$WHALE x METAKEY Art Submission Jan ’22 ~ “Endangered”
Title ~ “Lost in the Noise”
When we first hear the world “endangered”, we are flooded with images in our minds.
What do you see?
Personally I think of things like flora & fauna species, wetlands, glaciers, languages, etc. But so many things can fit into this category.
What stood out to me, more than any of those individual answers that came to mind, are the people who stand to lose the most from the loss of those things.
I am afraid that Alaska Native populations, along with their traditions, can be “lost in the noise”.
Lost in the noise of conservation efforts.
Lost in the noise of the hustle and bustle of daily life everywhere.
Did you know, Alaska has 37 wildlife species & 51 plant species designated as “sensitive”? That “special status is for species listed or proposed for listing under the Endangered Species Act.” (1)
If you haven’t lived a subsistence lifestyle, or “living off the land” as it may be easiest to understand, it can be hard to imagine. But the loss of animal and plant populations can be devastating.
Living in the world of the lower 48 after a decade in Alaska shines a special light on the differences for me. Everything down here seems so easy, and close, and convenient. There are strip malls and Amazon Prime same day deliveries. Trips to Costco aren’t a flight or ferry ride away.
While things seem “easy”, it is definitely difficult being so disconnected from the land, the seasons, the tides, & phases of the moon.
Because this disconnection is impossible to explain unless you have felt its gut punch personally, I’m here to shout it from atop my soapbox.
Entire villages in Alaska have been lost due to climate change. Glaciers and permafrost are melting. Salmon and steelhead aren’t returning to their homes to spawn without serious intervention and assistance.
I’m not blind. I understand the USA purchased Alaska as it’s 49th state in 1959 to exploit her resources. But drilling in ANWR (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge) & Pebble Mine projects destroying salmon habitat are terrible for the people who are still living off of that land.
While we are concerned about convenience of life in the lower 48, it is easy to forget the 2% of the population that comprise Native, or First People. “In Alaska, according to the census update in 2014, 18% of Alaska’s general population is American Indian or Alaska Native — the highest rate for this racial group of any state.” (2)
Along with losing land and species, language is another terrible loss. In 2018, Governor Walker declared a state of “linguistic emergency” for Alaska Native People. (3) And as we are all unfortunately aware, the pandemic has taken way too many Elders, across all populations. These Elders are holders of tradition and knowledge, including passing along traditional languages. This has made endangered language even more at risk for being lost forever. “Native languages are more than just words, as cultural values, tribal customs, and ceremonies are embedded in them” (4)
My submission to the $WHALE x METAKEY Art “Endangered” event is “Lost in the Noise”
This is the image of a traditional Tlingit Totem Pole, standing tall, weathering storms & sharing the rich history of its people’s 10,000 years in Southeast Alaska. The story hasn’t changed ~ it is constant, even during the steady stream of noise that we experience today.
This is my personal reminder that if we do not pay attention & do the serious work of conservation on all levels, traditions of our First People can be lost in the noise forever.
This is the Gaanax.adi — Raven Crest Pole, located inside the Sitka National Historical Park. This park showcases Totem Poles telling the stories of Southeast Alaskan Tribes. Along with the iconic Totem Poles, you can witness traditional Native carving techniques in person, and view some of the park’s 154,000 museum collection items.
The park was also the location of my daily walks while living in Sitka, Alaska. There are many beautifully crafted poles inside the park with stories to tell. This particular pole is significant to me as the park is filled with Ravens, who are famously chatty, and wonderful walking partners. I terribly miss our conversations, which is just another reminder of our interconnectedness.
“Totem poles are contributions to the values, character and experiences of the clans who hosted the potlatches to raise the poles.
More important than physical possessions of the Tlingit and Haida, though, are their crests. Anywhere crests are used, whether on blankets, tunics, hunting tools, spoons or other utilitarian objects, the crests are public record of who owns the item. And in that system, it speaks to the history of the people, as those items are passed on from one generation to the next.” (5)
*further reading: https://alaska-native-news.com