Tlingit food culture video series wins national awards

In the new online video series "Harvest" that recently won national television awards, residents of Prince of Wales Island show the entire process for harvesting and preparing beach greens, gumboots, seaweed, seal, herring eggs, fireweed honey, Indian cheese, dry fish, newspaper fish and stink heads.

The series' 10 videos range from four to 15 minutes long and include gathering partners sitting in a patch of sea asparagus, floating over kelp forests. Another shows expert hands cutting seal and salmon.

At the end of each episode, slides show detailed instructions for creating each food: "At low tide, gather your seaweed, making sure to pick enough to share with friends and family." For salmon, "remove the belly bones, leaving as much meat intact as possible."

The "Harvest" series, which is available on YouTube, grew out of the Central Council Tlingit & Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska Cultural Heritage and Education Division, with funding from a federal child care development grant that was awarded to the regional tribe to create educational materials for children. The tribe's traditional food security team also supported the project.

Tlingit & Haida worked with the Juneau-based production company Cedar Group from 2021 into 2023 to document some of the essential harvesting methods that need to be preserved for future generations.

Chalyee Éesh Richard Peterson, Tlingit & Haida Central Council president, said last month that the tribe needs to document the traditional processes because some of the skills are getting lost.

"These skills are not being handed down as readily as they once were, and so we wanted to develop this video series that youth would be able to see, access and learn from and will hopefully feel inspired by," Peterson said.

Claude Young, who lives in Hydaburg, said the series is sparking curiosity in youth.

Prince of Wales children participate in one video that follows Young, Theodore Peele and Anthony Christianson for a seal hunt followed by meat and fat processing.

In "Harvest" episode No. 7, "Seal Meat and Oil," preschool-age students meet the three hunters near their boat when they return to the dock and begin cutting the seal before preserving the meat and skin. The students attend Xántsii Náay, a Xaad Kíl immersion program in Hydaburg for preschool-age Haida language learners.

"It's very important for us to make sure that the younger people saw the seal, and saw us working on it," Young said. "When they get to the age that somebody asks them, 'Have you tried seal, have you seen seal?' they will have that memory in the memory bank that yes, they were there, they've been a part of seal before, at least once. Just as long as that little spark is there, curiosity can grow."

Young said documenting northern Haida people's seal hunting practices is essential: "It is almost a lost tradition." He added, "Out of those very few seal hunters, only one or two of them are still alive. ... One of those is Ted Peele."

Peele shared his knowledge with Young during a seal hunt in early February.

"This was the third seal that I've shot in my life," Young said. "I've never done it with a teacher around me. It was kind of just me, going out, having my curiosity about why we don't hunt seal as much today. This time I was like, 'OK, I'm going out with someone who has done it many times.' ... I learned a lot. ... I feel comfortable now that I've been taught by somebody who has done it his whole life."

Young said each video shows "the process that they follow in which they got it from a raw substance or a wild substance to now you're eating it on your plate. ... We can't just show them how to shoot the seal and bring it back home, we've got to show them how to shoot the seal, bring it back home and now prepare it for your family."

The February seal hunt was the final harvest that Cedar Group filmed for the online series. A cameraman and two producers accompanied harvesters to create most of the videos.

Will Race, the CEO for Cedar Group, said each video originated with community members who shared their practices, perspectives and instructions for harvesting and processing foods.

Race said that the project was not originally intended to be a video series. Rather, Tlingit & Haida asked Cedar Group to help document harvest and forage and food creation processes, and the video project evolved out of relationships that Cedar Group built with people on Prince of Wales "for the sole purpose of making sure that this last for 100 years."

Tlingit & Haida hosted a community viewing for the 10-episode series on May 31 in Klawock.

In late May, the series won multiple national Telly Awards for excellence in video and television, including bronze for reality, silver for sustainability, and silver for education and discovery.

Peterson said the "Harvest" project team intends to create more videos that document people's traditional harvesting practices in places throughout Southeast.

"This first harvest series focused on Prince of Wales and the resources here," Peterson said. "We're going to move that around; we want to go to different communities and learn from different people and share different things. Throughout Southeast we have a wealth of knowledge and knowledge-bearers and we want to tap into those."

Peterson said the "Harvest" series is a piece of broad cultural revitalization work happening throughout the region, as well as the regional tribe's goals.

"We can all do the work and it's just never enough," he said. "We're working on language revitalization, cultural revitalization, it's kind of a neat all-hands-on-deck time right now. Sealaska Heritage Institute does 'Baby Raven Reads,' other people do different programs, culture camps, immersion schools. ... My goal one day for Tlingit & Haida is to have a K-12 school. We want to have a school where our youth can go and flourish and be surrounded by and uplifted by their culture."


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