Culture embedded in nature

For the past 30 years, I’ve grown steadily more fascinated by Tlingit and Haida geography; the history and migrations of kwáans, clans, and houses, and the ways in which natural and cultural history intersect. From February to May, 2013, I participated in a course for high school students by Goldbelt Heritage Foundation, entitled Why do we live here?

The name of the best-known winter village of Áak’w Aaní refers to the seasonal dynamic of going and coming from gathering places and resource camps.

Our essential question was; What factors went into the selection of village sites for Áak’w and T’aaku ancestors? One of the most powerful educational experiences of my career, it deepened my interest in the locations of ancient settlements. I now feel that these are the most important places in Southeast Alaska for all of us to study, understand and celebrate.

In coming years I hope to substantially expand this section of JuneauNature on Tlingit geography and history. Even from my limited perspective as a Southeast naturalist, the subject has so many fruitful avenues of investigation.

For example, consider the story of the Lost village of Gus’eix. In 1999, members of Gunaaxoo Kwáan, along with archeologists and friends from Yakutat and Glacier Bay, relocated an ancient village site that was well known in oral history but unvisited for many decades—so long that only trained eyes could find the clanhouse outlines. Finding this ancestral home was something the participants—and their descendants—will never forget.

Every Tlingit Kwáan has a lost village. Many, in fact. Where, aside from Aanchgaltsóow, were the homes of Áak’w and T’aaku Kwáans, in the depths of the Little Ice Age? Where were the homes of the microblade seal hunters, when these shorelines splashed hundreds of feet higher against hillsides clothed in wormwood and scrub alder?

Probably my most concise summary of Tlingit geography and history is a chapter in the Natural history of Juneau trails (2013). The full publication—a fund-raiser for Discovery Southeast underwritten by Juneau Community Foundation/Michael Blackwell fund—is not available for download, only for purchase in Juneau bookstores. But I have made that central chapter—People on the land—downloadable here.

In this section

Teachers visit Angoon

Weekend in Xutsnoowú Aaní On the cusp of March and April, an inspired and inspiring group of teachers, organizers and…

2023 | Richard Carstensen | 41 pages

Áak’w to Xutsnoowú cruise

Geopdf for Middle School teachers’ adventure   On Friday, March 31st, 2023, we are scheduled to depart Áak’w Tá, little…

2023 | Richard Carstensen | 5MB geopdf

Xunaa Ḵáawu: Why do we live here?

‘Syllabus’ for a course at Hoonah, 2014-15 Seems high time I got this and several other ‘scoping’ documents out there…

2014: updates 2023 | Richard Carstensen | 66 pages

Bay&Valley day: marine&glacial landforms

Morning: In the morning we visited coastal sites at Aanchg̱altsóow, nexus town (Auke Rec) and K’aan Héenak’u, porpoise little bay…

2022 | Richard Carstensen | Landforms class archives

Evening class-4: Jilḵáat debrief & roadtour prep

Wow! these cross-fingers worked! What an amazing trip! Even better than pure-blue skies, there were enough puffy clouds and mixed…

2022 | Richard Carstensen | Landforms class archives

The Cruise: landforms of T’aaḵú Aaní

On Sunday Sept-11 we motored 53 miles southeast from Áak’w into T’aakú Aaní, exploring landforms from the water. In Avenza,…

2022 | Richard Carstensen | geopdfs for T’aaḵú cruise

T’aaḵú X̱’aka.aan: mouth of the great Taku

Perfect location (except in an ice storm) In 2012, L’eeneidí historian Liana Wallace sent me a high-res scan of Waggoner…

2022 | Richard Carstensen | 22 pages

Discovery naturalists at Asx̱’ée

Cybertracking the ‘power outlet’ On July 29th, 2022, 14 Discovery naturalists and their 3 visiting instructors gathered on tidal sand…

2022 | Richard Carstensen | 23 page journal excerpt & pageflippers

Natural & cultural history of Asx̱’ée

Exhuming an early slideshow Back in 2011, preparing for a Charter School/Goldbelt Heritage overnight expedition to Methodist Camp,’out-the-road,’ I created…

2010: uploaded 2022 | Richard Carstensen | 16 minute slideshow

Teachers at Fish Creek, 2022

Four days at the delta and Eaglecrest From June 9 to 12, 2022, Discovery gave the 4th in our series…

2022 | Richard Carstensen | 46 page journal

Albatross retraced

If Harriman had been serious About 120 years ago the steamer Albatross conducted watershed surveys, interviews and salmon distribution studies…

2019; updated 2023 | Richard Carstensen | 60 pages

Fish Creek walkthrough

Focus group tour On Thursday, August 26th, about 30 masked aficionados of dynamic Fish Creek delta assembled on invitation from…

2021 | Richard Carstensen, Bob Armstrong | RC-59 pages: BA vid-links

First encounters

Áak’w & T’aaḵú country in 1794 Back in 2010, when first collaborating with Goldbelt Heritage, I began to mine the archives…

2011 updated 2021 | Richard Carstensen | 36-minute slideshow

Wetlands Month features Mendenhall Wetlands

Frontyard wetlands in StoryMaps Every May is American Wetlands Month, and this year, it’s especially interesting for residents of Áak’w…

Special trees in Nettle Slide

New angles on Tʼóokʼ dleit ḵaadí, nettle snowslide (Behrends Slide) Late September, 2020  It’s probably time we stopped calling this…

2020 | Richard Carstensen | 90 second slideshow

Digital Fish Creek

Hydrology in the point cloud. Maybe it’s all those years stippling scenes and species portraits, point by point with double-ought…

2020 | Richard Carstensen | 2-minute slideshow

Outer Point Raven’s-eye

Kaalahéenak’u, inside a person’s mouth (Peterson Creek) For Clan Conference in autumn, 2015, I prepared a 7-minute animation exploring the…

2015 | Richard Carstensen | 7-minute slideshow

Chilkat place names

Jilkáat and Jilkoot Aaní, land of Chilkat & Chilkoot people The 2012 cultural atlas edited by Tom Thornton and Harold…

2020 | Richard Carstensen | geopdf, 17MB

Glacial & cultural history of northern Lingít Aaní

A fireside presentation My talk at the Visitor Center in February, 2020 explored the past 20,000 years of glaciation and…

2020 | Richard Carstensen | 27 minutes

Blackwell City Walk: info packet

Another great idea from Mike Cathy Connor and I (Richard Carstensen) have inherited a tradition spearheaded by our friend Mike…

2019 | Mike Blackwell, Richard Carstensen & Cathy Connor | 27 pages