Respect will be the name of the game when five canoe teams compete at Sunday's 2 p.m. Gathering of the Canoes at Sandy Beach.
The traditional races, with canoes of 10 paddlers and a rudderman, are held in conjunction with the biennial Celebration.
"For many centuries our people have always competed," said Gaxtlein, one of the race organizers. "The young people would always compete not only for the physical benefit but for the spiritual and mental discipline. These races are to encourage young people to take part. This is just another part of our training. The discipline that goes into it is very harsh at times, but the benefits are great. That's what we're after."
This year's teams will include the Tlingit Warriors, the Tribal Renegades, SEARHC (Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium), One People, and probably a team comprised of community members. The team from Sitka will not be participating this year, race organizers said.
The events begin at 2 p.m. The women's teams will paddle first, at 2:30. The youth start at 3. The adult co-ed teams begin at 3:30, followed by the men's teams at 4. Community members are invited for an open paddle in front of the beach at 4:30.
The race course will run parallel to Sandy Beach - from the beach to Mayflower Island toward Thane, around a buoy, to the old cement mining tower, back to the buoy and on to the shore.
"It looked like a really good route," said race organizer Doug Chilton said. "And it keeps us out of the traffic with the cruise ships and all the other smaller vessels."
Traditionally, the Tlingit Warriors have been race favorites. The team swept all three titles at the 2000 Celebration. But the Tribal Renegades, a team formed after the 2000 races, emerged in 2002 to win the women's and coed race, and place second in the men's race.
The Warriors won the men's competition. The Sitka team, Kadulshakxi Yis Sheet'kaa Dax, finished second place in the women's and coed races in 2002.
Officials at Wednesday's Coming Ashore Ceremony predicted Sunday's races would be the most competitive in years, with no clear favorite. This was the first year of the Coming Ashore proceedings. Five teams left from Sandy Beach and were traditionally greeted and welcomed at Marine Park.
"Not only I, but many of our leaders have seen the lack of respect toward each other and to other things around us," Gaxtlein said. "Respect has to be taught and introduced again so we can start to practice it. That's why we're doing this, so the young people can understand that there are reasons for what we do."
"Respect is something for all things, living and dead," he said. "For hundreds of years our people have watched animals, birds and fish. They've watched and studied these animals and seen how they have behaved."
"Respect came from a bird egg," he said.
He told the story of a hunter who one day saw an egg on a trail in the woods. He could see there was a little bird inside trying to get out. The little bird finally got out and started looking around until it found a suitable hole. He filled the hole with moss and picked up the shell and stuck it in the hole.
"It took it out of harm's way," Gaxtlein said. "If it left the shell here, an animal may have come down and stepped on it and broken it. That little bird took the shell that protected him out of respect for that shell. We can't do anything less than that little bird, and show respect for each other and our ancestors."
Korry Keeker can be reached at email@example.com.