It's important to hold on to our images from the past

Posted: Friday, April 27, 2007

It is always a pleasure to receive a communication from Dr. Walter Soboleff. He sent this letter on Feb. 1, to all camps of the Alaska Native Brotherhood and Sisterhood:

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"To my brothers and sisters, we are in a wonderful world and in great times. My mother told me when they left Sitka to Killisnoo, they were with others paddling a canoe."

He goes on to tell of the challenges of the present day, the need for good schooling and education, and the promise of meeting together: "We will meet in Kake, Alaska, for the 95th annual convention this Fall."

It is important to hold on to our images from the past. This is what makes us distinct as citizens of Alaska.

Many parts of history are hard to bring back though. For instance, it would be impossible to replicate the experiences of living in Juneau in the 1880s, to come by canoe to Gold Creek with Joe Juneau and Richard Harris, to camp with John Olds at the foot of Seward Street where McDonald's is located, to stir with the hundreds of miners along Gold Creek and in the surrounding hills and streams searching out the pockets of placer gold. It is an age gone by to be replaced by industrial mining such as the silver mine at Green's Creek or the gold at Berner's Bay.

But in one industry we can share the same experiences as men and women who toiled 100 years ago. The men and women who fish for a living and those who process the catch are doing what our ancestors did, in pulling the fish out of the net, in taking the fish off the hook, the processing crew who head and gut the salmon with sharp knives, those who serve on the canning line and in the freezer rooms are doing what has been done continuously for the last century.

As a friend of mine told me long ago these men and women are serving on the front lines.

As the psalmist writes, gloriously, they that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters, they see the works of the Lord and his wonders in the deep.

Our history is interwoven with the sea and fishing.

We are lucky to be able to relive the past and where changes have come still cherish the memory and see long blades of wood cutting the water on the way to Killisnoo.

• Lifelong Alaskan Elton Engstrom is a retired fish-buyer, lawyer and legislator (1964-70) who lives in Juneau.

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