Global Journeys with Jill Dutton

Ketchikan, Alaska Series: Journey into the Heart of Tlingit Culture with Native Guide Joe Williams Jr

August 29, 2023 Jill Dutton Season 1 Episode 9
Global Journeys with Jill Dutton
Ketchikan, Alaska Series: Journey into the Heart of Tlingit Culture with Native Guide Joe Williams Jr
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Venture with me into the heart of Ketchikan, Alaska, where the ancient and modern worlds merge in a breathtaking tapestry of culture. We're in for a mesmerizing journey as we spend time with Joe Williams Jr., a native of Tlingit descent, who has been carving his way into history, not just with his extraordinary political accomplishments but also as the founder of Where the Eagle Walks, a walking tour that offers an intimate look at the Tlingit people and their age-old traditions.

Throughout this enriching adventure, we go beyond the stunning landscapes and delve into the soul of Ketchikan. Listen as Joe, a maven in his own right, shares stories from the past, reveals the secrets behind the magnificent totem poles, and provides a unique perspective on Tlingit culture. Moving forward, we delve into the heart of Alaska's tourism scene and its community engagement, guided by Joe's seasoned insights and experiences. Have you ever wondered what it takes to truly appreciate a destination's cultural heritage? Joe offers up some indispensable advice for those yearning for a deep, meaningful connection with Ketchikan and its people. So, get ready for the journey of a lifetime, that's not just about moving through places, but rather, experiencing them, one story at a time.

RESOURCES

Visit Ketchikan Alaska Home (visit-ketchikan.com)

Read Jill’s itinerary for Ketchikan and Waterfall Resort: Sport Fishing in Alaska at Waterfall Resort, Plus 3 Nights in Ketchikan to discover local food, arts, and culture: 6-Day Itinerary – Global Journeys with Jill Dutton

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UP NEXT:

The Ketchikan series continues next week where we’ll meet Naomi Michalsen. Naomi is a member of the Eagle/Wolf Tribe of the Shark House and is the owner of Kaasei Training & Consulting. She weaves her work in prevention and education efforts through the use of indigenous knowledge and value systems that are driven by cultural and relationship-based practices. 

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Speaker 1:

