Tlatsini Culture Camp
By Kaitlyn Miller (Macalester College)
A few days ago our whole crew headed out to McDonald Lake to help set up and then participate in the Taku River Tlingit culture camp. When we first arrived it was pouring rain, but we were able to set up a large tent to protect food and supplies from the rain. It was raining too hard for us to do much more that day so we decided to return the next day to help. We were back at McDonald Lake around 10am the next morning. Upon arriving our first task was to set up a wall tent. Wall tents are basically large canvas tents, but they don’t come with their own poles. We watched and assisted as these makeshift poles (lodgepole pines) were latched together using rope to create a frame. These tents were later used to house the people participating in the camp as they protect from the elements and it’s even possible to have a stove within the tent.
We then returned a few days later to actually participate in the camp and learn from the Tlingit people there. Some people helped set up another wall tent, others went canoeing on the lake. Nico and Joe even swam across the lake. A number of students also helped split the inner bark of cedar into two or three thin strips that could then be used to make cedar hats and other items. On of the most popular items to make was a cedar bark bracelet and Nico made a basket! My favorite activity though was beading. Linda, who taught herself how to bead when she was nine years old, was our teacher as we struggled to hold our thread tight enough and get the pattern right as we made earrings using seed beads. There were a variety of different patterns that we could choose to make. I made a pair with a slim round part at the top and looped dangles with flowers on them hanging below. Susie made a pair of earrings that look like the sun and Kasey made a necklace pendant from a similar pattern.
The culture camp is about sharing knowledge about the cultural practices of the Tlingit people. Some people are experts in one thing while others are knowledgeable about something else. A lot of actual skills were taught, like beading and weaving with cedar bark, but another integral part of the experience was listening to the stories about living in the bush, and the different experiences and views about how people should live. One of the most interesting people to listen to was Bryan Jack, a member of the Wolf Clan, who built the cabin at Nakina CALL where we stayed during our trip to the Nakina River. He has years of experience living in the bush and is extremely passionate about protecting the traditional territory of the Tlingit people. He believes that all the First Nations in the area need to unite in order bring their beliefs and issues to the forefront, as well as have the strength to defend their ideas about how the land should be managed and taken care of. He told the story of a man at a conference breaking an arrow, and saying that isolated, we are weak. He then grabbed seven arrows and could not break the arrows. Together we are strong. This story was told in reference to different First Nations working together, but I believe that all those that want to protect the land are different arrows and that together we are strong. Round River, the Taku River Tlingit and all others who care can unite to protect the Taku River Watershed.