"Don't go to White Earth," said the service man.
"That's exacly where I am going," I said.
"Don't pick up any hitchhikers," he said.
"I never do no matter where I am. There are risks everywhere," I said.
I had stopped along the state road to Itasca State Park to get my car serviced and to ask a few questions of the locals. I had told the man who owned the tire store about where I was headed and asked if I was on the right path. After assuring me that I was, he gave me the above warning. A conversation ensued about the efforts of Winona LaDuke and her Ojibwa tribe to protect the mighty Mississipi, all the beautiful lakes covering Northern Minnesota and the wild rice harvests in the wetlands at the headwaters of the Mississippi from the Tar Sands pipeline. Mr. Davis was underwhelmed to say the least; it was quite clear he wasn't a fan. He turned his attention to a tanned man in shorts who walked in who was obviously a friend. Their conversation turned to the man's property in Florida and Hurricane Irma. The man was one of the so called snowbirds who summer in their homes in the North and spend the winters at their places in Florida.
After a while Mr. Davis told the man who I was and where I was headed.The man went to his car and brought back a map to show me exactly where the roads were that would take me to the State Park and eventually to Minneapolis where I would spend the night. I thanked the man, paid for the service and left. As I drove from the tire store, I thought briefly about the two conversations and the matters of importance that seemed to be so different between the two men and me. I was thinking about Mother Earth and the things that sustain us; those men seemed to be thinking about property. Thoughts of politics and property left me as I became absorbed in the beauty around me.
It was a spectacular early fall day and the sparkle of the sun against this backdrop reflected beautifully the slogan "Land of a Thousand Lakes." My first stop was the Native Harvest building located just beyond the entrance to the White Earth Reservation. I was finally here! To my dismay I just missed Winona LaDuke but the lady who waited on me was friendly and helpful.
The first thing I did was purchase two pounds of the wild rice and a hooded sweatshirt that said, "Got Land?" on the front and "Thank an Indian" on the back. Claire wrote directions to the Park on a sheet of paper that included sites along the way that might be of interest - many settlements on one of the gorgeous lakes that were still under the control of the Ojibwa. What a lovely conversation we had about our heritage, what movtivated us to do what we were doing and our mutual love and respect for Mother Earth. I left my email with her and requested to be kept up to date on the movement to protect our water. As I drove through the scenic wonder that was around me, I noticed a camp on my left not far from the entrance to the Park. I had seen pictures of this camp on line. This was the center of the resistance movement against the Dakota Access Pipeline in Minnesota now as well as the Tar Sands pipeline. Since my phone's battery now had sufficient charge, I got out of the car and took a picture from the hilly easement on the road above. A woman in shorts and hiking boots with lots of tatoos and purple hair walked to the edge of the property and said, "No pictures, please."
I apologized profusely and said I intended no disprect. I explained that I was on a trip to find out first hand what was happening in these places of resistance so I could blog about the experience and get the information out that was accurate and not shaded with bias. At that, she invited me to come and meet "the property owner."
A man dressed in jeans and a faded shirt came out and introduced himself as Bill and explained that the name of the site was Turtle Island. That name would become quite significant when I reached the headwaters of the Mississippi. Bill asked if I minded if he smoked. I said, "Yes, I am extremely allergic to cigarette smoke." His response was quite different from other responses when I say this to other people. He quietly put his cigarette out and offered me a chair in a circle around a campfire and a cup of coffee. When he returned with my coffee, he sat down next to me and the girl "Red Hawk" walked over to us with a smoking container. Bill wafted the smoke as did I. The smoke had quite a peaceful, relaxing quality reminding me of younger days and bon fires lighting the autumn sky as summer's sun waned in the autumn night. Bill told me of his work and that he had been at Standing Rock. When the camp was cleared, Bill said he realized a lot of the people had no where to go, so he brought them to his land where they were staying. He invited me to go with him to the settlement "over the hill," but I declined. I wasn't afraid but the hour was late and I wanted to get to Lake Itasca before dark.
As we were talking, Bill said this about the work he was doing, "this is the way I can be forgiven." I did not question him about it but I wondered what he wanted forgiveness for. He had told me he was a Vietnam veteran, was it that? Maybe it was forgiveness for his part in allowing so much harm to be done to Mother Earth before speaking up. I certainly need forgiveness for that. As I stood up to leave, Bill pointed to a red jurt I remembered seeing in posts from Standing Rock. He said the jurt was a gift from the people at Rosebud Camp (Standing Rock) because he had provided the medical aid there. He invited me to go in and take a look.The walls of the jurt were lined with bottles and jars of various herbs and other alternative medicines. Bill said he was a spiritual healer and that at present he was treating his wife for multiple schlerosis. I asked him what that involved. His answer did not surprise me. He said he couldn't divulge the spiritual content of the treatment. I understood. As I stood in the jurt, I thought about Mr. Davis' warning about going to White Earth and I thought about Meme in Glacier Bay National Park. I felt a sense of remorse that our western society is so far removed from the ancient methods of holistic healing that keep our pysical bodies strong and healthy by connecting us to he source of our well being. I also felt remorse that our society continues to absorb all the toxins we spread across our air, land and water and then destroy our health even further with so called "health care." I thought about these 21st Century concerns as I drove once again into the past toward the source of the might Misizehi (river spread over a large area) which the Algonquins knew long before the Ojibwa guide Ozaawindih gudded Henry Rowe Schoocraft to its beginnings in 1832.
