Friday, September 22, 2017

Fifty State Bucket List Blog # 5 - Ketchican - A City of Monuments

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

Bucket List Blog - Sitka A City of Many Faces

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.

50 State Bucket List 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. 

50 State Bucket List Juneau Alaska

Juneau, Alaska
50 State Bucket List Blog #2
            We left the port of Seattle, Washington on Saturday evening, September 9th and after a day and a half at sea, we landed in our first port – Juneau, Alaska. The entry was breathtaking and I listened in awe as the ship’s narrator explained everything we were seeing while the captain steered the ship through what is called Gastineau Channel – a narrow body of water that divides the Alaska mainland and Douglas Island. It was a typical day for Juneau in the summer, overcast, foggy and rainy since this part of Alaska is located near one of the largest rain forests in the world. Juneau is on the east side of the channel and Douglas Island is on the west side. The whole area is part of the borough of Juneau which has a population of 32,000.
            Juneau is the capital of Alaska and 50 percent of the people are employed by the U.S. government – the biggest part of the economy. The next largest industry is the tourist industry which causes the population to swell by 6,000 on any given day when the tourist ships come in. The next largest employer is the fishing industry – especially the salmon hatchery that I visited on the tour. Juneau has no roads connecting the city to the mainland of Alaska so everything has to come in by ferry or plane. We saw several floating planes taking off and landing as the captain maneuvered through the Channel. Therefore, the cost of living in Juneau is about 30 percent higher than that of the “lower forty-eight.”
            Our ship docked at what is called Front St. This part of Juneau was underwater when the first prospectors settled the area. The land has been created from silt and sediment from the receding Mendenhall Glacier which I also visited on the tour. Front Street has the look of an old mining town and at the center of the shopping area is The Red Dog Saloon – still looking like it did in the boom era of the 1880’s and 90’s. Wyatt Earp and his wife visited the saloon and one of his pistols is hanging on the wall next to the swinging doors that lead into the saloon. The state capital building is just a short walk up the hill that is the original land, and the capitol building is the only one in the country without a dome. As the ship docked, the narrator pointed out a parking garage with a building on top. This was the Juneau Free Public Library where there was free Wi-Fi. I would have visited that place first whether Wi-Fi or not. Imagine my excitement as I saw that one of the principal buildings at the center of town was a library.
             After using the Wi-Fi to connect with people back home, I talked with a young man and told him I was President of the Friend’s group at my neighborhood library back home, and he pointed me to a shelf containing books for sale. He also told me that there was a bookstore operated by the Friend’s near the airport. Since my tour did not go there, I bought a book off the shelf and was exited that that was the first souvenir of my trip. After finishing at the library, I walked outside and joined the group that was taking the Grand Juneau Tour which included a trip to the salmon hatchery, the Mendenhall Glacier and the Rainforest.
            As we walked into the salmon hatchery, I saw two ravens sitting on the hand rail that overlooked the nesting area for the eggs and the salmon ladder. There were also people fishing next to the hatchery itself. The tour guide said that the hatchery did not compete with the fishing, rather It existed to increase the number of salmon production and to educate the children of the area about salmon. There was an aquarium that displayed all the different types of salmon and also a replication of a tide pool which had starfish and other creatures that one could pick up and touch if so desired. The tour guide on the bus said that most of the money made by the hatchery came from selling by-products or waste from the salmon to be ground up and used in pet food. The next stop on the tour was what I had come to see – the Mendenhall Glacier.
            As we drove into the mountain area where the Glacier was located, the bus driver said that the Juneau Rainforest had the largest population of Bald Eagles in the country – about 30,000. The Bald Eagle is a vulture that subsists on the remains of dead salmon. We saw only one Bald Eagle on the entire tour – but what a sight as it flew across the lake at the bottom of the mountain range where the Glacier was located. When I first saw the Glacier I was taken aback because it didn’t look as white as I had expected, but as my eyes adjusted to the dim light and fog, I began to see it running down the length of the mountain. I looked across the lake and saw a 20 person canoe rowing toward the Glacier. This is the original way the indigenous tribes – the Tongass and Tlingit – traveled before the Gold Rush brought the American settlers. The Russians were here before that but that will be in another blog after we get to Sitka. There was a large totem pole in front of the hatchery that reminded me of the cultures that lived here when the prospectors arrived and still live here. In fact, the Tlingit own ten percent of the land in Alaska today.
            At the base of the Glacier outside the interpretive center, a U.S. Forest Service employee conducted a lecture and showed pictures of the Glacier from the early 20th Century until the present. The gradual receding of the Glacier confirmed what we have been told about climate change. Glaciers have always receded but the rate of acceleration over the last 50 years has been disturbing. At present, the Glacier is receding at a rate of 400 feet per year, compared to 50 feet per year at the turn of the Century. The ranger made a case for a change in energy production – even in Alaska which is turning to hydroelectric power fueled by the churning water falls that have been exposed from the receding Glacier. There were several hiking trails around the area which have a lot of wildlife but most of them were probably trying to “get out of the rain” – especially the bear.  I saw more black bear in my yard in Oregon than I did here. Overall, except for the Glacier the views reminded me of the Northwest Coast around Oregon, but the plant life in Glacier Rainforest was quite similar to that of Oregon with some differences.
            The last stop on the tour was a trip through the Glacier Rainforest. The Rainforest is located atop a mountain where there was a massive mud slide in the 1990’s that filled the valley with debris making it an eyesore. An enterprising horticulturalist bought the land and cleared out the debris turning the area into a paradise resembling what I imagine the Hanging Gardens of Babylon look like. The most impressive sight is the upside down tree planters. The trees uprooted by the slide have been used as planters for all varieties of colorful grasses and flowers. On the trip up the narrow mountain road in a golf cart, the narrator pointed out the elderberry, huckleberry, blueberry and wild strawberry growing alongside the

