Teslin is a Tlingit village that has accommodated change with beauty, culture and strength.
This weekend, it’s the go-to destination for the Tlingit Hà Kus Teyea Celebration.
As well as a giant family reunion, with coastal connections to Juneau and southeast Alaska, the celebration offers cultural learning experiences, feasts, entertainment and ceremony.
Hà Kus Teyea (which means “the Tlingit way”) is for those connected by landscape, family and traditions. But visitors and “the whole Yukon” are welcome and attendance is free, says coordinator Melaina Sheldon.
The lakeside gathering has been hosted in Teslin every two years since 2009 by the Dakhká Tlingit, consisting of Teslin Tlingit Council, Carcross-Tagish First Nation and Taku River Tlingit First Nation. In 2019, it is to move to Carcross, where a longhouse is being built.
The three-day event takes place at the Teslin Tlingit Cultural Centre, with its impressive bigglass great hall overlooking Teslin Lake and the landmark Three Aces mountains. Each day is hosted by a different First Nation.
Sheldon says the event brings together the Dakhká nations, but hosting people from other cultures is key to sharing and learning from each other.
Cultural and artist demonstrations are scheduled throughout the weekend. If you ever wondered how to make “ice cream” from those shiny red soapberries, how to smoke salmon, tan moose hide, or live in the bush, Tlingit experts can show you.
Dancing, storytelling and feasts each night celebrate the salmon brought in specifically for the event.
This year will see language lessons offered for the first time. Food vendors (lunch is the only meal not provided by the hosts) and an artists’ market are also on site.
The ceremonies begin Friday, July 25 at noon (approximately), when Teslin Tlingit paddlers set out across Teslin Lake in a traditional canoe, led by chief Carl Sidney, to welcome visiting chiefs Danny Cresswell of Carcross-Tagish and Louise Gordon of Taku River. Special Tlingit guest Bryon Mallott, the lieutenant governor of Alaska, is also expected (every other year, Juneau hosts a Tlingit gathering).
A welcoming ceremony is also scheduled that afternoon for what Sheldon calls “at least 1000 pounds” of salmon arriving by float plane from the Taku River. The fish will be smoked and gifted on site, and served at each evening’s feast.
Mainstage dancers and performers include Yukon musical legend Jerry Alfred and Shun Dun, Diyet, Kevin Barr, and visiting group Git Hoan, from Seattle. Several Yukon dance troupes will be featured with a premiere by the Carcross-Tagish daycare dancers.
Friendly competitions are slated to show off salmon filleting skills, canoeing (the Chief’s Challenge) and high-energy stick gambling.
Gwaandak Theatre will present a reading of a Sharon Shorty play, and there is a Kidz Zone hosted by the Yukon Literacy Coalition.
You can start each morning at a pancake fundraiser in support of elders and if you’re there Sunday, stick around for gospel singing.
The weekend finale is a traditional feast and closing ceremony and show hosted by the Teslin Tlingit Council.
Camping and motel accommodations are available nearby, and visitors are encouraged to help out, if they want.
Website photos from past celebrations shows all-ages smiles and colourful Tlingit regalia, images of joyful and proud moments.
So if you’re suffering Adäka withdrawal or up for a heady dose of Tlingit culture, get on the highway and head Teslin way.
And don’t forget to bring your own dishes. The salmon will be waiting.