During early land claim negotiations, respected Teslin elder Virginia Smarch once said of her Tlingit community, “that is who we are: part of the land, part of the water.”
This uplifting statement is echoed in the events, feasts, performances and workshops planned for this year’s bi-annual Hà Kus Teyea celebration, hosted by Teslin Tlingit Council on July 26 to 28 at the Teslin Heritage Centre.
Ha Kus Teyea in Tlingit language means “our culture” or literally, the “Tlingit way.”
For generations, Teslin Tlingit have met with relatives and friends in the summer months to celebrate, feast, exchange gifts, dance, tell stories, meet the newborn, engage in courtship, share news and strengthen community ties.
Since colonialism, and the imposition of borders between the Yukon and Alaska, these gatherings have had a heightened importance as a time and place to restore and respect traditions, pass on skills, and keep the language and ways of ancestors alive.
In 2009, Sharon Shorty — whose heritage is Tlingit of the Raven Clan, Northern Tutchone, and Norwegian — coordinated a 10-day Hà Kus Teayea event that was partly inspired by gatherings of the Juneau Tlingit and partly by the less formalized Hà Kus Teyea celebrations in the Yukon that had been resurfacing since the 1980’s.
For the 2009 Teslin celebration, the Juneau Tlingit brought 900 pounds of salmon, and the Teslin Tlingit provided five moose for food and hides for the workshops and demonstrations.
Since 2009, the celebration has rotated between hosts Carcross/Tagish First Nation, the Taku River Tlingit First Nation and Teslin Tlingit Council (TTC). But the collaborative spirit is not limited to this annual rotation.
This year, there will be three feasts over the weekend — Carcross/Tagish First Nation hosts the feast on the Friday, Taku River Tlingit First Nation hosts on Saturday, and Teslin Tlingit Council will host the closing feast on Sunday, which also happens to be National Tlingit Day. Bring your own plate, bowl and cutlery.
Melaina Sheldon, who is an Inland Tlingit woman of the Deisheetaan Clan hailing from Teslin and also the TTC community arts and events coordinator, is coordinating the 2013 Hà Kus Teayea. Sheldon has organizational help from Adäka Festival’s Katie Johnston and countless hours contributed by community members.
Everyone is welcome to attend this growing event, and lots do. Two years ago, the last time Teslin Tlingit Council hosted Hà Kus Teyea, 4,000 people attended the feast. And the celebrations keep developing and growing.
Events and activities include daily cultural demonstrations like fish smoking, Chilkat weaving and beadwork; workshops in cedar weaving, trap making, tradition tool and fish trap building, soapberry spoon crafting, paddle making and watercolour painting.
There will also be a significant gathering of dancers, singers and storytellers from the Yukon, Alaska and British Columbia.
Artists involved in the dancer circle include Marilyn Jensen Yadultin and William Wasden Jr. Marilyn Jensen Yadultin, is an Inland Tlingit and Tagish Khwáan drummer from the Carcross/Tagish First Nation belonging to the Dakhl’aweidá Clan under the Tagish Keét Hát (Killerwhale House).
William Hilamas Edward Wasden Jr. Wak?analagalis, is a songkeeper and composer of the ‘Namgis tribe of the Kwakwaka’wakw from Alert Bay.
Throughout the weekend there will be many performances on the mainstage and a kids’ area with crafts and storytelling.
For more information, a complete schedule, photography guidelines, and camping information go to www.TeslinTlingitHeritage.com/Celebration.