Welcome to Global Journeys with Jill Dutton, the captivating travel podcast that takes you on an extraordinary adventure around the world. I'm your host, jill Dutton, and I am thrilled to be your guide through the mesmerizing tapestry of cultures, landscapes and experiences that await us. Global Journeys with Jill Dutton is more than just a travel podcast. It's an exploration of humanity itself. Through the power of storytelling, we illuminate the lives of the remarkable individuals we encounter along the way, whether it's through the eyes of a fishing guide, a distillery owner, a mixologist, a historian, chef, or even a farmer. Each person we meet adds a rich layer to the narrative of culture and place. In this podcast, we embark on a transformative journey where the focus goes beyond the typical tourist attractions. Instead, we dive deep into the hearts and souls of the places we visit, uncovering the hidden gems and untold stories that make each destination truly unique. Join me as we venture off the beaten path, seeking authenticity, connection and a deeper understanding of the world we inhabit. Together, we'll unravel the tapestry of cultures, one story at a time. Although my writing career began in the late 90s, when I created and launched a wellness publication called Evolving Magazine, since 2015 I've worked as a travel writer on a mission to seek out the locally celebrated foods, liquor trends, outdoor activities and stories of those I meet along the way. My work has been published in Wine Enthusiast, a far woman's world, first for women, insider road trippers, modern farmer chilled magazine and many more digital and print publications. I'm also the creator of Global Plates the people we meet, the food they eat a syndicated column. Creating this podcast is the next step in my journey of sharing the stories of the people I've met along the way. So pack your curiosity, leave your preconceived notions behind and let's embark on Global Journeys with Jill Dutton, where each episode promises to inspire, educate and awaken the wanderlust within us all. This episode of Global Journeys with Jill Dutton continues a series that looks at the culture, food and drinks, fishing and beauty of Ketchikan, alaska. In the first episode, we met Sean Heisman, owner of Ketchikan's only craft brewery, and in the second episode we took a deep dive into fishing with Chuck Baird. Be sure, and go to the show index to listen to these exciting glimpses at Ketchikan and its residents. In this week and next week's episodes, we meet native people from Klingik tribes. It promises to be two remarkable journeys to the enchanting city of Ketchikan, where history, nature and the vibrant Klingik culture intertwine. Nestled amid the misty landscapes of Alaska, ketchikan isn't just a picturesque destination. It's a living testament to the resilience of the Klingik culture, which has flourished here for generations. The story of Ketchikan is one of transformation from a fishing camp to a thriving community that honors its past while embracing the future. The Klingik culture, rich with tradition, artistry and spiritual significance, has thrived in this region for countless generations. Through their exquisite totem poles that stand tall like guardians of history, intricate regalia and mesmerizing dances that echo the heartbeat of their ancestors, the Klingik people have woven an intricate tapestry that we have the privilege to unravel today. Together, we'll walk in the footsteps of the Klingik people, exploring the centuries-old traditions that have endured against the test of time. We'll witness the harmony between the Klingik way of life and the breathtaking landscapes that have shaped their identity. Join us as we delve into the stories etched into the walls of the Totem Heritage Center and share moments of awe as we encounter the majestic misty fjords where nature whispers its secrets. The Ketchikan series continues this week, where we'll meet Joe Williams Jr, who was born and raised in Saxman, alaska. He is of Klingik descent and is from the Eagle Tribe within the Klingik tribe. Joe was the first Klingik Alaska native to be elected as mayor of Ketchikan Gateway Borough and previously served as the city of Saxman Mayor, making him the first elected official to behold both the Borough and City Mayoral positions in the state of Alaska. Joe also served as Saxman's tribal president for 12 years and on the Alaska Intertribal Council and National Congress of American Indians. During his career, joe has brought people and organizations together for the betterment of Alaska's native communities and people. Joe has also owned and operated his own tour company, where the Eagle Walks, for 31 years. He offers historical walking tours through Ketchikan and lectures on cruise ships and at other venues, weaving together history and stories about life as a Klingik in southeast Alaska. So, without further ado, please join me in welcoming Joe Williams Jr to Global Journeys with Jill Dutton. Joe, thank you for joining us today and sharing your insights on the Klingik culture as well as your when the Eagle Walks tours. We can't wait to embark on this incredible journey with you. Hi, joe, hi, hey, how are you today? I am doing well. Thank you very much. Oh, wonderful. Thank you so much for agreeing to be here today. I really am looking forward to hearing your story and learning more about what you do in Ketchikan. Okay, if you're ready, we'll go ahead and get started. Then Go right ahead. Okay, so tell me a bit about yourself and your background and really what inspired you to start when the Eagle Walks in Ketchikan. Well, I was born.

Speaker 2:

I always like to say I was born at a very early age, born in Ketchikan because I was the only hospital that was closest to us, but raised in Saxman. And the baby of four have two older sisters and one older brother. Thanks for to the. Why was I inspired to do walking tours? There is a small company. Early years Alaska Side Scene was going through Ketchikan. The local manager had asked me if I'd be willing to do walking tours and she explained to me that walking tours are being sold on board ship because they were encouraged by a company locally to do walking tours and, as it turned out, when it came time for the rubber to meet the road, they couldn't find somebody to do the tours. So she had stated that if they don't sell walking tours on board their ships, they'll look like they don't know what they're doing. So she asked what do you think? She said sure, I'll do it. That'll be happy to do it. What's the script? And she said Joe, you were born and raised here. Tell them what it's like to be living in Ketchikan. So that was the beginning, and what I told Karen at the time was that I'll be happy to do it, but I'll give you two weeks. Well, that's 31 years ago.

Speaker 1:

Oh goodness.

Speaker 2:

I had an opportunity to meet with Karen just briefly. She was attending a conference here in Ketchikan. She's personally living in Prince of Wales and after we got through the pleasantries of how things are going and so on and so forth, so well, karen, I want to know. This past summer I just finished my first week and she gave me that puzzle look like she didn't know what I was talking about. And she said two weeks. She said first week. For what she said. Remember I promised you for two weeks I did the walking tours and she just bursted laughing. So basically everything that I share on the tour is just stuff that I grew up with and things that I didn't know. I certainly did my research to find and the only reason they arose because folks were asking the questions. I get a question I can't answer. I always tell the folks I don't know the answer, but I make sure the next time I'll look it up and see depending on where I need to look.

Speaker 1:

OK, well, and that actually leads to my next question. So you have this rich history as a clinic Indian and with the strong connections to Saxman, as you said. So I'm curious how your heritage influenced the experiences that you offer through when the Eagle Walks.

