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Expedition Log: July 29, 2001

Visiting the Children of Yakutat
Megan Litwin, Young Explorers Team

Yakutat Village

As I sit out on the upper most deck of our ship and look out at Yakutat Bay with the moon glimmering down I have nothing but fond thoughts of the day. I woke abruptly at 8:30 to hear that within the half hour a group of students would be joining us as soon as the Zodiac could bring them from the beach to the ship.

Lydia and Martha

Lydia Henry, Shunkukeidi Clan, and Martha Mallott, Luknxadi Clan, aboard the expedition ship Clipper Odyssey. (Photo by Megan Litwin).
Click image for a larger view.

At first I admit I was a little worried. I had no idea who these kids were and what they would think of me. As soon as we met I could tell that some of the same thoughts ran through their minds. We had brief introductions and I could sense the relief that was felt across the newly formed group. Coincidentally, the girls who had joined us were thirteen and fifteen years old, the same ages as my sister and me. Our new friends, Lydia (la-la) and Martha (mars) are sisters in their cultural community, though they are not biologically related. It is very interesting how families are structured and in a lot of cases the grandchildren are older than the grandparents. But, these are not biological relationships. It is hard for me to understand all of the relationships, but it is very clear to all the Tlingits that I have talked with. As we continued our day we really connected and talked about our communities. Though Yakutat is half the size of my home town, Whately, Massachusetts, I could see the similarities. Like us they go to a small school, though "small" is a word that has to be clarified. When I say that my school is small I mean 500 or so people in the middle and high school. When they told us that their school was small they meant that there are 60 kids in the preschool though twelfth grade. I could not imagine that; it is the size of my extended family.

JP and Lydia

J.P. Buller, Galyax Kaagwaantann Clan, and Lydia Henry aboard the Clipper Odyssey. (Photo by Megan Litwin).
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The progression of the day was very smooth and we hung out for a while. After lunch the group of kids, which all together included three boys, J.P, Kai, and Carl and the two girls gave presentations to all of the passengers. The elders also talked to the kids about how proud they were of what they had done and that they were ambassadors from their village. By this point in the day I felt like I had known them for a number of years, but at the same time there was a lot that I could learn from and about them. It is truly amazing that they are the same age as us and that we think, wonder and worry about a lot of the same things but there are also huge differences in our cultures.

Carl Bogren

Carl Bogren, Shunkukeidi Clan, making his presentation. (Photo by Megan Litwin).
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We disembarked the ship around 4: 00 and our new friends had to go get ready for the dances that they would be performing. We stepped out onto the dock and the strong smell of fish swallowed us into the heart of their village. Martha looked at me and said, "I have lived here my whole life and I am still not used to that smell". I have to say though that I don't mind it too much; it reminds me of somewhere familiar that I love. Now we were on our own to explore for a couple of hours. With a few vague directions to the store and school we set off. At one point in the day I was talking to Kai and he told me, "Well, you could go to the school and the store, or the store and the school. That is pretty much all there is." He also offered to take me to the dump, where he goes trash picking for treasures. "Your just walking along and all of the sudden you end up five feet from a bear," he said. I could imagine that the bear is there for the same reason, but perhaps he is looking for treasures of a different sort. He added, "There aren't many bears up there now though, since they started the construction." Anyway, we walked around for a while and did find the store and the school. We also found a plane, train and a bike, all of which had a considerable amount of rust. The bike was the only one of the three that we managed to get up and running.

Jonas and bike

Jonas Parker, a member of the Harriman Retraced Young Explorers Team, riding the bike he found in Yakutat. (Photo by Megan Litwin).
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We returned from our walk, full from salmon berries and blueberries, and ready to enjoy the dancing. When we entered the hall the beat of drums and feet filled the room and voices of all ages sang out the songs that connect all of us to their past. The songs have stories to tell and educate and create happiness. When the ceremony was over I knew that I would have to leave soon and I did not want to. I had connected with people who I may never see again, but I truly hope that one day they will make it to my town to visit with my community. Martha came up to me near the end and gave my sister and me a special feather that she used in her dance. It was given in friendship and so that we could remember her and the excellent day we shared. We shared hugs, knowing we had to return to the ship soon. If Lydia, Martha, J.P, Kai, Carl or any of the people of Yakutat get a chance to read this I want to say gunalcheesh (pronounced "goonashcheesh") to them. Thank you for the powerful day that you made so special to me, and that will be with me for the rest of my life and beyond.

girls after dance

Lydia, Jennie, Martha, Megan, and Elizabeth at the end of the dancing. (Photo by Layton J. Lockett).
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(View the day's photos)

(Community Profile: Yakutat)


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