The first monument at the entrance to the historical walk to the headwaters is the statue of Turtle Woman. Unfortunately, I didn't take the time to write specifics about the sculpture itself but I do remember what the piece of art work embodies. It is the sculpture of the "first woman" of what the Ojibwa call Turtle Island who was given the responsibilty of protecting the waters of this precious live sustaining resource. Americans know this well because we took it over from those who had protected it for centuries and now we are destroying it in the name of progress. I thought about Winona LaDuke and her work as I stood there.
I walked on toward the actual headwaters reading much about the how the United States explorers came to this point and was happy to know that the state of Minnesota is protecting this important treasure. As I walked to the beginning of this mighty river, I thought how easy it was going to be to actually walk across a river that I had only been able to cross on a bridge or boat before. I was filled with a sense of gratitude and brought to tears as I sat down and took off my shoes. When I stepped into the water, I had an unexpected surprise.
The water was pleasantly cool and felt so good against my skin, but the strong current was unexpected. I was also barefoot and became aware of how soft the skin on my feet had become. I had a great deal of difficulty walking over the gravel covering the entire expanse of ankle deep water. As I hobbled across, I smiled for a female tourist who was taking my picture, but my feet really hurt! The light was starting to fade so I only went inside the interpretive center to go to the bathroom before leaving for Park Rapids, the destination the gentlemen had circled on the map along with directions of a "short cut" to Minneapolis. Upon arrival in Park Rapids, a beautiful resort town located on the road to Itasca State Park, I stopped and had a pizza and left for Minneapolis on what was to be a 3 hour trip to Minneapolis, getting me to my hotel in downtown Minneapolis (my one splurge) about 10:00 CDT.
I spent one and one-half hours following the directions given to me at the tire store and after one and one-half hours of driving I found myself back in Park Rapids at the place where I had eaten the pizza! Frustrated, I called the Best Western in Minneapolis and told the desk clerk I would be late and explained what happened. I asked him if he could give me directions to the hotel from I-94 E because I knew how to get there from where I was. I was astounded! He had no idea! Frustrated, I hung up and pulled over and plugged what I thought was the address into my phone and hoped my battery had enough charge to at least get me close to the hotel. I relaxed a bit when I heard Siri's voice starting the directions. Oddly enough, I recognized the state roads I was driving through from the gentleman's directions. I don't know where I went wrong but after two hours I was now leaving Park Rapids on the "short cut" through nice cities but where the speed limit was certainly not 70 mph. I finally arrived at the entrance to I 94 E and breathed a sigh of relief. I looked at the clock and the amount of time left on my phone. My arrival time was now midnight - still reasonable.
What a mess I 94 was! I have never been on an Interstate so torn up for miles upon miles with orange cones and construction. Arrival time? 1:00 am. I learned the next day that the reason for all the chaos was preparation for the Super Bowl. Ugh! My dislike of anything football began to rise adding to my stress level, so I started to breathe and think only about getting to my hotel safely. As I entered downtown Minneapolis, I began to think I was not on the right path. Oh dear! When Siri told me I had arrived at my destination, I saw no hotels only private residences. I looked at my phone; I somehow didn't have the right address. So I called my friendly desk clerk once again asking him for the correct address and explained where I was and that my phone was losing charge - could he give me some directions? No. Heavy sigh. Plugging in the correct address I worked on trying to understand the street layout in case Siri died on me. It was now 1:00 am. My relief and gratitude overcame anything else as I saw the Best Western in the distance. I won't continue with my parking efforts on one-way streets but I finally went to bed at 2:30 in the morning with a wake up call for 8:00 am.
Before I went down to breakfast I looked at this wonderful room that was probably as large as my studio apartment and sighed that all these appointments had such little use. I had taken a luxurious bath the night before - hot baths relax me and this one did help. The breakfast was delicious and the server was efficient and somewhat helpful in telling me how to get to the statue of Mary Tyler Moore which was walking distance from the hotel, but maybe I'm too used to southern hospitality now. I felt the same sense of polite distance I had felt from the men at the tire store the day before. Relaxed and energized albeit suffering from sleep deprivation, I headed toward the statue of Mary Tyler Moore. The sidewalks in downtown Minneapolis were just as bad as I-94 and the statue is no longer outdoors but inside the visitor's center. I felt a bit of a let down as I threw my hat into the air for the gentleman in charge of the tourist center. Although it wasn't as exciting as I thought it would be I actually felt after that experience, this end was a fitting finale to my journey and "I think I'm going to make it after all."
