can all feel that spring is early this year and we’re so excited for the new journey that awaits us!

Spruce tips picked in Sitka. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Mork Yeilk)

Spruce tips picked in Sitka. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Mork Yeilk)

Springtime means the forest paths and muskegs and shorelines are coming alive, and it’s time to harvest. Already, we’ve been harvesting cottonwood buds, bladderwrack (poppy seaweed) and dandelion greens. A couple weeks ago, the skunk cabbage popped up in both Sitka and its roots are ready to harvest. There’s new growth on the salmonberry bushes.

What does this mean for us? In Sitka, over the years, Planet Alaska has offered small harvesting classes. We’ve also offered classes in Ketchikan, Kodiak and the Mat-su Valley. Now that we’re in Juneau we’ll be offering classes here as well. Living in Juneau makes it easier for us to access other locations in Southeast Alaska, such as Hoonah and Wrangell, where we’re working on creating harvesting classes there too.

Vivian Mork Yeilk teaches children about labrador tea in Wrangell. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Mork Yeilk)

Vivian Mork Yeilk teaches children about labrador tea in Wrangell. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Mork Yeilk)

In fact, we’re excited to announce we’re opening a brick and mortar location in downtown Juneau on Ferry Way. Planet Alaska is a business with the purpose of perpetuating culture. Proceeds from our new shop will create local knowledge classes. This concept was outlined in my master’s project in the Cross Cultural Studies program at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. As you know, sustainable harvesting and traditional ecological knowledge is one of our many passions. We’ll be offering classes all year round. Of course, with the summer season in full swing, during the day, our shop will be open for sales. In the evening, and in winter, our shop will transform into a classroom. Plus, a portion of sales will support community classes in traditional ecological knowledge, sustainable harvesting, Alaska Native language classes, and more: all our Planet Alaska passions.

Over a decade ago, I envisioned this brick and mortar space that perpetuates our culture, and now it’s happening. When you walk into our shop you’ll know everything in there is made or designed or written by Alaskans. You’ll never see a “totem pole” made in Indonesia in our shop. You’ll see modern Native art, traditional Native art, Alaskan artists, Alaskan authors, Alaskan foods and more. And you can check out what classes are happening.

Early spring fiddleheads picked in Sitka. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Mork Yeilk)

Early spring fiddleheads picked in Sitka. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Mork Yeilk)

Maybe you’re a follower of Planet Alaska who’s read our previous Capital City Weekly articles such as “The Tourists Are Coming” or “Welcome to Alaska, Now Please Go Home.” In Alaska, when it comes to economics and our survival, it’s a delicate balance. We want to help Alaskans live here sustainably as we have for thousands of years. There’ll be plenty of learning experiences, and some challenges, but we’re looking forward to teaching, learning and sharing with our Planet Alaska followers. Moving to Juneau has really opened our eyes to just how many readers follow us. Thank you! Gunalchéesh! The next evolution of Planet Alaska is a direct response to our followers who’ve expressed they’d like to learn. We want to help perpetuate all things Alaskan.

Alaska has amazing artists, authors, and knowledge bearers to celebrate. Some of our favorite Alaskan authors are Ernestine Hayes, Willie Hensley, Seth Kantner, Don Reardon, Velma Wallis, Kersten Christianson, Vivian Faith Prescott, John Straley and more. (If we didn’t name you it’s not because we don’t love your work!) Having a space that transforms into a classroom means we can now offer writing workshops by other Alaskan writers, in addition to classes by weavers and language teachers.

Vivian Mork Yeilk peels salmonberry shoots in Sitka. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Mork Yeilk)

Vivian Mork Yeilk peels salmonberry shoots in Sitka. (Courtesy Photo | Vivian Mork Yeilk)

We have lots of ideas and we look forward to hearing other Alaskans ideas, too. Planet Alaska is us. It is all of us. No matter what political leanings we have, here we are, together, walking along this well-worn and well-loved path that is our home. Art, books and food are fantastic vehicles to encourage cross cultural communication and experiences. Creating art, writing a poem, picking salmonberry shoots together, removes barriers and allows us to share our humanity. We are no longer strangers when we harvest together, when we share a book, when we kneel down together and pick a salmonberry shoot, k’éit, when our hands are dirty and we smell like spring. We celebrate all things Alaskan. After all, Alaska is the most culturally diverse state in the nation. There are more languages spoken in Alaska than anywhere else in the United States. At Planet Alaska, we’re also writers, and we know the forests have languages too. We love speaking the dialect of the temperate rainforest of Southeast Alaska.

Spring is here and as the forest awakens we want to teach you the language of this land. Spring awakens ideas too: the trail is promising. We want to teach you what’s growing here, because the more we teach, the more we learn. The more we learn, the more we teach. Season after season is like this. We are grateful for this journey together. Whether it’s talking story with you in a brick and mortar or walking in a forest, we look forward to getting to know more of our followers here at Planet Alaska. Gunalchéesh.


• Vivian Mork Yéilk’ was born in Wrangell, Alaska and lives in Juneau. She’s Tlingit, a Raven from the T’akdeintaan clan, Snail House from Hoonah. Her Tlingit name is Yéilk’ (Cute-Little-Raven). She comes from a large multicultural family, which is also Sámi, Hawaiian, Chinese and Irish. She has an M.A. in Cross Cultural Studies with an emphasis in Indigenous Knowledge Systems. She’s a tourist guide, a traditional food and medicine specialist, a storyteller, a writer, a carver, a tinkerer, as well as a Tlingit language and cultural educator. She grew up exploring Southeast Alaska’s islands in a commercial fishing family, spent her young adult life as a professional vagrant exploring the world, and now moves a lot of stuff around in her tiny home.


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