Saturday, May 26, 2007

First Full Day of Cruising

Today was our first full day on the ship. We spent the morning cruising through Misty Fjords (which was misty and fjord-like). We were joined by a National Forest Service naturalist who kayaked out to our boat and came onboard to supply a running commentary. Much popping out of the lounge for picture breaks.

It was cold and rainy today. Yesterday was clear and not all that cold -- I wore a simple long sleeve shirt and was fine. Today it was just nasty -- I wore a fleece pull-over and a two-layer jacket (down zip-in liner and a waterproof outer layer) as well as two layers of pants (jeans and rain pants) and I was freezing my buns off. So, yeah, sat in the lounge chatting with my parents, peering out the windows, and occasionally popping out on deck to snap a few shots.

(Dudes. Right now, we're in some really choppy water and the boat is really rocking. At least, it was. Seems to have stopped for a moment, yet I'm still rocking. I need me some lemon drops.)

The afternoon was spent at Metlakatla, home of the Tsimshian tribe. Metlakatla is unique, in that it is the only remaining reservation in Alaska. (All other native communities voted instead to incorporate under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act.) We were shown around the town (tour bus) by members of the community (as opposed to professional guides). In fact, our guide was leading his first tour -- a fact that was noticeable when he kept confusing "left" and "right" when pointing stuff out, because he kept thinking of things from his point of view rather than ours. We were then invited into the "long house" where we were treated to various songs and traditional dances by a group of non-professional locals.

I sometimes feel uncomfortable when I, as a tourist, am being shown something from another culture in a performance made for my tour group. This is especially so when the community in question is poor, and the whole thing sorta seems like they're selling their culture -- a very depressing arrangement to which I don't really want to be a part.

Metlakatla was different. Seems that -- despite living in a reservation -- the Tsimshian people had started to allow many of their traditions and cultural practices to very nearly die out. This has changed in recent years as young people are trying to relearn the old language and traditions, in order to keep their culture alive. There was a real sense of pride to their performace. Thiswasn't going through the steps to impress the tourists -- this was a bunch of young people who were finding value in their shared history who were proud to show it off to anyone who would listen. We saw, for example, a "bent-wood drum" that a woman had carved -- and she said it was the first bent-wood drum made in something like 90 years. The Tsmshian people had allowed that tradition to become dormant, and fairly nearly extinct, but they were proudly, touchingly, reclaiming it.

... and now, the rocking has slowed and a great rush of massive tiredness has come over me, so I'm going to go to sleep before I lose the ability to keep my eyes open.

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