Áak’w & T’aakú country in 1794
Back in 2010, when first collaborating with Goldbelt Heritage, I began to mine the archives of earliest Euro-invaders in search of Tlingit historical geography. This is something I’m perhaps uniquely qualified to contribute as a cultural outsider versed in glaciomarine history, not least because those journals and ships’ logs are often too racist and arrogant for culture-bearers themselves to stomach.
Yeah, the Russians and Brits and ‘Boston Men’ were disease-spreading imperialists. But some kept notes and made maps. Sifting residential nuggets from their chronicles of conquest is a satisfying winter activity.
Fredrica de Laguna had a wonderful phrase for this endeavor—”through alien eyes.” As you get to know a culture, its past grows detectable even in diaries and charts of clueless colonizers who didn’t know a kwáan from a clan. In Lingít Aaní, 2 strong contenders for least likeable intruder—George Vancouver and Richard Meade—ironically bestowed the greatest gifts to Tlingit history, through dedication to cartography.
This 36-minute slideshow was created in 2011, and uploaded to JuneauNature in 2017. After discussion with geomorphologists about iceberg origins, isostacy and accretion, I pulled the vimeo down for repairs. Here’s an amended retake.
As stated in the program’s conclusion, there are surely more errors to be ferreted out of this complicated story. For those I apologize. But I hope these maps and speculations help our eyes become less alien and more attentive.