Koo.eex’ memorial ceremony this week in Sitka

SITKA — The SouthEast Alaska Regional Health Consortium will host a koo.eex’ memorial ceremony on Friday and Saturday at the Sitka campus.

The koo.eex’ memorial and healing ceremony started in 1994 as a way for tribal representatives from around the state to come together to remember those who had passed away at the hospital. During Alaska’s tuberculosis epidemic of the late 1940s and 1950s, many Alaska Natives from small, remote villages around the state were sent to Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital to recover. Those villagers who passed away were interred in two former ammunition bunkers that had been converted into a mausoleum on Sitka’s Japonski Island.

In 1998, Bob Sam led an effort that identified the remains of nearly 150 people who had been interred on Japonski Island. The remains of the loved ones were either returned to the home villages or buried in Sitka at the family’s request. A plaque listing the names of those who were interred there now marks the former site of the mausoleum.

People will gather at the Litehouse Cafeteria in S’áxt’ Hít (House of Medicine) Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital starting at 5:30 p.m. on Friday and the koo.eex’ will start at 6:30 p.m. with a blessing ceremony followed by a candlelight vigil on each floor of the hospital led by the Sitka Ministerial Association. Many people believe the spirits of the deceased are still with us, and the purpose of the candlelight vigil is to recognize and free the spirits within the walls of the hospital and to give peace to their loved ones.

On Saturday, it continues with a drum ceremony with the Haa Shagoon Drum and Drummers at 9 a.m. in the covered area outside the S’áxt’ Hít Mt. Edgecumbe Hospital emergency room entrance. After a continental breakfast, from 10:30-11:30 a.m. participants will visit the memorial site on John Brown’s Beach (transportation provided). At 11:30 a.m., is an opening prayer and tribal welcome from clan leaders at the Yei Éek Kwa Néix Kootéeyaa (You Are Going To Get Well Totem) in front of the At Kaník Hít Community Health Building. The ceremony then will move inside for more prayer, clan sorrow songs, speakers and responses, a recognition of health care providers, a history of the memorial ceremony, a presentation about SEARHC at.óow (valued or sacred possessions), a recognition of those promoted to glory, and finally a joyful celebration with dance groups, dinner and gifts.

The koo.eex’ happens every two years and has become a cultural tradition. Everyone is invited to attend. For more information about the koo.eex’, contact Libby Watanabe at 463-6680.

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