Cy Peck Jr. spreads blessings, jazz

Juneau Color

Posted: Friday, November 30, 2001

Cy Peck Jr. may spend Christmas in Los Angeles with his friend Steven Seagal. It's become a tradition with the pair the action film actor and the shaman to the stars.

"Sometimes we just sit together and look out the window," Peck said. "We hardly say anything, but we are communicating."

Peck gets a kick out of his Hollywood connections. He's performed blessings for Warner Brothers, Sony and Coors Beer, among others. Seagal asked him to visit sets in Anchorage and Valdez when he was making the 1994 film "On Deadly Ground," because Seagal wanted to know more about the ceremony of the spirit bear.

"We have been really close friends ever since," Peck said.

He blessed Monty Roberts, the horse whisperer portrayed in the film of the same name by Robert Redford. He blessed guitarist Les Paul on his 70th birthday, and performed a special ceremony for his arthritic hand. In Juneau, he performs ceremonies for people with cancer or AIDS, and regularly blesses the homes of doctors and nurses who work at Bartlett Regional Hospital.

 

All this takes up an increasing amount of his time, Peck said, but he doesn't begrudge it.

"The medicine way is not owned by Native Americans. It's for everybody. It's protocol for me to help others," he said. Every ceremony he performs honors those who instructed him, Joe Garetippi of the Cree and Steve Odd Coyote of the Suquamish.

It's been a long road to medicine man status for Peck, who has battled alcohol abuse. Today he is sought after locally and Outside by those who would be born again in a Native American manner.

KTOO-FM program manager and production director Jeff Brown has known Peck for about 20 years through Peck's hosting of "The Greatest Jazz Show on Earth," broadcast at 10:30 a.m. Wednesdays. Peck began the show about 1978. "He knows everybody and is a real fixture in Juneau," Brown said.

Peck was born in Angoon in 1934. He spent more than 30 years as a commercial fisherman, and learned to cook on a purse seiner.

One of the high points of his youth was being deckhand and cook on the Princeton Hall, the missionary ship known as the "Presbyterian Navy," during the summer he attended Sheldon Jackson High in Sitka. Trips through the inland waters taught him much about Southeast.

Peck recalls the Princeton Hall's stops at remote work stations: "We would stop by every lighthouse and pick up mail or a Coast Guardsman who needed to go into town for medical reasons."

His father, Cy Peck Sr., attended a theological seminary in San Francisco. That's how Peck Jr. came to attend Tamalpais High near the city for a year. Dr. Cyrus Peck subsequently served as lay pastor for churches in Metlakatla and Klukwan, and at logging camps, canneries and lighthouses.

After her son graduated from Juneau High, Peck's mother encouraged him to attend Griffin and Murphy Business School in Seattle. He became an accountant with the federal government in Juneau one of the few Tlingits working in such a post in the early 1950s.

"But I got too hyper sitting behind a desk," he said. Disappointment that his rheumatic heart kept him from service in the Korean conflict also affected his life.

In 1984, Peck decided he needed "strong medicine" for his alcoholism. He made a pilgrimage to Great Falls, Mont., where he was hired as communications director by the Tahakwitha Conference, a Mohawk spiritual and educational organization. Native priests impressed him, and he began finding occasions to hold long conversations with them.

"I'd give them rides to places in exchange for telling me about how they selected their paths," he said. "I went to ceremonies at Rocky Boy Reservation. They don't really teach or preach; they allow you to observe." Sometimes he'd spend four or five days observing.

"I wanted to be able to control my anger, jealousy and hatred," Peck said. "These emotions can consume you. It's like 'Pilgrim's Progress.' We carry around all this stuff we need to get rid of."

He helps cleanse those who request blessing ceremonies, but considers himself simply a middle man. "You have to go to ceremonies until it becomes your ceremony. The medicine man is only a mirror for those who attend."

In April 1998, a production company was filming above Mendenhall Glacier.

"It had been raining for 26 days," Peck said. "They were losing money so they asked me to a ceremony by the glacier. As we were driving out, it was pouring, and I thought, 'What am I doing here?' But as I started the ceremony, the clouds went away. I did this four times, and they were pretty amazed."

Ann Chandonnet can be reached at achandonnet@juneauempire.com.



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