Column: Tlingits welcome non-Natives into family

"By the time I was handed the thermal blanket, I was out of room on the table, my lap and the floor for any more gifts. I already had a bag of fruit and cans of Vienna sausages, pork and beans, fruit cocktail and corn. There were also socks, jars of jam, soap, coffee, microwave popcorn, pens, oven mitts, smoked salmon and lots of Top Ramen.

"It wouldn't be a potlatch without Top Ramen," my friend Tony said as we rose, waving a few packages in the air to Tlingit chanting.

The memorial party for a Tlingit leader from Juneau with Klukwan connections was like Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter all in one, with food, gifts and the promise of heaven.

I was at the party because my husband was being adopted by his hunting partner, who was also the host.

This tradition of inviting non-Natives into the family at these parties is an old one that honors connections in the community, confirms friendships and helps perpetuate the culture. It is generous and practical: Whenever they lose someone, they add a few more.

My husband will be an Eagle. In Tlingit culture, there are two equal and reciprocal halves, Ravens and Eagles, called moieties. They take care of each other. Every Tlingit is a Raven or an Eagle, and you marry into the opposite moiety. When an Eagle dies, the Ravens support them."

Get the Story:
Heather Lende: 'Gunalcheesh' -- Tlingit for 'thank you' -- says volumes (The Anchorage Daily News 9/13)