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.