Thursday, October 5, 2017
Friday, September 29, 2017
The Road to Standing Rock – The Confluence of Past, Present and Future A pink and yellow sun peeked through the trees under which I had parked my car for my overnight stay at a KOA in Miles City, Montana on the eastern edge of the state. The morning was clear and pleasant – a perfect day for my drive through North Dakota to the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in the north central part of the state. My anticipation and excitement about this visit was equal to what I had felt at the idea of seeing the Alaskan Wilderness. Today, I would enhance my historical, geographical and cultural knowledge of the Lakota (Sioux) people as well as see actual economic and living conditions at present. From this, I hoped to learn what I could do to support the Lakota in their future endeavors in regard to the Dakota Access Pipeline as well as combat the continued disrespect for their land and civil rights. This, along with the abominable sex trafficking of Indian women, has contributed to the lack of hope among native teens and is causing their suicide rates to be the highest in the nation. I had visited Yellowstone National Park on the border between Montana and South Dakota in 2012. I also visited the Black Hills and the Crazy Horse Monument, which I believe to be the only monument worthy of display there, and the site of the Wounded Knee Massacre that ended the Indian Resistance in the 1880’s. This led to the reservation system and boarding school experiment that in effect annihilated the culture that lived in these lands long before the Europeans arrived. Today, I would drive through land taken from the Lakota when this happened as well as drive along the path of the tributaries of the Missouri River to their convergence with the Missouri at Lake Oahu which is just below the Lakota Nation’s headquarters at Ft. Yates. This was the path followed by Lewis and Clark on their Corps of Discovery Expedition in 1804 and 1805. Without the help of the native people living there, the Corps would not have survived. What did Lewis and Clark leave in return? Smallpox. The disease so decimated the Mandan and Calipulia people of North Dakota and Oregon that by the time pioneers moved west to claim the land given to them by the federal government, the tribes were too small in number to resist. The name of the trail has changed over the years; today it is State Highway 12. I started driving to the entrance of Highway 12 at 6:30 am. I was still on Mountain Daylight Time so I would not lose an hour of driving time today and the drive was listed at a little over 4 hours but I knew I would be stopping along the way. I decided to take advantage of the 70 MPH speed limit between towns, but I planned to stop at one of these towns for breakfast along the way. Miles City is small but serves the ranching community of that part of Montana. I had had some time to explore the city after my arrival the evening before. There was a cowboy museum, but I had no interest in seeing that. I knew that the small towns I would be driving through were probably towns that had grown up around oases along the trail and would probably be a modern day version of the cow towns seen in Hollywood and television productions. I was right and finally drove through a town that had a hotel with a restaurant and coffee shop attached to it. That’s where I ate breakfast. The country skillet was delicious but the coffee was the worst I have ever tasted and I have a tolerance for coffee. I couldn’t drink it. Not only was it weak, there was a hard water taste to it. The glass of water tasted the same. I couldn’t drink either which was disappointing. r I enjoy a nice, steaming hot cup of coffee to get my day started, so that was disappointing. I took half of the skillet with me, planning on having that for dinner – with a good cup of coffee. I drove for about 30 minutes when I saw a sign announcing an historical marker on the left hand side of the road. There appeared to be a stream running below and a wooden bridge in the distance, obviously not safe to use. I pulled out my phone intending on taking a picture of the explanation on the marker, but I had let the battery die completely. That happens when I leave the GPS on without turning it off (Oops) No pictures today. I would have to take notes as I read. This is the best way to absorb the information anyway. The historical marker was placed above the Powder River – the stream I had noticed. I knew this was where the members of the Corps of Discovery nearly starved to death, eating the candles that had survived when their canoe had overturned earlier in the journey. Lewis described the Powder River as being a mile wide with water only ankle deep. He also described the landscape as “black” from the herds of buffalo roaming nearby a village inhabited by “red men.” These people –Mandan’s- gave them food and told them the path to follow which Lewis called The Red Trail. I drove another 30 miles through grassy prairie land that had fences around it; I knew this was cattle country. I saw another historical marker; this was the part of Highway 12 that had been the Yellowstone Trail – the automobile trail created after Yellowstone became a National Park. In 1912 the trail to the Park was marked with six sandstone obelisks at the six original stops along the way starting at White Butte, ND and continuing to Haynes City Park, ND, Petrified Park in Lemmon, SD, Hettinger, ND, Hidden Wood Lodge Site ( the site of the last Great Buffalo Hunt), and ending at the Yellowstone River. The next marker was at the Hidden Wood Lodge Site – the most interesting of all. This marker was set at the site of the Last Great Buffalo Hunt of 1882. By this date 60 to 75 million buffalo had been slaughtered by men hired to do so by the transcontinental railroad barons. Killing the buffalo had made it easy to destroy this once great Nation. Without the buffalo the whole economy collapsed. Much like what happened in the United States during the Great Depression. The buffalo hunt was the major sustainer of life to the Lakota. During the spring, when the buffalo roamed, the Lakota would move their camp using dog travois originally. This changed in 1740 with the use of the horse. Another change was brought about by the introduction of the repeating rifle which replaced the bow and arrow. This site at Hidden Wood was the location of the last hunt by 2,000 Teton Lakota men, women and children who had been allowed to march the 100 miles from Ft, Yates, North Dakota – their reservation home – to hunt one last time before being forced to become farmers on the reservation land given to them surrounding Ft. Yates. There were now only about 50,000 buffalo left. The Lakota word Pahachechacha means Hidden Wood. The area was so named because this grassy plain located around Hidden Wood Creek was hidden from view by a thick forest of trees that surrounded it. Custer camped here in 1874 after being guided to this campsite on his way to the Black Hills. He had 2,000 men, 1,000 horses, 900 mules, 300 beef cattle and 150 wagons. His orders were to find a site for a potential fort on the east side of the Black Hills which was then part of the Great Sioux Reservation. Once that was done, soldiers could explore the area and confirm or deny if there was indeed gold there. The rest of that story as we could say “is history.” From June 20-23 of 1882 the Lakota men, women and children spent three days camped here for the last hunt. The grassy plain, today, is filled with stone tepee rings the Lakota used to secure their homes during the hunt. At the last hunt, 5,000 buffalo were killed. There followed three days of feasting on the tender morsels and the women sliced the remaining meat into thin sheets for pemmican – beef jerky. This site is the only remaining evidence of the last days of the Great Sioux Nation. The