SCS had the opportunity to sit down with Harvey Kitka and talk about what living with the land means to him. Listening to him tell stories of his family, harvesting, and respect for the land and animals was absolutely mesmerizing.
“My family has been here for countless generations. My grandfather was Coho, and my grandmother was Kaagwaantaan, so I’m Kaagwaantaan. I carry stories from my grandfather and father.
Everything from the ground up we have respect for. A lot of native art has eyes on it and the reason they did that is because everything had something living in it. It showed our respect for the living. Everything has a purpose from what we are told. The trees when we cut those down there was a ceremony for that. We figured when we were hunting and had good fortune, the animals gave themselves to us and we thanked them for it. So we always thank the salmon and things.
We hope this hasn’t changed. We try to teach our kids. We tell them everything is about respect. My grandfather always said you never make fun of your food. You don’t play with your food. It’s about respect. It is one of the things you pass onto your kids. Some of our earliest stories go back to this.
Food is our life. You take what’s there, you take care of it, and it will take care of you. That’s our whole philosophy.”
Thank you for everything you do, Harvey!
Sitka is alive with activity! The herring have returned to our waters to spawn. Fish, fishermen, whales, birds and sea lions are crowding our oceans and coasts and the streets are starting to smell fishy.
Check out this little video SCS helped produce with Ben Hamilton that showcases our deliciously fresh fisheries-from stream to plate!
Meghan joins us this week on Voices of the Tongass, to share a story from when she was a little girl on the southern tip of Baranof Island. Meghan feels lucky to have grown up all over Southeast Alaska. To hear her story, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post.
Meghan and her dog, Barnacle, this winter break. Photo by Berett Wilber
This week on Voices of the Tongass we get to hear from Ellen, Spencer, and their cats. To hear their story, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post.
Ellen and Spencer are working on a canning project…for their cats. Here they are with Poncho, one of the lucky felines. Photo by Berett Wilber
How many Alaskans do you know who came up for a summer job in their twenties and never left? This week on Voices of the Tongass we get to hear from Steve Abbott, who still thinks he’ll only be in the Tongass for a few more years…
Photo by Berett Wilber
This week on Voices of the Tongass we get to hear from an Alaskan with an interesting perspective on place. Kathryn Medinger was born and raised in Alaska, but hasn’t always lived in the Tongass. To hear her story, scroll to the play bar at the bottom of this post.
Photo by Berett Wilber
Kathryn Medinger is not originally from the Tongass. Her family moved from Bethel to Sitka when she was thirteen, and to her it felt like moving to a big city. She had to adjust to paved roads, cell phones, and a lot more people. Another change to get used to was the dramatically different landscape, and the ability to be active outdoors year-round. The long cold winters of Bethel were the foundation for Kathryn’s basketball career, which she has continued into college.
“I remember my dream was always to play at our high school [in Bethel] – it was a huge deal. Everyone would go to the games. Growing up I remember that’s all I wanted to do… I always wanted to be a Bethel Warrior.” Kathryn wasn’t the only kid to become skilled in an indoor sport. “There’s people from Bethel who go to Division I schools for wrestling because that’s how much they do it. My high school crush is going to the U of M for wrestling.” Kathryn left Bethel before she was old enough to play a home game with the warriors, but she stuck with basketball and eventually her dream came true. “I finally got to play on that court – Sitka traveled to Bethel. And I remember the Sitka kids having trouble adjusting – to not having a cell phone, the cold, dressing up.”
While the environment of Kathryn’s hometown is hugely different from the Tongass, it does have the characteristic small-town charm of communities in Southeast. “I remember finally getting to play at home… The coach shook my hand and said ‘Welcome home,’ even though I didn’t remember him – Lara [my sister] played for him, they knew my parents. [The announcer] gave a shout out to my parents, welcomed me home even though I didn’t live there anymore.”
Hannah Hutton is the storyteller this week on Voices of the Tongass. To listen to her episode, scroll to the bottom of this post. Be sure to admire the very tall girl and very small pony on your way.
