The Shxat Kwaan Dancers / Tlingit from Wrangell, Alaska
Arriving in eastern Alaska and landing in Wrangle is like landing in the garden of Eden. The land is lush and green. We were met by Dawn Hutchinson who introduced us to Marge Byrd. Marge and the others we met were as warm and hospitable as any we had met. We gathered first at St. Philips Episcopal Church--there was a cookie party going on and a group of women were preparing packages of cookies for distribution. The Shxat Kwaan Dancers (the ones who were not off for sports events and such) gathered to perform for us. It was amazing to see these young people so focused on learning their traditions.
Every moment in Wrangle was full. We toured the traditional long house, a beautiful buidling with a central drum and a traditional canoe on display. We had the women sing for us in the long house so we could appreciate the amazing accoustics.
On our final night in town, Marge invited us to her house for a fine supper of halibut (her husband is a fisherman). When we were done eating, Marge invited us into the living room. She wanted to perform a song and dance to honor our coming. She put on the beautiful blanket that she said was once her mother's. She had a feather in her hand and she sang as she moved in a slow dance around the living room. For some reason, she reminded me of my mother who had died just months earlier. A lump gathered in my throat, with the beautiful music, with missing my mother, and by the time she finished, I was sobbing.
I felt a little foolish but Marge was kind and comforting when I explained what happened. Sometimes, even now, when I am missing my mother I remember Marge and so appreciate what she does for her community. She said an interesting thing that night; she was talking about reaching elder status and that becoming an elder is something that must be earned--it is not given freely but comes with a great responsibility.
Listen to a sample of the show here.