“I am so woven into my past, my ancestors’ history, it is a priority of mine to patch up the torn pieces that have frayed over the years and add new pieces to strengthen for my descendants. Our wild foods are so healthy for us, let us continue to share with one another.” - Dawn Kaax̲waan Jackson, Executive Director, Organized Village of Kake
We are honored that Dawn presented the keynote speech at the Wild Foods Potluck. We are grateful for her time, her words, and her presence.
Dawn has invested her life in her community and traditions, and the perspective she shared with us is invaluable. She spoke with eloquence, humor, strength, and passion.
Dawn and OVK have fought to protect the Roadless Rule on their homelands from the moment it was threatened. We are humbled to work with her and OVK to keep the Roadless Rule on the Tongass, and we look forward to the growth of this partnership.
Photo by Muriel Reid
Yéi aaní kax’ yéi xat wu teeye
Thank you Kiksadi for allowing me to stand on your land.
Kaax̲waan ax̲ Lingít saayí
Dleit k̲áa x̲’eináx̲ Dawn Jackson yóo x̲at duwasáakw
Tsaagweidi naax̲ x̲at sitee
Xaay Hítdáx̲ áyá x̲át
Kaach.ádi yádi áyá x̲át
T'akdeintaan áyá ax̲ daakanóox'u
I am humbled to stand before you today to share with you a little of my Wild Gratitude. I haven’t been asked to speak in front of a crowd since my undergrad days at UW a lifetime ago, so if you see me fumbling through words, it’s because my anxiety is already out in the muskegs foraging. Before I ramble about my love of harvesting, I want to paint you a picture of where I come from, and want to share a few minutes with you of my grandfathers’ speaking at the 1971 totem raising in Kake, the year I was born.
*Excerpt of the 1971 raising of the World’s Largest Totem Pole in Kake plays*
Although I was born across the bridge at the IHS Mt. Edgecumbe hospital, I was lovingly raised in an old Lingit village over the mountains east of Sheet’ka called Keex’ Kwaan. I was born into a large family on both sides. 3 of the 4 grandparents I grew up with actually went to school a ½ mile from where I’m speaking, one grandmother who is Haida was born in Haida Gwaii, and my other grandmother came from Michigan, both very free independent women before they married two of the most handsome men in Keex’. Some of my first memories are with family eating berries with sugar and milk along with dryfish and seal grease. After returning home from my higher education pursuits stateside I intentionally started my journey of learning from my parents who are meticulous in the foods they prepare traditionally. Like art, it’s so important to master the traditional old styles before adding new flavors to them.
We have a plethora of tasty foods in the forest, muskegs, creeks, rivers, and ocean within these lands that I call our traditional homelands. I have been so curious about the healing medicines my ancestors mastered. I view our landscape so differently with this lens. An example from my own village was a young man who had leukemia, western medicines weren’t working, and out of desperation and love, his parents asked an elder to prepare a medicine to help him. Long story short, the elder made the medicine, he young man followed the instructions, and his disease went into remission. We have so many berries in our backyards and they are so healthy for us and I’m so addicted to them. Our lands back home is healing from the large industrial logging that happened from the 1960’s to the late 1990’s when it basically went out of existence. I have traversed as much as I can of my homelands and can see the damage still. Even though it breaks my heart to be in it, I see more people at home harvesting more and wanting to learn. We share what we can when we can.
In 2014 the Organized Village of Kake joined the Sustainable Southeast Partnership. It is through this partnership years later OVK along with 4 other partners received funding from the USDA to implement the Keex’ Kwaan Community Forest Partnership, Bethany Goodrich and others have accumulated photos of the activity we have done this past year, I am so very proud of this effort. The premise behind this project is having all hands on deck working together to not just collect valuable baseline data of the plants, streams, roads, and tidelands, it is being done to be more creative together to build a sustainable economy utilizing valuable plants trees, and even farming in the ocean. The SSP has been the catalyst of various successful projects and businesses around the region, all done with the Roadless Rule intact in the Tongass National Forest. When I think about the great connections I’ve made within the network I think of:
Wooch yáa awudané
Respect for each other.
This is how we work together and we’re constantly pushing one another and learning so much along the way. In this same light, I come back to a song one of my late uncles wrote for our dance group, the first line goes:
Has du yaa Koosgeiyi taade agax tooxaa
We will go towards the wisdom of our ancestors.
We, as Lingit people, experienced so much trauma since contact with western people. It started with disease, and it progressed to taking our homelands away from our balanced management of resources. Today we still fight for what is ours through laws and regulations put on our homelands. As we raise our children to understand these laws we are slowly moving toward healing through our traditional foods, through our old songs, and creating new ones as my sister Dionne Brady-Howard has been doing here in Sheet’ka. We are healing ourselves from the inside out and turning away the dysfunctional tendencies. I am still learning today from my family, from my children and loved ones, and from reading and listening to old recordings. I am thirsty for knowledge from my elders and those who practice our traditional ways of putting up food. This is so very important and is integral to the DNA I carry; I am so woven into my past, my ancestors’ history, it is a priority of mine to patch up the torn pieces that have frayed over the years and add new pieces to strengthen for my descendants. Our wild foods are so healthy for us, let us continue to share with one another. I am so appreciative of all of the new friends that I’ve met along this journey, including the Sitka Conservation Society. They have been an invaluable partner in projects and also a touchstone in issues we face together in this region. I believe together, we can accomplish anything.
Yei awe, Gunalchéesh yéi ax toowú yatee