Whales in Southeast Alaska

Alaska: A Land of Majesty and Responsibility

Alaska: A Land of Majesty and Responsibility

About the Author: Mary Goddard is Tlingit, Kaagwaantaan, Eagle/Brown Bear of Klukwan and grew up in Yakutat. She resides in Sitka with her husband and son, creating Tlingit formline designs for her original carved jewelry, public art installations, and more. She runs a film company and an Indigenous cooking blog. Mary has served as Southeast Alaska’s Regional Catalyst for Regenerative Tourism as well continuing to serve on the board of the American Indian and Alaska Native Tourism Association.

Imagine being in a small plane flying over my childhood home: it would reveal rivers full of sockeye, icebergs calving off glaciers while sea lions bark and seals watch, erratic sandy beaches dotted with driftwood and brown bears, icy waves showing off Mt. St. Elias as its backdrop. Eagles soaring over, moose trotting down old logging roads, trees towering over devil’s club and ferns. Men and women setting their driftnets, others tending to their smokehouses, and my mother weaving her spruce root baskets outside on her deck. And this is just one village in Alaska. 

Alaska's diverse landscapes, spanning from the Arctic to temperate rainforests, are home to an incredible array of life - over a thousand vertebrate species, hundreds of fish, and countless plant and flower varieties. For millennia, Alaska's 229 tribes have served as stewards of this land, ensuring its flourishing. Their deep connection to the environment inspires a growing movement towards regenerative tourism, a practice that seeks to leave a positive impact on the places we visit.

I come from one of those 229 tribes. Tlingit, born and raised in the small fishing village in Southeast Alaska, called Yakutat. I grew up on the land. It was common sense to work with the environment, with the flow of the seasons, the weather, giving great respect to the ruggedness of our wild home. Life within this community, working together ensured our well-being. As a child, this meant I was rewarded with buckets of juicy plump salmonberries and blueberries, the satisfying dinner plate piled up with pan-fried salmon, snacks of dried halibut dipped in rendered seal oil, and free time spent crafting shells, beads, and spruce roots into jewelry. 

Foraged blueberries in Alaska
Foraged blueberries. Photo Credit: @athabascan.adventures

Some of my greatest childhood memories include gathering seaweed and digging clams with my grandmother, sharing meals with extended family; my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, weaving dream catchers with my mother and learning to fish with my dad. I never suspected that all of this would lead me to share my culture and importance of our planet’s well-being through Indigenous-led stewardship. 

A common value for all cultures throughout the world is responsibility. As Shane Young, MSW, PhD (ABD), Assistant Professor of Social Work and Academic Coordinator says, “Indigenous Peoples take on the responsibility to be active participants in their learning journeys and contribute to their communities' well-being and advancement through the knowledge they acquire.” 

Coastal views in Juneau

Regenerative Tourism: Embracing Indigenous Wisdom

Regenerative tourism is more than just sightseeing and sustainable actions. It's a conscious and respectful engagement with a destination, fostering a positive exchange between you, the visitor, and everything within it. It's about acknowledging our responsibility as guests to actively contribute to the well-being of the place we explore. It is working collaboratively. 

Local Indigenous knowledge and values hold the key to this mindful approach. For over 10,000 years, Alaska Native communities have understood the intricate interconnectedness of rivers, oceans, weather, wildlife, and local fauna. By learning from their wisdom (my tribe included), we can become responsible stewards, ensuring the land's continued vibrancy for generations to come.

From childhood, I recall witnessing my uncles engage in the traditional practice of seal hunting. My mother's unwavering respect for the animal resonated deeply, as she emphasized our gratitude to the seal for offering its life for our sustenance. Every part of the seal was utilized with purpose: the meat served in ceremonial events, the rendered fat used for cooking, and the hide meticulously tanned and crafted into moccasins and ceremonial regalia. This deep-rooted value of reciprocal respect demands that we are diligent in using every part of the animal and ensures that hunting is never done solely for trophies.

As a visitor, you can witness this commitment reflected in our art. When you encounter intricate ivory pearls or walrus whisker earrings, know that these materials were not obtained solely for their artistic value, but rather as a testament to our unwavering respect for all living things and our commitment to ensure nothing goes to waste.

Alaska Native artist painting a drum
Alaska Native artist Ken Decker, Tsimshian, at Crazy Wolf Studio

Regenerative Actions: Your Role as a Visitor

Climate change necessitates a shift towards regenerative practices in every sector, and tourism is no exception. As a visitor to Alaska, you can be a key player in implementing this solution. Here's how:

  • Support local businesses: Choose locally owned accommodations, restaurants, and activities. This directly benefits the communities you visit and strengthens their economic well-being.
  • Respect wildlife: Recognize your role as a steward of wildlife. Maintain a safe distance from animals, avoid disruptive behaviors, and never feed them.
  • Practice cultural sensitivity: Be mindful of the unique cultures and traditions present in Alaska. Read this article on cultural sensitivity to ensure your interactions are respectful and enriching.
  • Leave No Trace: Follow Leave No Trace principles to minimize your impact on the environment. 

Woman at Petroglyh Beach

Business leaning on Indigenous Wisdom

Allen Marine Tours, an Alaskan Native owned and operated whale watching tour in the Inside Passage puts up to 150 people on their tour when watching whales. This helps decrease the amount of boats that need to be out on the water for whale watching, aiding in the preservation of the peace and well-being of the whales. Glacier Gardens Rainforest Adventure in Juneau offers a two-mile hike teaching visitors about the natural history of the temperate rainforest. The vast gardens are the creation of Steve and Cindy Bowhay, former local commercial fishermen and master gardeners who purchased the property for a stream rehabilitation project. These are just a couple of examples of businesses leaning on Indigenous knowledge to support our world through their efforts. 

Whales in southeast Alaska

A Continuous Journey: Embracing Change

Regenerative tourism is an ongoing journey, evolving alongside our ever-changing world. As we face the challenges of climate change and environmental degradation, businesses and individuals alike must adapt to create a positive impact for both people and the planet. By embracing this responsibility, we can ensure that Alaska's majesty continues to be a vital and awe-inspiring place for generations to come.

An eagle on a beach in Southeast Alaska

Snowy mountain peaks in Alaska

New! Alaska Native Culture Guide

Immerse yourself in Alaska Native heritage and learn how to experience the living culture of the state's Indigenous peoples.