Speaker 2:

Well, I make it a point on the tour that we're following the original beats from the catch can. But on that tour I make it a point to talk about clunk your culture. Before we get to the totem poles, I want them to have a clear understanding of what the totem poles really mean and why they're carved to begin with, and you can't do that unless you have a somewhat of an understanding of clunk culture makeup. So I spend probably 20 minutes, maybe 25 minutes, talking about the clinical culture specifically.

Speaker 1:

Okay, so then what? I guess, what would a typical experience be for someone who's taking one of your tours? First you talk about the cultural experience and then you visit the totems and that correct, yes.

Speaker 2:

Following the pretty much not in depth, but it is pretty below the surface, if you will of the clinical culture. Then we go talk about totem poles and and I tell them how they came into its inception in the earlier days and and how they were ordered and form of payment and how they were raised and how things are really different in today's world. So explain that to them and it gives them a better understanding of how expensive a totem pole can and will be. A lot of times I'm asked about the colors. A lot of people are looking for meaningful things, any little thing that's different on the totem pole. They ask what's the meaning of that? That's depending upon what they're pointing to. I was telling them mostly it's decorative, just something that part of the part of that bear clan, as an example, or part of the raven or part of the eagle. So that gives them a better understanding. Oh, how interesting. Okay, so that gives them a better understanding of the culture and that is tied to the totem poles and I always make it a point to say that not everyone has a totem pole because of the expense. Expense in the earlier days is different than expense in today's world, because oftentimes people ask so what kind of work would you have done during that time? Because they're looking for a career. What I explain is we're not looking for a career in the early days, we're looking to survive.

Speaker 1:

My goodness. Well, thank you for that. And from all those tours that you have done, do any of them in particular stand out Just?

Speaker 2:

a lot of the. What I appreciate about the tours always is that the more questions they ask, better understand our community, and I encourage that always throughout the entirety of the tour. So the memorable events early on around 2005-2008 a lot of the discussion of the memorable events of that was centered around then. Former governor Sarah Palin became very popular because she's running for vice president. A lot of the questions was did you ever meet Sarah Palin? That is, of course, yes. You know, and I also cover that with anybody in Alaska knows firsthand and first name basis and a lot of times just by sight they're political leaders because yes, alaska is a very large community but basically it's very small. Then I ask how many folks have met their senators? And most always I don't get any hands at all. What about House of Representatives? And again, most always no hands at all. As well, I've met my senators and House of Representatives and have had them to my house for dinner and usually I try not to spend too much time on that particular vein of information because it takes away from the historical part of Ketchikan.

Speaker 1:

And speaking of the historical part of Ketchikan, can you share something with us as far as you know, what someone might hear in during one of the tours, or just something that you could share as far as the cultural and historical background?

Speaker 2:

Well, always. The historical part is that Ketchikan was founded because of salmon. It was the salmon industry for years and then, within until 1953, 52, neck of the woods we became a timber community and the timber community lasted until 1979 or 1997, excuse me. Ketchikan would not be as advanced as it is today as it had not been for the timber industry. They invested quite a bit of funds to upgrade our community. So now Ketchikan is a seasonal community, at best because of the tourism. Tourism is seasonal, like it or not. We're a seasonal community.

Speaker 1:

Well, and you've held notable positions such as Ketchikan Gateway Borough Mayor, city of Saxman Mayor and Tribal President of the Village of Saxman. How have these roles informed your approach to tourism and community engagement? What has occurred early on?

Speaker 2:

