BellaOnline Literary Review
A Whale of a Tale by Kim Rumford

Non Fiction

Daughter of Story

Vivian Faith Prescott

Her first day on the job she sits in the vans drivers seat, turns to the ten people on her tour and begins to speak in her Lingt language. She is introducing herself according to custom, taught to her by her elders. She says, Cha aadi yei xat naay.oo. Please forgive me if I offend anyone and dont say this correctly. Lingt Xinx, Yilk yoo xat duwasakw. Dleit kaa Xinx yoo xat duwasakw..."

A man interrupts her from the back of the van. He yells, Speak English! We cant understand you.

Yilk naax xat sitee. Takdeintaan y xat. She continues, Tax hit aya xat. Teilkweid ydi y xat. Hawaiian ka Norwegian yad y xat. Kaagwaantaan dachxn y xat. Sami ka Irish ka Suomalaiset y xat. David Mork yoo duwasakw ax esh. Yilk tla yoo duwasakw ax tla. Kachxana.aakw kuxdzitee ku.aa Xunaa kaawu dax. Sheetka Kwan yei yatee. Gunalchesh."

She sighs, thinks for a moment about swearing at them and getting off the bus and leaving them stranded. But she knows this might be the only exposure the visitors ever have to the Tlingit culture. She is it. She is her ancestors, Haa Shuka: Those who have died, those in the present, and those who will live on after her.

She politely recites to the tourists her English translation and explains the reason she spoke in Lingt was to give respect to her ancestors, elders, and visitors. She gives her Tlingit name including her moiety (Raven), in addition to her clan and house name, the Takdeintaan from the Snail House (Tax). She explains how she is child of the Teilkweid, the Brown Bear. Her yad (fathers people) are also Hawaiian and Norwegian. She is a grandchild of the Kaagwaantaan. She also acknowledges her Sami, Suomalainen, Norwegian, and Irish heritage. She gives her fathers and her mothers names and mentions she was born in Wrangell, Alaska (Kachxaana.aakw) and her kwan comes from Hoonah, and now she lives in Sitka.

She drives the tourists around town, pointing out the bald-eagle and teaches them to say Chak. She points at Mt. Edgecumbe, Lux, and shows them the sea lionstaan. She has them taste her world: the salmonberry, spruce tips and blueberries. She has them listen to her world: eagles screeching, ravens cawing. She tells them if they listen closely, Raven is teaching them Lingt letters. Everything is story. She explains how her people are in the middle of language revitalization. She has the tourists smell the seaweed, feel the texture of her world. At the end of the tour, the man who told her to shut up and speak English gives her the biggest tip of the day and thanks her for the tour. This was the first day of many attempts to bridge the gap between the known and the unknown, between the listener and the storyteller.

On another tour day, she explains to a group that her ancestors have been in Southeast Alaska for ten-thousand years. For some reason, they cant wrap their brains around that much time, so they argue with her. How can people live in one place for so long? To answer this she refers to the Glacier Bay story, the Volcano story, the Salmon Boy story, and they laugh, not understanding that the stories are proof that a rich culture has existed for a long timeSalmon Boy, Bears tracks in Lituya Bay, the rocks on the Alsek River are proof enough. She is proof enough. So she opens her mouth and begins, "We came down the river under the ice..."

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Fall Equinox 2011 Table of Contents