Jul 4, 2017 - This is Our Home by Jennifer Quinto
I’m not sorry if I’m rocking the boat, or being considered as racist or inflammatory.
I’m standing up for myself.
For my ancestors.
For my home.
For my daughter.
For those that have been marginalized.
Yes. I firmly believe in white privilege.
Yes. I know I benefit from my own, lesser known, and less common privilege.
Which is why I’m standing up and no longer remaining silent.
I’m not asking for guilt, or shame.
I’m asking for change.
I’m asking for improvement.
I’m asking for respect.
I love my people.
It is because of the treatment of my people that I understand and will fight alongside all marginalized people, and classes.
I understand their struggle, pain, and fear.
I will take the hit.
I will go up against the misunderstanding, the disagreement.
I will fight back to bring justice where inequity exists.
If you live in Juneau and can not understand white privilege… please explain to me why we have a statue of a dog, and the ass of miners, and rehabbed a mining pump house, but have no statue of Tlingit elders, no longhouses, and only just put up totems in 2017.
Here is my article I submitted to the empire.
Who knows if it will see the light of day:
Gunalchéesh. Thank you, to Juneau, to the people that have been willing to take an honest look at our history and make compassionate, respectful decisions to help raise up our indigenous people.
I am writing this because I once called out our town for blindness to exclusion and ignorance. I know it’s not over, there is still much work to be done. Not just here, either. However, it’s important for me to recognize what has transpired; in no way do I take direct ownership of spurring some events that have happened over the last year, but it really did put a smile on my face when I realized that the totem raising at Gastineau school happened one year and one day after my last piece was published, which directly called out the lack of totems in Juneau. Thank you to all who made that possible, and all who showed up to honor those who are no longer with us, but deserved this ceremony the most.
Since my last writing was published this town has responded well. What I wanted to bring to light is that I can attest to the fact that the tides are changing and I am grateful.
Not long ago the Tlingit Culture, Language & Literacy (TCLL) program had to be fought for to remain in the school district. Thank you, JSD for keeping TCLL. My daughter has just completed her first year and I nearly can’t handle the bittersweet emotions I feel when I see all of this culture spilling out of her. We attended the totem raising in Glacier Bay as well, and on the boat ride she and a few of her TCLL classmates spontaneously lead all of the singing and drumming on our boat. This may have never happened without the program, most definitely not to the point that she could lead (at the age of 6) an entire group of adults.
Also, on a larger scale, Standing Rock garnered massive support. I want to thank all of the locals that supported the efforts there. It was truly amazing to see such a large scale response to something so important.
With that said, this past year was the 104th annual ANB Grand Camp convention. A lot of hard work was put in and issues highlighted that we need to focus on for growth and improvement. Our indigenous people need greater support and acknowledgement in legislation and state policies. It should be recognized by all that any improvement granted to our people is an improvement for all. When our education, affordable housing, employment, health care and natural resources are protected and available to us, we thrive. Which in turn means that our entire community thrives not only around us, but with us.
The issues we’re making amends with currently, are the results of prior devastations to our community. The pride, confidence, and strength I see in my daughter from her involvement in TCLL is proof that outside support for our people is literally paving the way for a beautiful future for us all.
Your involvement, your enthusiasm, your support has already created a generation that has experienced an incredible amount of Tlingit culture that is proving to be a strong foundation. I can see that some of what had been dampened in our hearts, is already roaring back to life in these children.
Please don’t stop. I promise you are helping to create a beautiful future. You are helping us heal.
I may have never met my paternal grandmother, Bessie Quinto, but I know that with every new Tlingit word my daughter learns, with every beat of our drums, with every moment we get to celebrate our culture, my grandmother and our ancestors are not forgotten and we are making right of so many wrongs made before. I hope that one day Juneau will be home to a great long house. That totems will be outside, that we can celebrate in gratitude, together, with fires on the water like we used to, and that my daughter’s children can one day regularly smell the beautiful cedar, trace their fingers along carvings, and know that it was gifted to them by our community coming together to provide that.
After submitting my latest writing to the empire last night, I fell asleep with dreams of what could be spinning in my head. What if the next remodel of Centennial hall updated the building to be like a massive long house?
The building that sits near the old village. The building that is adjacent to a displaced community. The building that has now been the home of the biannual Celebration of Tlingit, Haida, Tsimshian, Aleut, and other AK Natives; as well as been host to our special guests like the Polynesians and Celtic dancers.
What if they were to come to Juneau and be welcomed in a large community house that reflected the indigenous people here.
If they were to walk past giant totems that flanked the entrances. If there were sky lights in the ceiling representing smoke holes. If the lobby had seating areas below those smoke hole sky lights like our long houses used to have for storytelling, celebration, meals, and community gatherings.
What if these details were not limited to just a small, beautiful building such as Walter Soboleff building, but that our entire community had the chance to walk into something like this that celebrates us, and gives hope to our future, as well as great thanks to our ancestors.
What if those walls were great carvings and our children could touch history every time we gathered for Celebration, Folk Fest, conferences and what not?
Why not make this something that isn’t just a museum, or relic, or specialty. Rather make it something that is a functional facility to our community that represents the efforts of us all?
Another question as to why it’s important to have longhouses and totems back.
As if pointing out that most of our artwork hangs on the wall next to antlers and other things that have been killed isn’t enough of an explanation.
As if talking about the displacement of entire villages in Juneau isn’t enough.
As if it’s not enough to mention that we can’t be convinced that colonizers appreciate us when you’d be hard pressed to find a historical totem, let alone a long house here.
As if it’s believable that Elizabeth Peratrovich was Juneau’s only noteworthy Native leader.
Juneau- even the name ignores our presence.
As if we didn’t already have a name for this place.
This is ground zero for the Tlingit and Haida.
You travel to any other country and there are traces and representations of the people from that area.
If you’re greek, you can travel back to Greece for a taste of home.
If you’re Japanese you can travel there to visit old structures and feel the history.
This is our people’s home. Their homeland.
Where can we go to feel our history?
Either no where, or a museum, or this is it.
Buildings that have a few pieces of Tlingit art.
There is nowhere for me to step in and smell the cedar, to smell what used to be.
There is nowhere that represents how we used to be.
Where we once sat and told stories.
Where we learned lessons on caring for our resources- because our care of them, returned the care to us.
Where we ate together as communities.
Where we shared celebrations, and mourned together in times of loss and grief.
Where drums were once the pulse of our people and allowed us centuries of successfully surviving dark and cold winters.
This is our people’s home, and it should feel like it.
By Jennifer Quinto
Jennifer Quinto Athabascan born; adoptee. Raised by a Tlingit/Filipino father, and a Norwegian/German mother that have inspired and supported me to find my own voice.
Inspired by family history, and attempting to pave a path for future generations lined with courage, pride and compassion.