The Klukwan Library recently received an award for a project that documents and preserves Chilkat Tlingit culture. The project culminated in a video series that records traditional food gathering and preparation.
In 2014, Klukwan Library co-director Jamie Katzeek became a filmmaker.
“It was a subsistence film series on traditional food sources of the Chilkat Tlingit people,” Katzeek said.
With funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services and guidance from a couple mentors, Katzeek used a Sony Handycam to document traditional food-gathering practices.
One shows Fred Strong checking his subsistence net for sockeye salmon.
“Fresh sockeye,” he says as pulls fish out of the net. “I love it! I love it!”
He demonstrates how to process the salmon and make dry fish.
Katzeek says they chose practices that the village didn’t have video documentation of, like salmon preparation and butchering a moose.
“Traditionally, our histories were passed on orally,” Katzeek said. “But if there’s no one to pass on the history – it’s just another way to help preserve and help teach the future generations.”
Katzeek says the films serve another purpose: they create lasting memories of the people who are sharing their knowledge. Fred Strong died soon after filming.
“He was no longer with us five months after filming,” Katzeek said. “So we were able to give his children copies of those films and he can continue teaching the community what he knew.”
Katzeek says one of her most memorable experiences making the video series was joining Sonny Williams and Tim Ackerman on a seal hunt.
“They took me out to Pyramid Island. I think I did about five hours worth of filming,” she said. “And then the following day, they showed us how to butcher, so you can see the process of the seal disappearing. Of course, there’s jokes and stuff. It was really interesting because me personally, I’d never gone seal hunting.”
Haines Library Director Patty Brown nominated the Klukwan project for an Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums award. The Guardian of Culture and Lifeways awards recognize efforts to strengthen the vitality and cultural sovereignty of Native nations.
“It was a surprise to win this award,” Katzeek said. “Because tribes from all across the country go to this conference. And even tribes from Canada as well. So to be chosen is really a great honor and it helps motivate us to keep on.”
The Klukwan Library recognition continues a trend of award-winning cultural projects in the Chilkat Valley. The Haines Library and Chilkoot Indian Association won the Guardian of Culture award twice, in 2016 and 2007.
And the six-video series was not Katzeek’s last foray into film. The Klukwan Library recently completed another video project, which documents how the Chilkat Tlingits’ traditional land shrunk from 2.6 million to under 2,000 acres.
The DVDs are available at the Klukwan Library. The food-gathering series is also available at the Haines Library.