Sunday, March 30, 2008

my world, part II

last week, i was here:

checking a net under the ice for whitefish outside the village of Kaltag on the Yukon. i was in the village attending a week-long memorial service called a Stickdance - a wonderful, powerful, community-wide expression of love and grief for family members that have passed away. the fish from this net were distributed around to village residents who were cooking for the nightly feasts that precede the people dancing and singing their loved ones into the next world.

it's the last thing that these people do for their loved ones and they do it right.

today, i'm here:

Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada at a meeting of the Yukon Salmon Panel, the body that implements the international treaty allocating Yukon River salmon between Canadians and Alaskans.

in between, i had 3 hours on the ground to trade in my carhartts and bunny boots for slacks and danskos. it's kind of a tough transition; my mind is still very much on what the people of Kaltag put together for their potlatch. in some ways, though, there are significant connections. salmon are integral to Alaska Native culture. the harvesting of salmon is more than just food for the summer and winter, for humans and sled dogs - the process of catching salmon and putting it away also says very much about kinship, social obligations within villages, and relationships between land and people in Native Alaska. salmon are second only to moose as a main food at ceremonies like Stickdance.

so in many ways, this Panel is not only negotiating over salmon, they are also very much negotiating the future of these connections and relationships between people and salmon for Alaska Natives and First nations peoples in Canada alike, as well as others who rely on the fish.

for me, it's two weeks of two very different ways of getting at the same thing...and one more step in a long journey for me of understanding these critical relationships and how to take care of them in the right way.

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