last historical marker I saw before entering the Standing Rock Reservation was one at the site of the Bismarck-Deadwood Stage Trail that began operating on the Standing Rock Reservation in 1877 but was abandoned in 1880 when a shorter trail to the Black Hills opened in Pierre, South Dakota. The landscape along US Highway 12 through the reservation was similar to the one outside reservation land. It became apparent that the economy of the Lakota was now much like the one of the rest of the residents in this part of North Dakota. I saw fenced in pasture that was now being mowed and rolled into bales of hay. There were rows of corn next to farming equipment and silos. At one point I did see a farming co-op sign. What is ranching and farming without water, I thought as I entered Ft. Yates and followed the signs to Standing Rock Monument on a hill above the Oahe Reservoir and next to the parking lot below the headquarters of the Lakota Nation. Standing Rock Monument is the petrification of a stone of an Arikana woman with a child on her back. She is said to be the wife of a Dakota man who had a bad temperament. The legend is that this woman “pouted in 1740 and was turned into stone.” The rest of the markers around the stone woman are of the great Lakota leaders who fought for the return of their lands and also negotiated and signed many of the peace treaties in the late 19th Century, most notably the two signed at Ft. Laramie in 1851 and 1858 which are at the heart of the controversy over the Dakota Access Pipeline. I had spoken to a lady who delivers the mail at a filling station upon my arrival into Ft. Yates. I had received some not so friendly looks before I spoke with her, but this lady was nice and talked with me about what has happened with the pipeline in the past few months. I told her I was from the Southeast and wanted to visit Standing Rock so I could see for myself what was happening. I told her of my intent to do some blogs and she thanked me for what I was doing. She told me the pipeline was finished, but she wasn’t aware of the ongoing court battles. She was the one who told me how to get to headquarters and as I was leaving I heard a brief conversation she had with another lady about a friendship on face book that ended because of the pipeline controversy. I thought about these things as I looked at the reservoir below the Reservation. If this pipeline leaks, it is going to ruin the water supply for these people, I thought. That’s why the Corps decided to put it here instead of closer to Bismarck. But the ramifications of what we are doing with fossil fuels will not stop here. The role of the Native American is, indeed, to rise to the role of water protector and we need to listen to them. As they have declined we have declined. I thought about the forest fires ravaging the Northwest as I walked inside the headquarters. There was a section with all kinds of information concerning health care, etc., but what caught my eye was a row with information about forest fires. I thought about the collaboration of the Tlingit with the Park Rangers in Glacier Park. Yes, I thought. We need to work with the indigenous land and water protectors and collaborate with them on their knowledge from close contact with the natural world and combine that with what science and technology have taught us. This is the future. I was thinking about the future of the Lakota and what would be the role of Native youth in this as I drove to a market to get some fruit for my drive to Minnesota. Next to the Sitting Bull Memorial Gravesite was a nice looking grocery store, so I parked and went inside. The display of fresh fruits and vegetables was impressive; this store would be adequate no matter where it was located, I thought. The fruit was most impressive, especially the plums. I picked three, rich purple, plump plums and some other fruit. I looked up and noticed a boy of about 9 or 10 observing me and seeming to follow me. I took my fruit to the check out and he stayed close by me. As I was leaving, I held up one of the plums and asked, “Would you like a plum?” “Oh, I’m okay,” he said and then walked away. I walked out of the store and saw him standing at the door. When he saw me approach my car, he walked up to me and asked, “Do you have a quarter?” “I don’t have any quarters,” I said, “only plums.” He said nothing else then turned and walked away. I have been approached like this many times in Portland by adults as well as children. I wondered about that boy. What did he want a quarter for? Had he already asked the store owner? Would he have said anything to me if I hadn’t offered him a plum? Why money instead of food? Where did he go to school? So many questions. I returned to US Highway 12 to continue to Minnesota. Maybe things will be clearer there.
Tuesday, September 26, 2017
Victoria, British Columbia
I had been to Canada before, once to Ontario during a visit to Ann Arbor, Michigan and once on my second honeymoon trip that included a driving tour of Niagara Falls, a trip through Maine to the eastern Portland to catch a ferry to Nova Scotia – my second husband’s favorite place to be. It had been ideal and our future plans included moving to the Northwest Coast so we could continue exploring the beautiful states of Oregon and Washington, as well as the coasts of Canada and Alaska. An early death knell brought those plans to a halt shortly after we moved to Florence, Oregon.
Although I lived in Florence for sixteen more years and did explore Oregon and Washington, I had gotten no further than Seattle. This trip that included the Inside Passage of Alaska as well as a stopover into Victoria, British Columbia was the culmination of our dream. I know Tom’s spirit was with me during the entire trip because he is the person who guided me from my urban outlook to one that included all of the natural world and its splendor. As the ship docked in the harbor facing the splendid city of Victoria above, I was still carrying that serenity resulting from, as Thoreau stated, “my time in the woods.” Therefore, I had no interest in any of the tours that included the one to Butchart Gardens which would have taken up most of the time we had at port. Since I was traveling alone, I had no desire for a romantic carriage ride through the evening twilight as the waning sun brought the lights adorning the city to life. Once again, I hoped to lift the romantic veil and try to get to know the character of the people who lived and worked here. I picked up a map of the city center and hopped onto the free shuttle that would take me there. I had no interest in Wi-Fi because I now had my phone service back!
On the drive up the hill to the city, I noticed how splendidly clean and organized this part of the city was. Every piece of land that could be utilized was carved into elegant apartment buildings and condos and everywhere I looked I saw beautiful window gardens and plantings. I saw two parks that advertised hiking and biking trails. It was 6:00 in the evening, so I supposed the people who lived here were having dinner and making plans for this Friday evening. The driver of the shuttle dropped us off at the corner of Government Square and told us the shuttle operated every twenty minutes and we could pick it up at an intersection that was right in the middle of the retail district. Map in hand, I set out to visit the Empress Hotel (named after Queen Victoria and famous for its afternoon high tea). As I walked into the lobby lo, and behold there was a handsome Mountie in full dress uniform (be still my heart) walking through the building. I have always been fascinated with the Mounties and I do love a man in uniform! The Mountie was with a woman so I politely asked if I could take his picture. Not only did he agree, the woman with him offered to take a picture of us together. With that beginning, I felt the courage to ask a few questions.
