Global Journeys with Jill Dutton

The Heart of Ketchikan Culture: Unearthing Tlingit Traditions and Wild Foods with Naomi Michalsen

September 05, 2023 Jill Dutton Season 1 Episode 10
Global Journeys with Jill Dutton
The Heart of Ketchikan Culture: Unearthing Tlingit Traditions and Wild Foods with Naomi Michalsen
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In this final episode of the Ketchikan, Alaska series, Naomi Michalsen, a member of the Eagle Wolf Tribe of the Shark House, takes us on an extraordinary journey to explore its unique indigenous culture. We navigate the richness of Ketchikan's Tlingit heritage, the community's intricate connection with the land, and the local wild foods deeply ingrained in the indigenous diet. Naomi's work with Kaasei Training and Consulting amplifies understanding of the local culture and empowers communities through indigenous knowledge systems. This shared wisdom not only enhances our interpretation of Ketchikan but also our relationship with nature and food.

Engage with Naomi as she highlights traditional foods like salmon berries and spruce tips and their significance to the indigenous community. Learn about her impactful work in hosting plant gatherings, educational presentations, and hands-on activities at health fairs and food gatherings. Naomi enlightens us on our responsibility to care for the land and how food connects us in unimaginable ways. She talks about the devastating effects of being unable to access traditional foods and medicines, emphasizing the importance of healing ourselves and Mother Earth. This episode is a beautiful fusion of knowledge, passion, culture, and an invitation to explore the hidden gems of Ketchikan. Join us for this captivating journey.



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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. In this final episode in a series about Ketchikan, alaska, today, we meet Naomi Michelson. Naomi is a member of the Eagle Wolf Tribe of the Shark House and is the owner of Kasai Training and Consulting. She weaves her work in prevention and education efforts through use of indigenous knowledge and value systems that are driven by cultural and relationship based practices. By learning about how we gather, harvest and prepare local wild foods, individuals can empower themselves and their communities. Local white foods were used for centuries for medicinal purposes, ceremonial purposes and to create the basis for healthy families. Alaska Native peoples were among the healthiest people on earth before colonization. It is Naomi's belief that the indigenous peoples of Alaska can once again be at the forefront of health and wellness. I met Naomi for the first time in 2022 when I was staying in Ketchikan for a few days. We sat down for a dinner and interviewed a local restaurant. Years of conversation later, I felt as if I had been gifted a small peek into this woman's generous, quiet nature and her life as a Klingik, as well as advocate for women, elders and those who have experienced domestic violence. The Klingik language is beautiful and complex. The culture is faced with linguistic extinction and, according to the Endangered Languages Project, klingik is critically endangered, with only about 200 native speakers worldwide. During our phone call to record this episode, I admit to Naomi that I am struggling to pronounce some of the words. She is kind and patient as she tells me to put my tongue in front of my teeth and make an L sound as I blow the air out to say Klingik. I stumble with the pronunciation and the closest I come to is a version that is more like it starts and ends with a K. Naomi tells me that it's a beautiful and complicated language, and I agree.

Speaker 2:

My Klingik name is Kasei and Daudu, which are my grandmother and great-grandmother's name. I am a Wischgatan from the Shark House and I am an eagle, the eagle moiety. My village of origin is in Burners Bay and I live here in Ketchikan, which is home of the Sanyakwan and Tantikwan people here on Klinkitani. Klinkitland, and my father's people are from the Dukdantan, which are from the Huna area. I also have Filipino and Japanese and British and German and many other nationalities. So thank you.

Speaker 1:

Thank you, that's beautiful. Thank you so much for that and thank you for reading that. Well, thanks for joining me today on Global Journeys with Dill Dutton, and I'm eager to learn more about you as well as the work that you are doing in Alaska and Ketchikan. Can you just give our listeners a little bit of background information? I know you said you've lived all over Alaska. What kind of led to you traveling, and did you primarily grow up in Ketchikan, or just share your background and your connection to Ketchikan's culture?

