In my recent blog post, Haa K̲usteeyí, I shared a personal perspective on Tlingit belief in regard to the nature of time, and how every Tlingit life is intertwined in a continuum. In that post I suggested that readers give some continued thought on the nature of Haa K̲usteeyí.
I took my own advice. I continued to think on Haa K̲usteeyí and its implications.
Recently I observed two young men, both “¼ Tlingit”, discussing how they felt Tlingit, felt Tlingit blood in their veins, only to have had their statement disregarded by other Tlingit. Their sense of being Tlingit was disregarded because of their relatively light skin or eye color. As a half-breed (a label I was familiar with when I was younger) I find myself in a wonderful position to have some measure of empathy for how they feel.
Consider how insignificant the exact blood quantum of an individual is when they belong to a continuum that reaches back 10,000 years and extends far into the future. Haa K̲usteeyí. Tlingit is Tlingit. Modifiers are not needed.
I think of a 60 year old Tlingit man I admire greatly. He stated that if his entire body represented all of the knowledge that a Tlingit man should have, his own slice of this knowledge would fit under a single fingernail. Although he is a powerful and brilliant man, carries Tlingit names of high esteem from his clan, speaks Tlingit and knows his clan’s songs, he is entirely humble. He feels himself a part of Haa K̲usteeyí, and this truth strips him of any possibility of being arrogant. As a Tlingit gentleman, he is humble.
Then I read a response on social media by a Tlingit man who loudly proclaims how important he is, how knowledgeable and traditional he is, and then he challenges a Tlingit living outside of Haa Aani, stating that since she lives outside of the Tlingit homeland her concerns were invalid and unworthy of consideration. As a 3rd party to that discussion, all I can do is pray that he truly humble himself to the fact that there is no such thing as a man more important than Haa K̲usteeyí.
Most of my thoughts on philosophy or spirituality fail to lead to conclusions, and it’s true here. What I am left with are things that I will personally be mindful of;
-I must be mindful that I treat every Tlingit with the same respect, regardless of their level of cultural knowledge or that peculiar Western concept “Blood Quantum” or “Degree of Native Blood”.
-All of my life I have heard declarative statements that begin with “Well I’m 100% Tlingit, and…” It is the clear that because their blood quantum is higher than mine they were asserting that they were speaking from an unassailable position of authority. I will be mindful of how it felt to me to be so casually disregarded due to being “less Tlingit”, and that I must NEVER make anyone feel like that.
Surly there is someone out there who is “1/16th Tlingit” who feels his or her blood calling to them, even though there is little of the Tlingit physical archetype in their appearance. Inside, they feel their Tlingit soul. They feel Haa K̲usteeyí.
I think that the Tlingit are feeling an increased pull back to their culture. I know a fraction of what my 60 year old friend knows, but I will seek knowledge. More importantly, I will share what I know. Let me be a bridge rather than a road block.
I sat next to the fire, feeling its warmth against my face and chest. The cool night against my back balanced the heat of the fire. I sat beneath an ancient spruce. My adult son and nephew lay sleeping in the roughed in cabin a hundred feet away , leaving me alone with my thoughts, the crackle of the fire and the lapping of waves on the beach a hundred feet away.
A month before a friend had planted a seed in my mind, and it had found me ready to receive it. He said “With the Tlingit, there is no such thing as time. We have no past generations, current and future generations. This is ‘Haa K̲usteeyí’. We are all one people.”
As I sat there, the sensations of the moment remained, but something shifted in me as I felt the truth of Haa K̲usteeyí. I was sitting next to a channel that led to an ancient trade route. Trade along the entire west coast flowed from past this point when Ancient Rome was in its infancy. I had just finished carving a paddle based on one owned by my great-great grandfather. In copying this 130 plus year old masterpiece I had discovered a layer of complexity and sophistication that had eluded me before. In my expanded state, I could feel the trail of a million paddle strokes that ran past me.
Carrying across the water, I heard a whale blow as it surfaced for breath. In the next hour it would remain near.
If I look, I can always feel my ancestors. Now I invited them to sit with me in this moment. The thought came to me, complete, that although many of us call to our ancestors, in the nature of Haa K̲usteeyí, we are part of a continuum, and if we are open to this, we can also feel our descendants. I called them too, inviting them to this moment.
I felt my ancient connection to this land, and realized that the western concept of ownership is tremendously inadequate for the Tlingit. I lack the eloquence to put into words my sense of this, but it would be much more accurate to say that we part of a balance, similar in the way that our clans are balanced between the Eagle/Wolf and Raven moieties. This land is an entity unto itself, and we are a part of it. This truth exposes how inadequate the United States’ land claim settlement with the Tlingit is. The Tlingit can no more cede their connection to this land than the passage of a law can lay claim to it.
I encourage my readers who are Tlingit to contemplate this small portion of what Haa K̲usteeyí encompasses, as it translates into English as “our culture”, and this is certainly word that can be revisited over a lifetime.
The fire burned down enough that the night’s chill broke through my revere and I stood and stretched and remembered hearing eagles call from the tops of the trees that I now stood under. In the darkness I found the path to the beach. The Milky Way, grand and bright, showed itself to me as I started to come out from beneath the trees. I looked north, up Lynn Canal, and was greeted by exuberant northern lights, dancing over the distant mountains in hues of green, purple and pink.
Lingít Aaní. Haa K̲usteeyí
My thanks to my friend who encouraged me to write about my thoughts.