“Are you an actual Mountie or are you just doing this for the tourists?” I asked.
“I am the real deal. I am actually on duty. I met my girlfriend for dinner and I was walking her back to her car.”
“So, Mounties are really the police force here?”
“Yes, we are a national police force originally formed in the 19th Century to protect the Northwest Territories. Since that time, we continue to provide the provincial police force in eight of the ten provinces and three territories.” Ottawa and Quebec have their own provincial police forces.”
I remembered the mounted Bobbie I had seen working at the Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace when I was in London so I asked, “Are you on a horse?”
The Mountie smiled and said, “No, we only ride in parades and formal ceremonies now.”
I noticed another tourist coming up to the Mountie so I smiled and said, “Thank you,” and walked away delighted that I had encountered an actual Mountie.
Twilight had taken hold of the city by the time I left the Empress so I proceeded as quickly as possible to the Parliament Building and the square filled with monuments. The first place I visited was Totem Park. The ensuing darkness made seeing difficult and all the buildings were closed, so I spent the rest of my time in the square looking at other monuments. My curiosity about the indigenous people who lived here never subsided, however, so I did some research on my own about the Kwakiutl people – nomadic people who fished along the coast of Queen Charlotte Strait and never really settled into tribes until around 500 BCE after returning home.
From what I read, the Kwakiutl blended better with the Europeans when they arrived than the other Northwest Coast people. First contact recorded was in the 1830’s when the Hudson’s Bay Company took over the sea otter trade. The Kwakiutl then became wholesalers to the Company’s post at Ft. Victoria. The Kwakiutl traded the sea otter furs for iron, steel and blankets. Smallpox decimated much of the population of Ft. Rupert in the 1850’s. The disease was carried by the British Royal Navy and Bella Coola traders who destroyed several villages, leaving the disease to take care of the population. By the 1880’s, the Kwakiutl were moved to what the government called “reserves” the equivalent of a reservation. At this time, most of the aboriginal territory fell into the hands of the British government. I wished I had had time to visit one of these reserves to see how the people live today, but the priority of my trip was to visit two reservations in North Dakota and Minnesota on the last leg of my trip. I still had a couple of hours in Victoria so I left Totem Park to look at the monuments surrounding the Parliament Building.
There was a tall monument honoring the veterans of World Wars I and II as well as the United Nations police action known as the Korean War. There was another, more recent United Nations peace keeping engagement of Canadian forces, but I didn’t write it down. It was somewhere in Africa or the Middle East.
Directly in front of that monument there was a huge statue marking the visit of the Prince of Wales to Victoria in 1914. I knew who this was; this was the Prince who eventually became Edward the 8th in 1936, serving less than a year before abdicating because he found it impossible to serve “without the love and support of the woman I love.” I wonder what will happen when the current Prince of Wales inherits the throne will he too abdicate in favor of his son, Prince William. I am fascinated every time I delve into history and find repeated cycles everywhere. Maybe Parliament will be more favorable toward Camilla – another divorced woman. As sunlight gave way to street lights, I started walking down Government Street to eventually catch the shuttle back to the ship. I noticed a crowd gathered around an area that afforded a view of the harbor below.
As I took a spot on the wall, I saw a man peering over the easement. He said, “boo” and then proceeded to walk in a backwards handstand down the wall the street below. The man had the appearance of a street entertainer, a bit disheveled but outfitted with some equipment that looked like it belonged in a circus act. There were three men holding a unicycle against a post and a chair and small trampoline with some knives and a hat. The entertainer began instructing the three men who were audience volunteers as he mounted the unicycle and began his act. “When I am seated let go of the unicycle and then get out of the way.” He instructed one of the men whom he called by name to stay and sit in the chair provided. He then called to a young girl whom he called by name and instructed her to throw him a hat. This was followed by a speech about the importance of the tip to street entertainers.
“The basic tip for this kind of act should be no less than five dollars,” he said. He then pulled a five dollar bill from his pocket and handed it to the young girl who smiled broadly as she returned to her seat. At that point he talked about how dangerous his act was and the fact that he had developed osteoarthritis in his hip. That made me wonder about health care in Canada, but my musings were interrupted when the entertainer threw the extra hat directly at me. He asked me my name and told me I was to be in charge of filling the hat with tips from the audience above. The show continued as he juggled the knives and kicked his hat on his head while balancing the unicycle. He ended the show by inflating a black suit and jumping onto the small trampoline below. I stood there holding the hat and pulled out a five dollar bill and put it in the hat thinking that was all I was going to do, but people started putting money into the hat. At the end of the show, I walked below to return the hat and money. The bravado of the entertainer disappeared as he said, “Thank you, Brenda. I really appreciate this.”
I didn’t know what else to say except, “You’re welcome,” as I continued down the street toward the bus stop. As I had concluded, the stop was located at the entrance to the retail district which was alive with music provided by street entertainers and shops with banners announcing, “Come in we’re open.” I was ready to return to the ship so I boarded the next bus that came along and became lost in wonderment about the street entertainers. Where did they live and where would they sleep tonight? Certainly nowhere close to where I had been. Lost in thought I noticed the final image that would stay in my mind as I left British Columbia. There was a solitary woman sitting on a window seat of one of the retail stores. She looked much like the homeless women I see every day in my walks through Old Louisville and Portland. She was surrounded by bags of clothing and a suitcase and I assumed she was Indian and a Hindu. I decided this because she had the red dot between her eyes on the bridge of her nose. She just sat there, saying nothing, making no moves. I wondered, “Where will she sleep tonight?”