Speaker 2:

Well, I've been in Ketchikan for, let's see, I have to think about my oldest son, 30 plus years, so this is the longest I've lived in one place. But growing up as a young girl, I traveled all over the state and lived in different regions around the state, so really it was great to be able to see different cultures and learn about some of the different areas of Alaska, which is so beautiful and so different in all the different regions.

Speaker 1:

Ketchikan is rich in indigenous history and culture and I'm curious how does the Klingit heritage play a role in shaping the identity of the community?

Speaker 2:

Well, ketchikan is home to the Sanya Kwan and Tantikwan people, klingit people, and so this is Klingitani, which means Klingit land, and it really does play a huge role in everything that we do, and we're so blessed to be able to live in such a beautiful place and, as I like to say, I feel like we have everything that we need right here all the foods that we need, the medicines that we need, and we just have to figure out a way to work together and protect this place.

Speaker 1:

Yes, and that leads me to your consulting and educational business. So is that what you do through that is, educate people on how there is everything that you need available?

Speaker 2:

Yes, my hope is through my business, kasei Indigenous Foodways, and my training and consulting business. My hope is to connect people back to the land or to help people learn more about the culture here and the people of this place, and then, in turn, I think people learn more about themselves as well.

Speaker 1:

Absolutely Wonderful and Ketchikan. It's known for its stunning natural surroundings, and so I'm curious what are some of your personal favorite outdoor activities that really help you immerse yourself in nature and the area?

Speaker 2:

So many, I think we know I feel like just getting outside is medicine, but I love to get out in the Muskeg, which is like a bog area which is ancient it takes 100 years or more for some of these plants to grow back and so it's so beautiful and quiet and there's so many different plants that you can discover and foods that you can gather. I love being in the forest. You know that, just again, all the different plants in the trees and the green, it's so beautiful here and just so lush. And you know, living in this rainforest is like I said, we have everything that we need, and then you could take it to the beach or to the ocean and know just all the seafoods and the greens that we have. It's just it's kind of under, you know. It seems like you just can't see it all in a day. So but I love all of those things. I love being close to the water. I don't think I could live anywhere else. I love to sit other places, but I have to be by the ocean. And then when I'm gone from Ketchikan and I've been gone for a while one of my most favorite things to do is just to go out and step into the Muskeg and smell the sikh-shaltin, which is our Hudson Bay tea. And the smell of the Muskeg is so I can't describe it, but it makes me feel at home and one of the plant teachings around that tea is belonging.

Speaker 1:

Oh, I love that. So is it one that you use, like with a community gathering type of thing? I mean, I know we just talked about community meals and things like that, so is that where that tea would be real well appropriate?

Speaker 2:

Yes, it's served at Ku'iks, which is another name for like the celebration, or potlatch used for different gatherings. Also medicinally as well. If you make it a little, a cup a day or so, it could be prevention. It's great for colds, flus in the fall time and, yeah, lots of different ways you can use the tea.

Speaker 1:

Excellent as an Indigenous foods chef. What are some traditional foods that visitors could try and I know that's not an easy ask? I mean, maybe the salmon berries at the wildlife area? Or is there a way that visitors can get a taste of some of the local foods, the Indigenous foods?

Speaker 2:

Yeah, well, you know, besides the regular, the salmon and the halibut and things that you can find in some of the restaurants is a little bit difficult because there's many regulations around, you know, getting the foods. But I think berries are always really wonderful to try and in the summertime, you know, we could start with the salmon berries and then there's.

Speaker 1:

And there's a blueberry festival. Isn't there as well?

Speaker 2:

Yes, so we have a wonderful festival the first Saturday in August called the Blueberry. Festival. Okay, we have red huckleberries, salmon berries, symbol berries, log cranberries, high bush cranberries, crowberries, watermelon berries and gray berries lots of different types of currents and for getting a whole bunch more, salol berries is another wonderful berry. We call them smiling berries. Yeah, there's many different things. There's spruce tips in the summertime also from the spruce trees. You can infuse those in water and have it. You can use them in cooking. Spruce tip is loaded with vitamin C. All of these berries are nutritious and delicious.

