People of the Salmon

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I could be in downtown, watching members of the three Tribal nations of Southeast Alaska—Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian—sing, dance, and drum down Egan to Centennial Hall. But Aki and I are walking a trail through the gravelly ground left behind by a retreating glacier. The parade is the first major event of Celebration 2016 I’ve missed since Wednesday evening’s opening parade.

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We can’t hear dance drums echoing off the moraine’s pocket lakes and heavy cloud cover has grounded the tourist helicopters so there’s silence for reflection. I doubt that Aki reflects on anything more complex than animal scents and the pile of beaver scat that she rolls in while I enjoy the reverse image of tree-covered mountain flanks half-hidden by cloud.

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Raven’s song bounces through my brain—the one performed as an encore last night by the Git-Hoan dancers. The name means, “People of the Salmon” in Tsimshian. It’s an inclusive term because of the importance of salmon to everyone in the Alaskan rainforest, especially the Native residents. Earlier in the perform Git-Hoan released three man-ravens into the crowd, dancers with large wooden raven mask with articulated jaws. Knowing the ways of the wickedly smart birds, the people of the salmon saw the dancers transform into ravens.

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There are no ravens on the moraine today. Only sparrows and one, apparently grumpy robin appear. In a month or two, silver salmon will move through the waters we now walk along. Eagles and ravens will perch above the trail, waiting for their opportunity to feed. The Native people now in Juneau attending Celebration will be on their own salmon streams. Here, trout and char will stalk the spawning beds. The cruise ship tourists will be home in their suburbs. In the early mornings of spawning days, black bears will slap the silvers out of the water. Aki and I will be home on Chicken Ridge, eating fresh salmon,

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