Sunday, September 24, 2017
Ketchikan – Leaving Alaska Where the Past and Present Come Together
My head reeled with information as I left the Totem Museum and started my walk back to the ship. Up the hill that overlooked the harbor was the salmon hatchery – I had seen that in Juneau. There was a totem park near the entrance to Harbor Street where there was a stop for the shuttle bus so I could ride back to the ship’s terminal and shopping district. Check out the park or catch the bus? I remembered that I wanted to do some Christmas shopping – perhaps look for some local artists who lived in the area and did more contemporary work. I decided on the latter and started walking toward the shuttle pick up area.
As I walked, I became aware of a man behind me. I had seen this man in the artist’s studio at the Museum. He had the unkempt look of a commercial fisherman. I had seen lots of commercial fishermen when I lived in Florence, for Florence was a community much like Ketchikan. The man’s clothes were wrinkled and he had what appeared to be a permanent five o’clock shadow with weathered skin that made him appear older than I thought he was. He walked up beside me and locked steps with me as he said, “You want indigenous art, I can show you some.” He had some kind of stone in his hand. My radar went up because these are the kinds of situations most single women would normally avoid or at least be a little nervous. I must admit I was just a little nervous, but once again I’m not the type to avoid people based on stereotypes and judgements.
“What do you mean?” I asked. “Are you a Native?”
“No,” he said. “I am Norwegian and French, but this stone I have was carved by a Native.” He showed me a smooth piece of stone with ripples in it that appeared to have some sort of design. “Do you want to hear the story of this stone? I can take you to the place that inspired it if you want.”
“Since you are not a Native, I don’t want to hear the story from you. The interpreter on my ship said that people from other clans cannot tell other clans’ stories because they might get them wrong. I am also in a hurry because I don’t want to miss my ship and be left behind.”
“The man who carved the stone is fishing right down there in front of the mountain that inspired him. I will take you to him; he is a Haida.” The man pointed to a figure below fishing in the harbor across from a mountain in the distance.
I kept walking as I said, “I don’t know if I have time to listen to the story; I am in a hurry. What do you do for a living?” I asked. “Do you work on a particular fishing boat?”
“I go out on most any boat I choose,” he said. “I am so good the owners come to me.”
I didn’t know whether I believed that or not, but I said, “Wow, it must be nice to be good at what you do.” We were coming closer to the point where the man was fishing and I saw a bike parked at the top of the hill with some feathers on the handlebars. I knew this must be the fisherman’s bike and also that the fisherman was indeed Native.
My companion yelled, “Ha!”
The fisherman turned and waved and yelled, “Ha!’ I just stood there waiting to find out what would happen next. The fisherman turned and went back to fishing.
My companion held out the stone and pointed up to the mountain. “See that flat top on the mountain? Look at this stone. See the flat image. That’s what inspired the carving of this stone. I couldn’t let this go for less than $1200.”
I looked at the stone and then responded by saying, “I am not interested in buying anything from you. I need to get back to the ship.” At that point I walked quickly away and hurried to the spot to catch the shuttle. The man did not pursue me.
I thought about that stone all the while I was riding to the shopping area in Ketchikan and things began falling in place for me. The stone had the same appearance as the bedrock I had seen along the trails around the Mendenhall Glacier. The signs along the way pointed out that this bedrock was beneath the giant glaciers and when the glacier receded, the heavy ice left scars and indentations in the smooth rock. The piece of stone I had seen was probably a piece of this bedrock, but what was interesting was the shape I had seen on the stone.
The shape I had seen was what looked like the beak of a raven. I then remembered what the artist at the Totem Museum had told me about the images the Tlingets painted on their totems, masks and long canoes. I had asked about the raven, specifically, because I knew from my reading that the raven held a special place in Tlingit lore and was often carved on the prows of their canoes to insure a safe journey and abundant salmon harvest. The artist told me that not only was the Raven considered a Creator and Protector, it was also a Trickster. Good vs. Evil? I ruminated about that the entire length of the ride and then put my own spin on this rock.
I believe the strange man had found the rock and was trying to take advantage of a vulnerable tourist who probably had more money than sense. What he showed me, however, was something that probably led to the creation stories of the early cultures that lived at the time of the receding of the great Glacier and seeing the images left on the rock. The shiny black stone with the image of a beak reminded them of the raven. That was my interpretation anyway and I stepped from the shuttle bus into the shopping district. I eventually found a contemporary jewelry shop that carried beautiful work of local artisans and bought several unique items to take home and share with my family as Christmas gifts along with the stories of this far away land of Alaska where the past and present come together.
Friday, September 22, 2017
September 13, 2017 Ketchikan, Alaska – Bucket List Blog # 5
Ketchikan – The Road Not Taken
I have always loved Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken” – especially the last line that says, “And I took the one less traveled and that has made the difference.” Although I am by upbringing not inclined to stray too far from the beaten path, there are times when I feel the need to do something a little differently. I have found that this makes me far more flexible and open minded and often puts wonderful serendipities into my life that are always among some of my favorite memories. I don’t actually plan these things, but when it appears I may be lost or encounter what some might think is negative, I cautiously welcome it and follow it through to the end. Such was my experience in Ketchikan.