Speaker 1:

Oh, I bet that's an interesting flavor as well. The spruce tips.

Speaker 2:

It's being used a lot now more commercially in jams and jellies and beverages and salts, mm-hmm.

Speaker 1:

Oh, fantastic. Well, speaking of food and foraging, I'm just curious if you invited me for a meal, what would you forage and prepare?

Speaker 2:

It depends on when you came so everything is just small, of course, but if you came today, I would probably make you a, a venison strobenoff with wild mushrooms, and maybe something that I've put up already would have been like make a beach asparagus salad with some different greens that I've processed. Yeah, and maybe a berry, some type of a berry dessert.

Speaker 1:

Oh it sounds delicious. I just love it. I love fresh food. So could you provide me some insights into the work you do at Cassay Training and Consulting, and how this enhances an understanding of the local culture?

Speaker 2:

Yes, some of the work that I've been doing in the last several years has been hosting plant gatherings for the community and symposiums, plant walks, providing educational presentations and hands-on activities at health fairs and food gatherings. Like food sovereignty is a hot topic and also, you know, just the health of people, and I think there's also been some discussions around people's concern about disrespectful harvesting, and so I've done a lot of work on sharing information about what I think respectful harvesting is and sharing some of that information.

Speaker 1:

Very interesting. I know there's a variety of experiences, but you know, what kind of an experience could a participant expect when they engage with your programs? Is it cooking, or is it foraging, or educational, or a little bit of all three?

Speaker 2:

It's really tailored to what the person would like or what the program. I know I work a little bit with a university here and we do a little bit of all of those things and like we have a short weekly class and one week we might be out on a field trip out on the land harvesting, another week we might be making medicine with whatever it was that we gathered, or we might be cooking and sharing recipes and trying some different teas, and so yeah, those can be done individually or in large workshop settings. But I think the favorite for most people is, you know, getting outside together and learn about the plants and the foods, cooking something together or learning how to prepare something, and then the eating part.

Speaker 1:

Yes, always Back to travelers. So when someone is visiting Ketchikan, how can a traveler respectfully engage with the local community and learn more about the culture during a visit to Ketchikan? Is that possible?

Speaker 2:

Oh sure, I'm so glad you asked the question. I think that is probably the most important thing that I like to talk about and to maybe pass on to folks is that you know you could prepare yourself before you come to Ketchikan by learning about the area and the people. There's some things online. There's the clinket language is available for free online. You could learn more about the Tantikwan and Sanyakwan people and the history as well, and maybe just try to learn a couple of clinket words. It could be just learning about the history of colonization in the area and just more about the people in general, you can learn. You know, when you get here, taking the time to, you know just learning one new plant and or experience a different ecosystem. Maybe you haven't been in a musk ague and so just kind of visiting an area like a musk ague, or in a walk in the forest or getting out on the water, you know, going to the beach or getting out on a boat and just you know learning the and I think most people agree that this is so beautiful here and that it's this very special place. And so it naturally happens when people kind of come here anyway and get outside and and then you know if they wanted to try a berry or some different foods from here. I think that's always a bonus.

Speaker 1:

And I know we mentioned the Blueberry Festival, but I'm curious are there any specific events or festivals or community gatherings that provide opportunities for cultural exchange? Are there are there events that that visitors can attend?

Speaker 2:

Yes, I think there's a lot of different public events throughout the year, sometimes through maybe the Arts Council or the different organizations like the Wellness Coalition. Also the University and some of the school type programs there's that and the Tribal Organizations. The Ketchikan Indian community here in Ketchikan also has different programs as well. There's some tour business too that are indigenous that you can choose as well, that you can get out and talk to somebody that's from the area here.

Speaker 1:

Okay, okay, wonderful, thank you for that. Are there any initiatives or projects in place to ensure that future generations continue to connect with their heritage?

Speaker 2:

There are many initiatives. I think there's a real resurgence in the interest and learning languages and also what goes with that is our stories and the history and the songs. I think there's also I didn't mention Cape Fox is one of the organizations here that have a tour out in the village in Saxman that you can.

