Generation to generation

Posted: Tuesday, September 04, 2001

Many people comment about subsistence and have their own definition of subsistence. To the Alaska Natives it is a way of life. When I spoke, I said it is not a new issue; it has been an issue for a long time, before statehood. Politicians on the East Coast, most of them have not even been to Alaska, labeled the issue subsistence and we are stuck with it.

The Native leaders over the years have tried hard to solve the issue, but the political leaders who make it an issue will not stop until they eliminate it all together. That is why I said, let's go back to the starting point, the desire to live off the land as our forefathers did. Our people know time cannot stand still. When I was working at Mt. Edgecumbe and a member of Sitka ANB we started a cultural program at the Park Service. It is a teaching program. When we first started, there was a silver carver teaching silver carving the "old" way. One of our elders said it is a good program, but, you cannot make time stand still. He looked at me and said "your grandfather was a great carver, probably using the same method your program demonstrates. However, if he was alive today he would use the best tools available and he would be no less a Tlingit."

I used to teach a Tlingit class at Sitka Community College, had a non-Native student tell me she took a Tlingit class before and learned the REAL way Tlingits make black seaweed. I responded, "that is good, I learned how to make the real American hamburger." She said there are many ways to make hamburger. I said there are many ways to make SEAWEED, "what you learned was somebody's recipe."

Although we cannot make the time stand still or turn back the clock, and it is impractical to live off the land like our forefathers did, there is the knowledge that is passed on from generation to generation of utilizing what nature has provided our people for thousands of years. We want our future generations to also have that knowledge. There are many races in this world, people who utilize and prepare what nature provides from their land, and they pass on their knowledge to their future generations, we are no different. We will continue to defend the right to utilize and teach our people what was taught us. I was born in Glacier Bay, my father was born in Glacier Bay, I am Tlingit, Raven, D'akdeintaan, Mt. Fairweather House.

Frank O. Williams Jr.


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