Gosh, it had to been in the late, late 90s when I received this question. This is when I knew people were becoming more educated about Alaska. Prior to that, people of the opinion land of Iceland, snow and Eskimos and didn't give it a lot of thought of the Indian people, aliyud people, and I was made to a point that now that you're in Alaska, we have seven distinct ethnic groups. The part that brings me to that is when a lady asked me this question. She said I cannot get my head wrapped around. My head wrapped around. What the difference between a tribe, a federally recognized tribe, a corporation, a village corporation? I just can't understand that. And that was the first time I came to the understanding that this lady has done her homework. Yes, she doesn't understand it, but now she at least knows about it. I contribute that to the internet world because she's doing her research and I just explained to her that it would take more time to explain. We can do that after the tour and that's exactly what I did and it took about 40 minutes, as I anticipated about an hour to do that. So it gives me the opportunity to talk firsthand about what it means to be a political leader as far as the borough is concerned, city leader as far as the city of Saxon is concerned, and a tribal member. And when I was explaining the difference between the tribes, there are 567 federally recognized tribes in the United States and of that there are 229 of them right here in Alaska and the tribes of the Clingkid, eagle and Raven has nothing to do with that, but the tribes that are named accordingly to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Each village, each community in Alaska has received a tribal recognition, a federally recognized tribal position. That's why we have 229 federally recognized tribes. With that, I say what that means for Alaska. Just the tribal presence brings in between $500 and $600 million to Alaska. Would that be coming here had it not been for the federal recognition of federally recognized tribes? Well, thank you for that. Thank you so much. And sometimes that's a whole lot more information that they were looking for. But they have to have come to that understanding to understand the bigger picture.

Speaker 1:

I agree, I agree, thank you, and that's a couple destinations. This is a travel podcast as well. What advice do you have for travelers who are interested in experiencing Ketchikan and its cultural heritage in a meaningful way? Obviously, take your tour, but are there any other advice that you have for travelers?

Speaker 2:

What would be important, in my mind, for the traveler would be to come to Alaska, as they would ordinarily do on a cruise ship and they spend briefly hours in each of the communities. Then I would encourage them to plan an in-depth trip. Yes, I'm blind in the community and spending. I always tell them to spend a minimum of five days in Ketchikan. You could spend two days in Rangol, one day in Petersburg good seven days. In Juneau two days, maybe three days, in Sitka. You could spend a day in Glacier Bay and perhaps a day in, maybe even more, in Yakutat if you're going to go fishing, and the same with Haynes and Skagway. At least one day in each place. So that takes a lot of planning, there's no question about it. Easily eat up a month doing that Right.

Speaker 1:

Oh, I agree, but it would be a well worth the effort to plan something like that out in advance. So over the years you must have witnessed changes in the travel industry in Ketchikan in particular. How do you see the future of travel and how is where the eagle walks? Adapting to these changes?

Speaker 2:

The changes early on wasn't major and it was. The visitor industry to the community of Ketchikan was more of a pain in the neck than it was profitable to the folks who were not involved in it, primarily because we were a timber community at that particular time. And since the closure of the Ketchikan pulp company, I say praise God, we had tourism, and that was a fallback, if you will, and it's taken some time to get to where we are and keep in terms of our major industry, which is timber, closed in 97. And it wasn't probably till 2015, maybe even 17, that we began, in my mind. The community was feeling comfortable about where we were financially and then, of course, the pandemic happened and that devastated the community like any other community. But what occurred over the course of years? About 15 years ago, we had a community meeting to talk about what we need to prepare for for tourism, and what was projected at that particular time was that we were going to their ships being built. What they said? As we speak, ships are being built to accommodate between 4,000 to 5,500 passengers and the present infrastructure as far as docs are concerned is not adequate to accommodate. Okay, and so we need to change about receiving those larger cruise ships. Well, there was probably a hundred of us and most everyone was pretty excited because what was projected at that particular time? We'd have between 14 and 16,000 extra people in the city of Ketchkan for more than 120 days, oh my goodness. And when it came my turn to speak, I pretty much said you know, I, like everybody else in this room, receive all the funds for the whole balance of the year from tourism. So, but you know, we as, as a community, need to decide when enough is enough. I said you folks, do you really want 16,000 extra people in the community of Ketchkan for more than 120 days? Do you really want that? In my mind, I would say no. We need to draw the line because the uniqueness, unique experience of Ketchkan that had at the time no longer today was a very small community, very excited about the arrival of the visitors. Yes and so. So, with that, when I got done speaking, it was if I didn't say a word oh, you're kidding. They all went back to all the money that they're going to make by having 16,000 people in the community. And you know now that, now that it's here I mean today we had 16,000, 16,400 people here today. You know you're standing in line 15 minutes to pay for an item that you want to purchase. Now where's the positive experience in that? That's the challenge that I have.

Speaker 1:

It is a challenge for for any destination that ends up being, you know, a tourist destination. I do, I do understand what you're saying and I I was there on the 4th of July last year and, and it was, it was just massive crowds and so so busy, but I know it's a common problem of you know, if it's a tourist destination, do we want the tourists to come or, you know, do we keep that inclusive small community feel or how do we? So I feel for what you're having to. Just, you know, so they. No one accepted what you said. No, no, not at all.