Speaker 1:

Is that Cape?

Speaker 2:

Fox Lodge. No, it's the Cape Fox Corporation. Okay, it's a Saxman village tour. You can tour through the village and walk through a carving shed and watch a person carving. There's a video that you watch that you can learn more about the people of this area. And then you could experience visit into the longhouse and they are dancing and welcoming you there. And get a chance to see the community coming out and also, of course, the totem poles that are there at Totem Park there.

Speaker 1:

Yes, very nice. We took a tour with an artist when I was on there and it was fascinating to watch and just the detail and the stories behind each one were. It was all fascinating. How do you envision Ketchikan evolving as a destination that celebrates both its past and its future?

Speaker 2:

My hope is that Ketchikan is able to find a better balance between both of those things tourism and some of the other industries and also protecting the place. And so it's really, you know, it seems that we're at this place right now where we have to take some serious time to explore some of these ideas and how to do that, because I feel like, as tourism is so important to this community, it's also many of our community members and also the land is saying that this is a little bit much. And how do we still provide a wonderful visit? And also, but are we at capacity or what is it that we can do to make sure that the area is still well taken care of?

Speaker 1:

Yes, oh, that's wonderful. And finally, what message would you like to leave our listeners with regards to the unique cultural experience that Ketchikan offers to travelers?

Speaker 2:

That, as indigenous people, we think of the plants and animals as our relatives and how, when we think about it, as if this is where our family to really come into this place, thinking about this has been here for thousands of years and that there has been a lot of disruption. But when you come and you see the beauty, I'm hoping that people really want to take part in helping to maintain the beauty of this place and people can learn and also contribute in lots of different ways, even after they leave. And as Indigenous cultures, I think sharing is one of those things that have always been a part of our culture. So I think, protecting what we love the love for the land, the love for the foods and the love for the people, and just to remember that we're all connected and so I think that if we take the time to really get to know people in their homelands, we hopefully will be building stronger connections and relationships that go beyond a visit, because we know many people come back and many people, once they come here, they end up moving here. Yes, but it's all of our responsibility to take care of this the land and I think we all love foods I do, anyway.

Speaker 1:

I do too.

Speaker 2:

It's a passion, it's something that we could do to celebrate together and it really connects people I mean food in general just connects people. And one of the sad things for me is that a lot of our foods and medicines are being sold, or maybe they're not being done in what I would call a respectful way, and all that's happening at the same time, and it's usually for material reasons. At the same time, many of the elders in my community here are unable to access those foods that are really dear to them, and I don't know if you could think about maybe what your favorite food is growing up and what it is today, but to not have that again ever is really devastating. And so to think about our family and relatives up in the Yukon that do not have fish right now, for a minute, and there's a lot of different foods that aren't as abundant. And so, you know, having, you know, just thinking about how everything is connected. And so if we take from here, it's going to, you know we have to really think about where it might, you know the equity and how can we be and live in more balance together. And so, you know, as a community and even though we have people coming from all around the world, I think of the world as a community and that and indigenous people, we didn't have those kind of you know we had our areas and places that we would gather and things like that, but we really were. You know, we traded and we were close to people that were from Canada and all over our different areas in Alaska, even though we weren't all the same culture.

Speaker 1:

Yes, Well, it was such a pleasure to meet you and catch a can last year as and I'm just so honored that you're willing to share your story with our listeners because it's just, it's a powerful message that we might not be aware of without your sharing. So thank you so much, Naomi, I really appreciate it.

Speaker 2:

This is a quote from one of my teachers and mentors that has since passed and she was a very special indigenous Alaskan woman and teacher. We are free to be who we are, to create our own life out of the past and out of the present. We are our ancestors. When we can heal ourselves, we also heal our ancestors, our grandmothers and grandfathers and our children. When we heal ourselves, we heal Mother Earth. Dr Rita Pitka Blumenstein.

Exploring Ketchikan's Indigenous Culture and Nature
Meet Naomi Michelson
Indigenous Culture and Local Foods Exploration
Food's Importance and Connection to Land