Our choice for our Ketchikan shore excursion was a visit to the Saxman Native Village.
Our tour vouchers were delivered to our stateroom. All of the information needed to locate our tour guide was listed on the voucher. At about 8am an announcement was made over the general PA system that permission had been received from the local authorities for passengers to disembark.
To leave the ship we needed our stateroom key and to get through the photo line. There’s always a photo op at each port of call with something that symbolizes where you are.
Since Ketchikan is known for the bald eagles that feed on the salmon and the Lumberjack Show, it was fitting that our photo op was with an eagle and a lumber jack!
Ketchikan was living up to it’s billing as the rain capital of the U.S. as we met our bus driver and guide, Keith.
Saxman Village is 3 miles south of town. It’s a working Tlingit community with totem poles on display and a carver-in-residence. It was interesting to me that the natives don’t want to be referred to as Native Americans or Indians or Eskimos. They consider these terms derogatory. They prefer “First People” and trace their heritage back to the Athabaskans or “Na- Dene” meaning the people.
Once we arrived at the Village we followed Keith along a short path through the forest stopping from time to time to learn about the rainforest.
Keith pointed out a big leafy plant with yellow flowers. I didn’t take a picture because I grew up with these plants but most of the others on the tour lined up to snaps photos. I borrowed one from the internet.
These plants are called skunk cabbage and they really do smell like a skunk. It seems this plant that I always considered a nuisance is really very important to the eco-system here.
As we stepped out of the forest we were facing the Beaver Clan House.
We entered a large auditorium where we met our Tlingit interpreter.
He explained a bit about the culture and language of his people before playing a video which explained the Tlingit history in the area. In general, Alaska Athabaskans occupied the vast interior coniferous forests. Only during the last 1,000 years did several Athabaskan groups move to coastal areas. There they occupied the shores of Cook Inlet in South central Alaska.
After the video we moved on to a large room where a modern Tlingit woman was sewing and beading ceremonial garments. We learned that this lady is our interpreter’s mother.
She had moccasins and hats on display for us to see and even hold and feel.
After about 15 minutes we moved on into the ceremonial room. Large and dimly lit this room held a stage where we would have the chance to see Tlingit ceremonial dances.
An elder made the introductions and the Cape Fox Dance Group took the stage.
Our interpreter was front and center but the children stole the show.
There were two, a young girl and a 3 year old boy.
The little boy was the son of the drummer and has been included in the dance ceremonies since he was two.
At the end of each dance the participants turned their backs to the audience. This was not to be rude but to show the embroidery on the back of their capes. These images represent the clan of the dancer. We were invited to take as many pictures as we wanted.
When it was time for the last dance the Tlingit asked for volunteers from the audience to dance with them. This is a great honor. The dance is not difficult. Each volunteer was draped with a cape and the drumming began again.
The dancing ended when the participants danced off the stage and out of sight. An announcement was made to meet outside for the rest of the tour.