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

Just before the camera: journal of Richard Meade

Richard Meade was captain of a steamship that spent 4 months in Southeast in 1868 and 1869. I’ve created a…

2014 | Richard Meade (Carstensen, ed) | 42 pages

About bears: Juneau bears, and their relationship with people

This 42-page booklet, About Bears, was written during the construction of Dzantik’i Heeni Middle School by Richard Carstensen, Steve Merli,…

1997 | Richard Carstensen, Steve Merli, Ronalda Cadiente | 42 pages

Natural history of Juneau trails: A watershed approach

Guide to natural and cultural history of the CBJ, summarizing Discovery’s longterm study on contract with Parks & Recreation that…

2013 | Richard Carstensen | 72 pages