Spruce trees and old growth trees hundreds of feet tall. By this time, despite my layers and rain gear, I was chilled to the bone and anxious to get back to the ship and a nice warm bath. Before returning to the ship, I had to go into the Red Dog Saloon for a brief look and picture. Tomorrow we will be traveling through Glacier Bay with a daylong narrative about this special place and then on to Sitka – the Russian settlement that was built before Seward’s Folly.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Bucket List Blog #1 - Northern Paiute Land Stewards

The Northern Paiute Reservation in Burns, Oregon - Remnants of a Thriving Culture

As I drove west along I-80 and I-84 following the path of the transcontinental railroad and the Oregon Trail, I noticed all the historical landmarks with information on the settlement of this vast frontier conquered by the brave pioneer men and women, immigrants from Scotland and Ireland lured to this country with the promise of land and opportunity, loggers and mountain men, cattlemen, prospectors and railroad entrepreneurs heeding the call to get in on the ground floor of opportunity for great wealth from empire building. I knew the story well since I had taught it for 23 years as a public school teacher in states from coast to coast – the last being the state of Oregon.   
During the last part of my teaching career, I had begun to explore the true story of American history - a great country being built upon the destruction and even genocide of indigenous people who had lived here for centuries before the first Europeans arrived in the 15th Century claiming the whole of North and South America for their kings and queens to colonize and use to fill their coffers.

 After the United States established preeminence in North America following the American Revolution the Founding Fathers continued the pattern of empire building across North America under the guise of Manifest Destiny and taking over land they claimed they owned at the expense of the indigenous cultures in the way. These stories are now coming to light and I have spent my years in retirement focusing on raising awareness about what happened to the cultures so destroyed in two major novels and several short stories.  The first was a generational saga entitled “The Peacemaker.”
This year I published a sequel to that novel entitled “New Pangaea – An Evolution into the Fifth World.” Both books are available at “The Peacemaker” ends on September 11, 2001 and sets the stage for the price America has paid for its destruction of the very people who knew how to take care of the land and keep it producing for the Seventh Generation and beyond. 

“New Pangaea” is set on the Hopi Reservation in Northeast Arizona. The Hopi are the only people who never fought the United States nor made treaties and have remained true to their culture and way of life until the Peabody Coal Company came to mine the Black Mesa area on their land. Like other tribes in Standing Rock, North Dakota and the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota, the Hopi are beginning to organize to reteach their children the “old ways” of land management and farming. It is these people who will once again become the stewards of the land to bring it back to what it was before the Western European destroyed it. Because I now have a website that includes a blog, I decided to use my social media platform to write short pieces that describe what is happening with indigenous groups across the country because the media certainly is not doing it.

This year I decided to finish my fifty state bucket list by driving across country from Louisville, Kentucky to Seattle, WA to take a cruise to Alaska. On the return trip I will complete the bucket list by visiting North Dakota and Minnesota with the intent of blogging to raise awareness about what is happening with the water protectors in these locations. I had intended to start my blogs then, but on the way out driving across the Lewis and Clark Trail, I stumbled upon the Northern Paiute Indian Reservation in Burns, Oregon and had the opportunity to visit with Diane Teeman a tribal member and anthropologist who consented to speak with me about her tribe and answer questions about where they came from, what happened and where she sees the tribe headed today.
To understand the present we must begin with the stories of the past. What has happened with most North American Indians, sadly, is that through the process of land takeover and genocide, all Indian cultural groups are struggling with rebuilding something of value for their people with what has been left for them. The story of the Northern Paiute is no different than the stories of the Eastern Woodlands people, the pueblo people of the desert Southwest and the Navajo and Hopi. I have written some of the stories but for the purposes of focusing on the current situation, I am including a link to a site that gives a little overview of who the Northern Paiute are, where they lived and how American seizure of their lands and deprivation have reduced what were large numbers of people living in Great Basin area of Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, and Oregon to 410 enrolled tribal members living in these states and 150 members living on the Northern Paiute Reservation in Burns, Oregon. Of these 150 people 2/3 of them are children under the age of 18.

Diane Teeman is a dark skinned, heavy set woman about 40 years old with the blue black hair associated with people of her heritage. She is well-educated and articulate and unexpectedly candid about her tribal history and where the people of her tribe are headed today. The remnants of the Northern Paiute live from Las Vegas, NV to Northeastern and Southeastern California and the Boise area. Many live and work in cities and have blended families from marriage into the Anglo population.

The Reservation I visited was established in 1934 as the result of two federal acts – the Indian Reorganization Act and the Recovery Act associated with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal which provided loans to purchase acreage around the city of Burns for the Reservation. The loans have since been paid back from funds produced by an agricultural corporation that produced alfalfa. That corporation has since been disbanded with no real plans to replace it. Some of the land has been leased and the Reservation operated a casino for a while but it was shut down due to lack of viable revenue.  There is an economic development council that has been established and the tribe is now using this as a means to have a voice in land management. In order to do this, Ms. Teeman is studying archaeological sites to validate the skills of the indigenous cultures in land management. 

Ms. Teeman reported that there is archaeological evidence going back thousands of years of settlements of people in the Great Basin area numbering 14,000 people. These people lived here and managed the land so well that when the Europeans arrived in the 15th Century the land was pristine – quite different from what it is today. As more and more evidence is uncovered about the unique relationship indigenous North Americans have with the land, and the tribes recover from the damage done to their people from years of crippling military and domestic actions of the United States government, these people will lead our country into a “new Pangaea” and a return to land stewardship.p that produces peace and prosperity for the Seventh Generation