After breakfast we went on a Cultural Discovery Tour of Ketchikan. Our tour guide has been in Ketchikan for four years and was an excellent story teller. Ketchikan has no beach area and the rock cliffs are steep. The town is on the water's edge and is actually built on a pier that is over the water all built up on stilts. Everything is over the water on these piers, the buildings; the roads, etc are all over the water. We first went to a State Park that was built in the 1930’s by the Conservation Corp to preserve the many totem poles that were in the area. Most of the pictures of the poles are not the original ones, but newer replicas of the originals.
The poles all tell a story of an event or of a person. The natives are a matriarchal society, meaning the children take the name of their mother. Each native has two names that tell of their heritage, one of their father and one of their mother. Their name maybe Running Bear Beaver, which would mean their mother is the running bear family and their father is the beaver. The story of the totem pole goes from the top to the bottom telling of an event. There are several purposes of for the poles. One is a burial pole. The important or wealthy person would be cremated and their ashes placed inside the totem and the totem would then stand until it would rote and fall over eventually having everything go back into the earth from which it came. They also had poles that told of parties that someone would give for others. Those invited would spend days at the party. The sponsor of the party would spend everything that had thus bankrupting them. Those invited would then have to respond with a similar party inviting the person that invited them. The poles with the party hat and rings on the top would show how many pot ash parties that person had sponsored.
A new pole would always be built adding another ring representing the new party. Other poles would represent who lived in that home – basically their address. This was supposed to announce who lived there so that if they were at war with someone they would know if they were friend or enemy without having to approach. The opening in the home was very small to prevent large animals such as bears, from entering their home and causing problems. It was also to prevent enemies from attacking, since they could only enter one at a time and they would go in head first on their hands and knees. If they were an enemy, they would be knocked out as they enter.
This totem represents a person that loved his wife and children very much, but one day as he was out fishing, he was taken by the sea creatures to the bottom of the sea. He was a shape shifter and was able to change shapes the form that he wanted. He was able to change so that he was able to live under water. He lived at the bottom of the river for many years, until one day he decided he wanted to leave. He changed into a bear and was able to swim ashore and headed back to the village. On the way to the village he met a bear and he decided that he loved this bear more than the humans so he kept the shape of a bear and went and to live with her. They raised a family of cubs, but one day he decided he wanted to go back to the village to see his other family. The mother bear made him promise to not change back to his human form because she did not want to lose him to his human family. He promised but as he was going back to town he saw his human wife and how beautiful she was. He could not help himself, so he changed to his human form and stayed with her. One day as the cubs were out playing, they saw a human coming. They did not want to alarm their mother because they were not supposed to be where they were. They also did not want to have her come see this human because they did not want her to be sad because their father had left them. So they decided to kill the human on their own which they did. They then dragged his body back to their mother to show her what they had done. And she then told them that it was their father that they had killed.
Our guide told another story of a man that was the chief of a village and he was not married. For many days, he had gone out fishing to find food for the village, but was not able to catch any fish. One day he was out fishing when a fog came up and surrounded him. He did not know his way back, so he started yelling for help and for someone to help him. All of the sudden a women appeared out of the misty fog and asked him why he was yelling. He told them he was lost and did not know how to find his way back and he was yelling for someone to help him. She told him that she would take him to his village. When they got to the village he asked the woman to stay with him, which she did. They finally married and had children. They were again having problems getting enough fish to provide for the tribe and many days had gone by until everyone was very hungry. The woman finally decided to go and do something. She went to the water and put her hand in the water and swirled the water. Out of the water came five different fish. The king salmon, the sockeye salmon, the silver salmon, chum (or dog) salmon and the pink salmon. This is where the five kinds of salmon came from. She brought them back to the village and everyone was so excited that she continued to provide fish for the village. The people of the village started to look to her as the chief provider and so the chief did not like that she was getting all the credit for everything. He told her that he wanted her to show him how she did it. She said she did not know how she did it and would not be able to explain it to him. He told her she had to leave, and she did. But because she loved her children so much she wanted to provide for them, so she had the salmon come back once every year so that the children would have enough to eat. This is why the salmon come back up stream each year.
An interesting thing we found about the trees in this area is that there is very little top soil and the tree roots don't go very deep. The trees also can grow on top of fallen trees or stumps that have rotted. When a new tree starts growing out of rotting stump the new tree is part of the stump, but as the stump continues to rot the new tree continues to grow until the stump is gone and the new tree stands up off the ground like it has legs.
On the way back into town she showed us the red light district area from the gold rush days. She asked us what they call the children of a brothel – brothel sprouts! She also told us that there was a priest and a bus driver that died the same day and both went to heaven. The first to meet St. Peter was the bus driver. He was given a beautiful mansion on a hill and he was excited. The priest seeing the reward for the bus driver was really excited. He thought to himself, “I have served the Lord all my life, if the bus driver got that beautiful mansion just imagine what I am going to get.” St. Peter ushered him to this little shanty and said “this is your reward”. The priest said “why did the bus driver get all that and I get this little shanty. I have served the Lord all my life?” St. Peter said: “well, I looked down on your church and all the people were sleeping. Every time I looked down the on the bus the people were always praying.”
We then visited a place called the Totem Heritage Center. It was a place that had some original totem poles and a salmon hatchery. They also has two bald eagles that had broken their wings and were not able to fly anymore, so they were held there and cared for.