Speaker 2:

No, no, no, no, and I think they're getting the picture now. I think that they are because it's been stated, you know, off the hand of this is just way too many people when we have 16,000, when we have 14,000, just way too many people, right.

Speaker 1:

Finally, I'm just curious are there any topics that I didn't ask you about that you might want to discuss?

Speaker 2:

One of the things that I do pride myself in, that is I do personalized tours. And these are folks that contact me because of my webpage and they ask me if we can do things differently than what is put out there. And I say you know, when you come to Kitschgen and when you come to Stocksman, it's all about you. You can do whatever you wish you want to do, but please know I never boast about being the very best in the community. I have folks do that for me. I just don't do that. I just think it's not right and so. But I certainly do private tours and give them just what they're looking for. And the difference between me and the next guy is that the next guy, if they don't live here in community, has to study Right and has to read about it and not experience it. I experience it, you know it's really different.

Speaker 1:

Wonderful Well, Joe. Thank you so very much for being here today. I really appreciate you sharing your story and a little bit of insight into where the eagle walks, and just I can't wait to come back to catch a can again. But so any final thoughts.

Speaker 2:

You know, first of all, I appreciate you calling me to be able to talk about one thing I'm really excited about every day, and please know as I think about it, my excitement about doing tours for where the eagle walks is as fresh as the first day I begin. Oh, that's wonderful. I am always excited to see the new visitors come and ask their questions, which could have been asked 10 times that day. But you know what they don't know, so they ask, and that's what I ask them to do to please ask. And so that's what I'm excited about, and I actually, because I do have a Facebook page where the eagle walks I tell them that I'm going to post the pictures that are taken of you so that it'll help you remember your visit here to catch can.

Speaker 1:

Oh, that's interesting. Yes, yes, and I'll be sharing your website address in the show notes so listeners can find you there as well. Well, joe, thank you so much. I hope you enjoy the rest of your day and I really appreciate you speaking with us today. Okay, have a good day. Indigenous-owned businesses like Joe Williams Jr's, where the Eagle Walks, play a pivotal role in preserving traditions and fostering economic growth. These businesses not only contribute to the local economy, but also serve as ambassadors of cultural heritage, where the Eagle Walks offers both walking and driving tours. An example of one of the tours that introduces visitors to the Klingik history and traditions is the Ketchikan historic walking tour, with Klingik style snack and narrative of Klingik history and traditions. There you'll gain a unique understanding of Ketchikan and its Klingik culture on a guided walking tour of Alaska's first city. Your guide is of Alaska native descent and will share personal knowledge of the many changes Ketchikan has experienced over the years. The significance of totem poles within the native culture will be explained as you encounter them on your journey. Travel up infamous Creek Street, the former red light district, and learn of its important economic role in Ketchikan's early history. Walk up historic married man's trail and hear how it received its name, discover the astounding journey salmon must encounter as they head up to their spawning grounds and see the salmon ladder Trees, shrubbery and flowers are plentiful along the route and your guide will share their importance to the Klingik's food gathering practices. We'll travel from Creek Street by tram to the Cape Fox Lodge, a rustic hotel owned by the Klingiks, where your guide will give a narrative of Klingik customs and traditions. You will enjoy a delicious Klingik style snack of Indian fried bread, smoked salmon, reindeer sausage, blueberry jam, coffee, tea and water. Questions are encouraged on the tour as your host wants you to leave Ketchikan with a better understanding of the community and its native culture. As we travel on this exciting podcasting journey together, I invite you, our incredible audience, to be a part of it. Share your own travel stories, insights and recommendations with us. Whether you have a hidden gem in your hometown or a dream destination that has captured your imagination, we want to hear from you. Your suggestions will help shape the future episodes of Global Journeys, with Jill Dutton guiding us towards extraordinary locations and experiences that deserve a spotlight. Remember, this podcast is not about just the host or the guests. It's about the collective exploration and discovery that unites us all as wanderers in this vast world. So reach out to us through our website, social media channels or email and let your voice be heard. Send your suggestions to me at jill at globaljourneyswithjillduttoncom. I can't wait to hear from you. Until next time, may your travels be filled with endless curiosity, open-hearted encounters and transformative adventures. Safe travels, fellow explorers, and keep wandering.

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