Hearing Salina Everson, David Katzeek, and Linda Belarde this afternoon in many ways drew my mind back to my childhood, attending potlatch’s with my family, eating Tlingit food, and sitting patiently as an Elder spoke. As I grew older, I became more restless when listening to Elders. Perhaps I thought that they had nothing worthwhile to say to me. Of course, many years later I recognize the value of their wisdom.
What struck me most, however, about today’s presentation was the generational gap, however furtive it may have been, that was revealed by Peter’s question about gender roles in Tlingit culture. The answers I heard stood in stark contrast to contemporary views on gender roles and LGTB rights. Ms. Everson noted how women, traditionally, were not permitted to speak until either all the men had finished speaking, or they spoke only in response to a male questioner. While Tlingit society was matrilineal, that is, following your mother’s line, it was patriarchal in that men dominated. Matrilineal relates to how we are recognized, or our identity as clan members, not how much power the women have. Our clan identity is passed on via our mothers, but men held the power. Ms. Everson acknowledged that times are changing. Mr. Katzeek made an affirmation counter to current views of transgender identity. There is so much to learn from our Elders, they add value to every young person’s life, but while affirming the rights of all persons, there may potentially be areas of disconnect between traditional and contemporary world views.