Recently, for the first time in many decades, Tlingit clans in Wrangell held a ku.éex’ (memorial ceremony). These ancient ceremonies, which are still practiced by clans regionwide, were almost stamped out of Wrangell after U.S. military strikes there in the 1800s and a long period of cultural suppression. But on April 26, the ku.éex’ returned. It was truly an historic event.
I was honored to attend the Kiks.ádi and the Teeyhíttaan ku.éex’, during which Richard Rinehart Jr., and Michael John Hoyt were appointed and validated as Sháade háni (clan leaders) of their respective clans. Richard also received the name of Tashee, which was held by former clan leader Herb Bradley. Michael received the name of Gáshx, a name that was recently held by former clan leaders Nick Cash and William Paul, Sr. Other clan members also received names. Several non-Tlingit, who have been friends of the clans, were adopted and given names owned by the clans.
The Wrangell Kiks.ádi and Teeyhíttaan were supported by the Raven L’uknax,ádi, L’ukaax.ádi, Sitka Kiks.ádi and Kaach.ádi clans. Among the Eagle clans that witnessed the event and acknowledged the appointments were the Naanyaa.aayí, Kayaashkeditaan, Siknax.ádi, Kaagwaantaan, Yanyeidí, Dakl’aweidí, Teikweidí and Shungukeidí clans.
A clan hat that had been made in Wrangell was re-purchased by the Kiks.ádi from an auction house, and it was ceremoniously presented and validated as clan at.óowu (sacred clan objects) during the ceremony. The Teeyhíttaan also brought out their clan hat that had been repatriated from the Alaska State Museum.
The ku.éex’ ceremony was also held to honor the passing of Teeyhíttaan clan member Richard Rinehart Sr. and Kiks.ádi members Betty Nore, Dawn Hutchinson, Rita Bradley Perez and Louise Bradley. Since traditional ceremonies had not been held for decades, the ceremony also included “fire dishes” laden with food for deceased Kiks.ádi and Teeyhíttaan clan members of the past several decades, including William Paul, Sr., who was acknowledged by Eagle guests as the “Father of Alaska Native Land Claims.”
The Raven clans brought out funds totaling over $9,000, several dozen blankets, and special gifts including copper tináa necklaces, carved wooden paddles, art prints by Steve Brown and Ben Paul and boxes of fruit and dried goods. The cash and gifts were distributed to the Eagles as payment for ceremonial service provided to them during the memorial services for their fallen clan members and for the appointment and validating of the two members as clan leaders and their clan hats as at.óow.
The previous evening, the Naanyaa.aayí also held a ceremony to celebrate the repatriation of their Marmot clan hat and the Kyaashkeditaan brought out a new clan hat.
It was an historic event demonstrating the strength of Tlingit culture arising from the embers that remained in the hearts of Wrangell Tlingit. Wrangell was one of the four Tlingit communities bombed by the U.S. military in the mid-1800s followed by decades of suppression of their language and culture by civil authorities and missionaries. Today, the full glory of Tlingit culture and language are on the rebound as the youth of Wrangell are learning and practicing their ancient traditions. The Kiks.ádi, Teeyhíttaan, Kyaashkeditaan and Naanyaa.aayí ku.éex’ is testimony to their will to survive and the re-emergence of Tlingit culture.
I was honored to stand among them and with the spirit of their ancestors who returned to participate in the event It is proper that I as an Eagle, who witnessed and acknowledged the social, political and legal transaction that transpired in this ku.éex’, share this great news with you.
• Rosita Worl, Kaa háni, is president of the Sealaska Heritage Institute.