Last week, after much anticipation, SCS was able to get the Young Growth bike shelter installed at the Sitka Sound Science Center. If you haven’t had a chance to check it out, we encourage you to do so. It’s the product of multiple community partnerships and hard work. This summer SCS produced a video about the bike shelter and it features time lapse footage of the shelter going up and an interview with Randy Hughey, the instructor at Sitka High who designed the shelter along with local craftsman Dan Sheehan.
To celebrate, we will be holding a small dedication celebration on Tuesday, January 28th, at 3:00 PM. If you are interested in a bike ride, meet up at Totem Square at 2:45 for a quick ride down to the shelter. We will be thanking people who have helped along the way and have some light refreshments.
We can’t thank all of these great people enough for their help with this project!
National Forest Foundation, CCLS program
Randy Hughey and Dan Sheehan
Sitka Sound Science Center
Chris Pearson and Coastal Excavation
City of Sitka Parks and Recreation
Mike Litman – Precision Boatworks
US Forest Service
Good Faith Lumber
Keith Landers H & L salvage
Baranof Island Brewing Company
SCS members, staff, interns and volunteers
This week on Voices of the Tongass we get to hear from Dylan Hitchcock Lopez. To listen to the episode, scroll to the bottom of this post. For more on the influence place has had in Dylan’s life, keep reading.
Photo by Berett Wilber
Dylan Hitchcock Lopez grew up fishing off the coast of Baranof Island, and has since lived all over, including Fairbanks, Homer, Colorado, New Mexico, and Wales. Yet, like the salmon he fished for as a kid, he returns every summer, to work with his family and reconnect with the place that he thinks of as his home: Sitka, Alaska.
For Dylan, there’s a simple answer to why he keeps coming back, an answer that looms in the back of the minds of many Alaskans who grew up on boats and trails: geography. “It’s a lot more important to me than to people from other places,” he says. “The places I lived after Alaska – everything was really small, safe, controlled. Here, the community is so small relative to the mountains and oceans and everything around it. Your idea of place becomes dominated by habitat and ecosystems rather than by man made structures, like it would be anywhere else.”
But he also acknowledges that Alaska is far from perfect. His experiences all over the state exposed to him to realities that many Alaskans prefer to avoid, deferring to the beautiful landscape to represent the state instead. But for Dylan, it’s important to think about Alaska from a macroscopic perspective. “We’re a kind of screwed up state on that level,” he says, “Here, where we have basically an insignificant amount of people and a vast amount of natural resources – if we had a more intelligent way of investing our resources Alaska could be so far ahead of the rest of the country, and yet we’re a little behind. We have some really frightening statistics.” Domestic violence, alcohol and drug problems, depression, suicide rates…these are problems that many young Alaskans hear about or experience every day, but as Dylan puts it, “It’s such a big place and there are so few of us that it’s easy to ignore these problems that are staring us in the face.”
And yet, he keeps coming back to Alaska. “Having that sense of truly caring about a place not just intellectually” – he stops himself, to clarify. “I might identify with America on an intellectual sense, but I don’t identify with it in a personal sense. It’s just a concept, it’s too big, it’s just words. When I think about being from Alaska, I have feelings, memories – those statistics I mention earlier make me feel sad and angry in a way that is not entirely rational.”
But they’re also not something that scares him. On the contrary: “The fact that we have so many problems is more of an impetus to want to come back,” he says. ”It’s the only place I have a personal connection to, that I really care about in that sense. I don’t think you ever care about a place like you care about the place you grew up.”
So does he have Alaska in his permanent plans? When I ask, he ducks his head and gives us an answer that resonates all too well. “I used to say absolutely not,” he tells me, “and every year I lean more towards probably. It’s a pretty hard place to leave.”
This week Voices of the Tongass brings us a poem by Berett Wilber entitled Whale Watching. To hear the poem read aloud by the author, scroll to the bottom of this post.
Photo by Berett Wilber