As I walked toward the visitor’s center located on Front St. that overlooks the Ketchikan harbor, I saw a typical fishing village. Quaint, commercial fishing boats bounced in the harbor waters with two giant cruise ships towering over them to create a postcard image of the two major economies that support the people there – commercial fishing and tourism. I stood on Front Street looking at my map and the city thinking about what I was going to do. I had taken one organized tour in Juneau, but had chosen to see Sitka on my own. I was glad I had done that and planned to do the same in Ketchikan. Find the library and free Wi-Fi, and then do the self-guided two mile walking tour through the city followed by some Christmas shopping before returning to the ship.
There was one problem, however. Our time in Ketchikan was the shortest of all the port stays and the city was bigger than Sitka. As I stood there deciding what to do, I saw a small van that said “free shuttle” into the city. Today, I would ride. When I stepped on the bus, I asked the driver, “where is the library and free Wi-Fi?” She told me that the library was on the other side of the island and she did not go there. She said there was free Wi-Fi at the McDonald’s in the Plaza that was one of her last stops. What to do? An opportunity for “the road not taken.” I got off the shuttle at the first stop in front of the Totem Pole Museum. The Museum was located atop a hill in a wooded area fed by Ketchikan Stream which was filled with salmon. The bus driver said that residents were free to fish there as well as the harbor and suggested that I have a look at it before going into the Museum. The stream was clear and cold and filled with large salmon. Impressive. I walked up the hill and entered the Museum.
After I purchased my ticket, the clerk told me the group coming in was a private group and I could surreptitiously enjoy the commentary. I recognized the group as one from the Eurodam. The narrator was Tlingit and shared stories about the totem poles by referring to her own heritage. As I listened to her, I realized I had heard all of this from Mame in Glacier Bay, so I walked around the corner and began reading about the exhibits on display as the narrator’s voice became more distant. These exhibits were ancient pieces found all over the area and preserved like the ancient mummies of Egypt. As I read and looked at the displays, the totem pole culture of the Tlingit began to come to life.
Unlike the members of the Iroquois Confederacy, the Tlingit believed in ownership of property and the accumulation of wealth and the totems were the expression of this. Elaborate totems were placed in front of the plank houses that lined the harbor to tell the history of the clan that lived there. Other totems recorded the potlatches of a village chieftain to establish his status as a powerful member of the community. Potlatches were celebrations of a birthday, wedding or successful salmon run. There was gift giving, but gifts were given by the hosts to the attending guests – a way of showing a higher rank than others in the community. But potlatches were more than just celebrations, they were also religious rituals.
After Christian missionaries arrived in the 19th Century, the practice of the potlatch disappeared along with all the other aspects of the Tlingit culture during the time of assimilation. I stood looking at the houses as they looked in the 19th Century; I became aware of someone standing behind me. I turned and saw a man with silver white hair who looked a lot like Kenny Rogers. He must have been reading my mind because he pointed to some of the plank houses and said, “Those houses with the horizontal planks and windows show the influence of the missionaries.” That was all he said and then he turned and walked away leaving me thinking of the blanket destruction of a people and all their monuments that kept their stories and history alive. I left the Museum thinking about Frost’s poem. I had taken the road less traveled and because of that I had a new perspective on some of the challenges we are facing in our polarized society today.
That night, I went to the evening trivia and, as usual, played with a group from Seattle. After the game ended one of the men in the group chose to ask me about my thoughts on the Confederate monuments. I suppose he asked me because he knew I was from Kentucky. After my encounter at the Museum, I had spent a lot of time thinking about this very thing. I said the following, “I think all people’s monuments belong in a museum, not on display to be idolized. Every culture struggles with good and evil and many times when one group of people overcome another and establish dominance, the stories become distorted and the concept of what is good and what is evil changes based on who won. It is the responsibility of the leaders to tell the stories with compassion and honesty so their descendants can sort out the lessons of history and decide what they believe to be good and evil.” That’s all I said. The man acknowledged my comment with a nod of his head and a tight smile. The rest was silence.
Sunday, September 17, 2017
50 State Bucket List #4
The first thing I asked the bus driver who shuttled us to the Old Town section of Sitka was, “where is the house where The Proposal was filmed?” To my amazement and dismay, she told me the movie was filmed in Massachusetts for budget reasons. After my anger dissipated and I began to learn the history of the settlement of Sitka, it became apparent that Hollywood still exploits and misrepresents Alaskan natives for profit under the guise of entertainment.
I chose to do my own walking tour of the city to gain insight into the character of the present city while learning about its settlement. Sitka’s history is unique among Alaskan cities because the Russians were the first to occupy this area when explorers came to hunt seal and sea otter for their valuable furs. Settlement meant taking over not only the land but conquering the people who already lived here.
The Tlingit were well-settled in Shee At’ika’ when Russian fur traders first came to their homeland in the 18th Century. The Tlingets were welcoming but wary of the traders who brought desirable items such as iron tools and cotton clothing but who violated territorial claims. Because the Tlingit believed in ownership of property they resisted the efforts of the Russians and successfully drove them from the land in 1802. In 1804, however, the Russian Baranov returned with battleships fortified with a crew of Haida slave warriors and drove the Tlingit back at the Battle of Sitka to raise the Russian flag and establish a foothold here. In repeated fashion of the stories of Manifest Destiny, American businessmen and Christian missionaries soon followed. The initial church that had the most impact, however, was the Russian Orthodox Church.
The original St. Michael’s Cathedral was designed by Bishop Innocent and constructed between 1844 and 1848 with funding from a Russian-American Company. The bell tower atop the magnificent structure can be seen from almost any point in Old Town. After the Russians left in 1867, the Church continued due to the conversion of so many Tlingit to the faith. The Tlingit had been drawn to the Church that offered education and instruction using their native language.
In 1867, the Russians sold the territory to the United States due to the fact that overfishing and hunting had made the territory unprofitable for them. Castle Hill, once a Tlingit village was turned over to the United States in a flag raising ceremony in October of 1867. That’s when the Tlingit, like other indigenous people living in US occupied land became subject to the boarding school system and the loss of their language, religion and everything Tlingit. Large numbers of the Tlingit converted to the Russian Orthodox Church at that time rather than lose their language in the American boarding schools. The Russian Orthodox Church is still strong in Sitka today even though most of the Russians left after the United States took over the territory. The devotion to the Church is illustrated by the actions of the people when an inferno created by a fire in downtown Sitka destroyed the Church’s Bell Tower and Clock.
The townspeople had managed to save most of the Church’s icons and property before the fire consumed the building. Soon after the fire, workers meticulously reconstructed the Clock and Bell Tower using drawings that had been prepared as part of an Historic Buildings Survey. The building is a beautiful centerpiece to the table of Old Sitka, inviting all to come have a taste of the unique flavor of the city. Other historic buildings, however, left a bitter taste in my mouth like the Russian tea served by park rangers outside the Russian Bishop’s House.
When Russian officials transferred ownership of Alaska to the United States and the American flag was raised on Castle Hill – the site of the Battle of Sitka- native children were compelled to leave their villages and abandon their cultural traditions that left a void in this proud native culture that resonates even today. The school’s emphasis on self-improvement, however, helped to foster a political movement known as the Alaskan Native Brotherhood (ANB) and Alaskan Native Sisterhood (ANS) which have played an instrumental role in fighting discrimination and securing political as well as land rights for Alaska’s native people.
Both these organizations have fought for and attained Workmen’s Compensation rights and the right of Native children to attend public school. In 1929 The ANB/ANS initiated what became the first Alaska Native land claims suit. As more lands are returned, there has become a movement of collaboration with the United States Forest Service and the Native Alaskans to begin projects to protect this giant wilderness that is home to not only native cultures but also home to plant and wildlife that needs the respect and treatment that the natives know how to give in order to do this. There are also many plants and herbs growing here that the Tlingit know how to use for their medicinal value, and many of these treatments are gaining respect among medical professionals all over the world.
During my discussion with Mame at Glacier Bay, I had asked her about native health issues and traditional versus western treatments. Mame told me that the most serious health threat today is cancer and that natives have a choice whether to use native herbal treatments or the harsh chemo and radiation therapies of western medicine. She said she had two uncles who had cancer and chose the herbal treatments. “They were able to live and work with the disease for many years before their death”, she said. Returning to native herbal health care and sharing that with the western world is a gift given to us by this once proud and prosperous culture. I was reminded of what we have given to them in return in an incident atop Castle Hill which will be featured in the next blog.
Glacier Bay National Park
Bucket List Blog #3
Tuesday, September 12, 2017
I had gone to bed early Monday evening in anticipation of the early arrival at Glacier Bay National Forest. There are no roads leading into the country’s largest wilderness aA nd only 2 cruise ships are allowed in the area at a time. Glacier Bay is a homeland, a natural lab, a wilderness, a national park, a United Nations Biosphere Reserve, and a world heritage site.
In the 1600’s there was no Glacier Bay – only a huge sheet of ice flowing from the Fairweather Mountain Range – the tallest coastal mountain range in the world. At the base of this dormant sheet of ice the indigenous Tlingit made their homes harvesting salmon at a summer fish camp and making their homes there during the winter. From spring to fall, they traveled extensively harvesting the resources they would need to sustain them through the long winter. In 1750 the massive glacier broke loose and forced them from their homeland. The Glacier receded five miles leaving what is now known as Glacier Bay. As the ice melted the resilient Tlingit returned, claiming Glacier Bay as their homeland. Today 800 Tlingit live in the village of Hunta that was given to them by the federal government and there they live telling their stories and teaching their children the Golden Rule – respect.
I was privileged to speak with a Tlingit woman who proudly told the stories of her people. The Tlingit are a matrilineal society and live in societies divided into two moieties; these are the Raven and the Eagle. The child’s moiety is determined by the mother and all the children live in individual clans again named after animals. Children of the Raven Moiety must marry in the Eagle moiety because all the children born in the Raven moiety are considered brothers and sisters. There are no cousins. In this way, the balance of the Creator is preserved.
Tlingit believe in a Creator they call God, but they believe every living thing has a spirit that must be respected. Therefore, when a plant or animal is used, nothing of that plant or animal is wasted. In addition, the Tlingit take only what they need to survive – nothing more. In this way, they have survived for centuries, but they do believe in science and technology. “Knowledge is power,” said Mame, our narrator and storyteller during the Glacier Bay cruise. “We send our children to school but they learn who they are from the family traditions in addition to technology.” Boarding schools and the movement to “kill the Indian but not the man” robbed Mame’s generation of her native language, but she is learning it as her children become fluent in it and gain strength and pride from being an Alaskan Native. As I listened to Mame,I was again reminded of the place the indigenous people of North America have in our bigger society. They can teach us the things we have lost that continue to challenge our country today – strong family ties preserved through totems and storytelling, respect for everything, and sustainable living in a world where consumption and the use of fossil fuels is destroying the land.
Ranger Jack gave a presentation about the value of the wilderness and the thing that stood out for me was the value that the wilderness had in preserving human well-being emotionally and spiritually as well as physically from all the wonderful natural herbs and medicines there that the indigenous people have known about for centuries. As I listened to the thunder following the cracking of one of the giant Glaciers, I thought about these people who lived here long before the Europeans came and are still here proudly leading the way for us back to a more harmonious relationship with the Mother Earth and all her creatures.